If last time Class was all about the kids and their personal truths, this week it was Katherine Kelly’s Quill who took the spotlight for her own personal journey.
While modern Doctor Who has often “double-banked”, time-saving by filming two stories simultaneously and spreading the principal cast between them, these two episodes have doubled-banked in a narrative sense, playing out the trapped-in-a-classroom claustrophobia of ‘Detained’ alongside Quill’s quest to rid her of the Arn, the creature embedded in her head by the Rhodians to maintain her subservience.
For all its wanderlust, this was no less a compact script with only three principal characters. Quill was conducted on her adventure only by Dorothea (Pooky Quesnel), Coal Hill’s quirky headmistress who amusingly seems to have styled herself on an Edwardian adventuress (top marks, costume department), and Ballon (Chiké Okonkwo), a taciturn shapeshifter imprisoned and confined to a single form. Promised his freedom, his part in the proceedings was that of Quill’s surgeon.
Together, they left from the school hall and headed down a metaphysical rabbit hole, travelling inside what appeared to be, for all intents and purposes, a magical clockwork lantern.
Travelling on the wings of belief seemed like fresh territory, and although we were initially as sceptical as Quill (who to be fair, did not have the benefit of already knowing the outcome), her defrosting, emerging hope and subsequent slow-growing bond with Ballon was well presented and enjoyable to watch; confronting his fears, then hers on their engrossing journey to a rather thorny survival dilemma at the story’s conclusion.
Visually, the succession of contrasting locales were a treat, especially given that we have been restricted to only Shoreditch and its environs, plus the dark volcanic landscape of Shadow Kin home world so far. The Arn’s dream heaven was a candyfloss inspired forest, while the Quill nest seemed like a cosy and safe place – until Ballon ripped off the head of the emerging goddess, that is.
In the conclusion, Quill was of course brought back to her senses, as a soldier and survivor, albeit someone to fight for now if her newly appeared baby bump comes to fruition. While Katherine Kelly has been in the back seat for much of the season, leaning in occasionally to deliver scene-stealing one liners and eye-rolls, this was her opportunity to shine, and shine she did.
Throughout the episode, we enjoyed the references to UNIT and the Zygon truce, not just as fannish nods but as they root Class within the current status quo of the Whoniverse.
For all Dorothea’s involvement in the story though, and once again she took the role of devious instigator, we still know very little of her paymasters, the mysterious Governors of Coal Hill Academy, also known as EverUpwardReach Ltd.
We did prick up our ears however at the suggestion that Coal Hill’s incursions might not be random, and cannot help but wonder if hints were being laid for a potential second season before the drama of next week’s finale. We hope so!
Available from 10am on Saturday 26 November 2016 on BBC iPlayer.
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