From the pen of YA author Patrick Ness, and the current Doctor Who production team, BBC Three’s Class feels like a far more confident programme than either of its Whonivese spin-off forebears.
Set at the Coal Hill School, the parent show’s earthbound launch pad and latterly Clara Oswald’s place of work, it centres on a group of Sixth Formers and their intense physics teacher Miss Quill (Coronation Street star Katherine Kelly, also appearing this week in ITV’s HIM).
The group are for the most part outsiders; April (Sophie Hopkins), at the heart of the first episode, is a kind but lonely figure while the bright, smart-talking Tanya (Vivian Oparah) is socially misplaced by premature advancement to the Sixth Form.
For the boys, Charlie (Greg Austin, Mr Selfridge) struggles as a fish out of water – Googling cultural references in lessons – while the popular, cocky Ram (Fady Elsayed, Brotherhood) presents as a footballer full of teenage swagger.
The first episode, ‘For Tonight We Might Die’, is funny and frenetic, introducing both the series setup and the main players at breakneck speed. We delve into their lives against the backdrop of an alien assault, on the night of the autumn prom, and the consequences are brutal.
Appearing in a (one-off?) guest role, the Doctor is used sparingly, but when he does arrive Peter Capaldi is on sparkling form, reminding us what we have been without during these barren, Doctor-less months between Christmas specials.
At a slightly slower pace, ‘The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo’ deals with the consequences of the traumatic opener, and its life-changing ramifications, as the friends come together to face off against a further alien incursion. While less hectic, it is remarkably gory and thoroughly deserving of the show’s “not suitable for kids” tag, if not quite pushing it as far as Torchwood did on occasion.
With a few pleasing visual references sprinkled around, Coal Hill has been granted an extensive remodel during its recent upgrade to Academy status, and for the most part, the action takes place in an ever-adaptable corridor set (well, this is the Doctor Who universe), Miss Quill’s classroom and the school hall, as well as outside the building and on the sports field.
Ed Bazalgette (who helmed Doctor Who’s ‘The Girl Who Died’ and ‘The Woman Who Lived’) directs the first pair of episodes and brings Ness’s scripts to life with economy, as well as using some smart editing. Sherlock-style on-screen graphics and split-screen are employed too, highly appropriate as these are young people who spend an ungodly amount of time on both Skype and Facetime.
While rather obvious, the Buffy comparison is a strong one; by the end of Episode 2 we have tasted both a recurring threat and been granted a mystery to follow. Class looks set to occupy itself heavily with its characters’ emotional lives too, each coming with some complex baggage (as do we all).
There’s ample comedy to match the drama though, and if April is the heart of the show the Tanya looks set to be the soul with a down to earth attitude and an ability to bag a lot of the best lines.
As Doctor Who and genre fans, despite being well past our teenage years, we can see there is plenty to love at the new Coal Hill Academy.
It is early days, but Class comes across as fast, funny and at times a touch frightening – we hope that proves to be a winning combination.
Available from 10am on Saturday 22 October 2016 on BBC iPlayer.
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