The first episode of Class struggles tonally as it takes its first steps out of the TARDIS into a whole new corner of the Whoniverse.
As a new corner of the Doctor Who universe materialises, it’s not without its troubles. With a creator and writer of the caliber of Patrick Ness (A Monster Calls, The Rest of Us Just Live Here), and a parent series in desperate need of something to kick it back into life, Class holds the weight of the Whoniverse on its shoulders. For this reason, a rather messy, tonally awkward series opener like ‘For Tonight We Might Die’ can be forgiven.
It’s not a great episode, as Class stumbles rather awkwardly away from the TARDIS and attempts to set up a whole new part of the Whoniverse in 50 minutes. It’s a task previous Who spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures had an advantage at, with leads that were previous companions of the Doctor already established come episode 1. In ‘For Tonight We Might Die’, we’re introduced to our five completely new leads, a pretty much new environment (Coal Hill couldn’t be more different to the last time we saw it), and then there’s a slightly bizarre ten minute cameo from Peter Capaldi’s Doctor crammed in there. It’s all just a bit rushed, with not enough time to explore characters which seem a little two dimensional. The parallels between the four sixth-formers and the gang of Sarah Jane (a socially inept alien boy, an unpopular know-it-all, and a cocksure lad) feels annoying and unoriginal.
The young leads are a bit of a mixed bag at this point, though Fady Elsayed is the most charming and natural of the bunch. Greg Austin’s Charlie lacks the charm that Tommy Knight had as Luke in SJA, and the gay relationship between him and Matteusz (Jordan Renzo) feels rushed and slotted in for political correctness brownie points. Though I love the fact a homosexual couple is being included in the Whoniverse, I would have prefered a more gradual story arc there. Sophie Hopkins and Vivian Oparah are largely forgettable as April and Tanya. Like the rest of the show, they show promise for future weeks but struggle to hold their own in this crammed first episode.
The same can be said for Katherine Kelly’s Miss Quill, though her relationship with Charlie is probably the strongest character arc of the show so far. The antiheroine teacher has the potential (here I go again) to be fantastic, but is troubled by a two-dimensional grumpy performance from Kelly which just makes her dislikeable. Perhaps it’s Peter Capaldi’s gatecrashing which puts her at a disadvantage. The Twelfth Doctor is known for a similar scaliness, but is carried into becoming likeable purely by Capaldi’s charm. He’s in form in the scenes he appears in (around ten minutes), but the problem is that he outshines any of the new characters we’ve been introduced to. I want to follow him back into the TARDIS as it dematerialises, leaving a motley bunch of kids and their reluctant teacher/protector to look after Coal Hill. A really responsible move there, Doctor.
There’s some great moments, especially in terms of comedy – the sixth formers discussing Once Upon A Time and The Vampire Diaries in front of a puzzled Doctor and Miss Quill is laugh out loud funny. Overall though, ‘For Tonight We Might Die’ has the same problem as bad episodes of Doctor Who; insufficient character development, an enemy that’s defeated way too easily far too quickly, and whole heap of unexplored potential. That doesn’t mean you should turn off too quickly though, as it feels like the young leads have a lot more to give, and now that this corner of the Whoniverse has been set up, Patrick Ness can give it the time it needs to be properly explored to its full potential.
Class airs on BBC Three Online, with Episodes 1 and 2 now available via the BBC iPlayer. 6 more episodes will be released weekly on Saturdays.