Alex Moreland reviews the second episode of the Doctor Who spinoff Class…
“When did you know when you were ready to talk?”
One of the advantages that Class has over Doctor Who is its ability to explore consequences. Following ‘For Tonight We Might Die’, Class continues the story of Coal Hill – where Doctor Who would have moved on to an entirely new planet, with a new story to deal with, Class must stay put and deal with the ramifications of each episode.
Thus ‘The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo’ does just that, picking up the story not long after the end of the first episode. There’s something quite refreshing about this, actually; it’s a real departure from how Doctor Who works, and it’s nice to see these characters dealing with alien threats alongside their ongoing lives.
Primarily, then, this episode deals with Ram (Fady Elsayad), and his reaction to the trauma he suffered in the series debut. It’s an impressive tale of PTSD and insecurity, as Ram deals with both the emotional damage of his girlfriend’s death, and the physical damage of losing his leg. Elsayad gives an impressive, nuanced performance; there’s a real sense of Ram as a multifaceted character, trying to be brave in the face of danger, dealing with his insecurities in petty yet understandable ways, and ultimately finding a sort of solace amongst his group of friends. Certainly, on the strength of Elsayad’s performance, it’s clear that Ram is beginning to become one of the show’s standout characters…
… Alongside Tanya (Vivian Oparah), that is, who does equally well here. The bond that’s developing between these two characters is an interesting one, in that it doesn’t really come from the alien danger, but rather shared grief. In a show like Class, you’d expect to our main characters to simply become fast friends as a result of the initial inciting incident, essentially immediately; it’s referenced at the end of ‘For Tonight We Might Die’, in fact, where Tanya asks if they’re all friends now. Class takes the smarter route, here, in letting the friendships grow more naturally from other aspects of the characters’ lives. Indeed, it’s really nice to see Class placing characterisation front and centre, repeatedly emphasising the development of our core cast; it’d be very easy to coast in this department, and leave our characters as more typical young adult fiction stereotypes and shortcuts. However, Class has consistently avoided this route, always ensuring to include little moments of growth and character development in amongst the alien dragons and suchlike.
Speaking of which: this episode’s alien threat was quite an effective one, in terms of how it was approached. Here Class has learned from the best of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, depicting an adversary that mirrors the personal struggle of our main characters. It helps the story to be far more grounded, and resonate on a much deeper level; in connecting the dragon to Ram’s own grief, the story functions in a far stronger way on a thematic level. Further, though, it allows for a plot resolution that also works as an emotional resolution; through dealing with the dragon, Ram is able to start to process his own grief. It’s an excellent piece of writing, and one that sets up high hopes for future episodes.
One aspect of the story which didn’t necessarily function quite as well was Miss Quill’s B plot, centred around the robot inspector; it’s a staple of the school based YA plot to reveal the Ofsted inspector is an impostor of some sort, and while they got plenty of good jokes in (Patrick Ness, it’s becoming clear, has a great sense of humour), this aspect of the plot did still feel somewhat lacking. True, it sets up a potentially interesting conflict later on in the series by asking “Who are the governors?” – yet it’s limited by the fact that it seemingly exists only to set up this question, with little relevance to the main plot of the episode. (It’s perhaps interesting to note Mr Armitage’s earlier comment about how “the governors won’t like that” – innocuous when taken alone, but surely too suspicious to be a coincidence given the later relevance of “the governors”.)
Beyond that, though, Class remains strong on pretty much every front. It’s still a very well-directed series, so plaudits must go out to Ed Bazalgette for making the show look as beautiful as it does. Even the CGI dragon looks decent, actually, which is pretty cool – there’s often a risk with that sort of thing that it’d just look naff, but Class did a decent job with that here. In terms of visuals, it’s perhaps also worth noting the level of gore, which far exceeds that of Doctor Who – thankfully, it never passes into gratuity, but it does still feel a little needless at times.
In the end, ‘The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo’ is another firm outing for Class, which does an excellent job of further developing its characters, in particular Ram and Tanya, and setting a pretty tough act to follow for next week’s episode.