From the Shadow of Doctor Who: Class

Over the course of the last five decades, Doctor Who has become an international phenomenon. It’s resurrection just over a decade ago has resulted in ten new seasons and a pair of spin-offs, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. I can’t speak for the latter, but the former leaves much to be desired, and Doctor Who itself has been hit-or-miss lately. So, when I heard about this new spin-off, I wasn’t sure whether to be hopeful or pessimistic. When I learned it was centered around cosmic events at a school we occasionally saw in the series, I definitely leaned towards pessimism with a dose of apathy and skepticism.

That may have been one of my more accurate first impressions, though not perfectly so.

Class is Doctor Who meets YA.

Yes, it’s just as good, and just as bad, as that sounds.

The premise is: there are cracks in space-time centered at Coal Hill Academy, a place the Doctor has frequented over the years, and instead of sticking around to either fix or guard or otherwise solve the situation, or even call in specialists from UNIT to protect the world from a number of world-ending creatures about to come through, the Doctor entrusts the job to five high school students and one of their teachers.

He did not think this one through, methinks.

These unlikely, impromptu defenders of the world include:
Ram: a fairly normal guy, who plays soccer, who just saw his girlfriend murdered in front of him and now has an artificial leg in place of the real one he lost;
April: a girl who is smart, pretty, and a musician, and now, through some sci-fi space-time voodoo, shares her heart with an evil shadow-king that wants to kill everyone;
Charlie: a handsome, awkward boy, because he’s actually an alien in disguise, the prince and sole survivor of a recently-murdered race;
Matteusz: Charlie’s gay, Polish boyfriend;
Quill: a fierce, ruthless warrior who has been practically hobbled by the restrictions place on her by Charlie’s race, after the blood she shed as a “freedom fighter,” as she called herself;
Tanya: a smart fourteen year old girl (who does not look fourteen) who just kind of happens to be there.

Yeah, nothing is going to go wrong here!

Here’s the thing about the Doctor: he sees many wonders, always traveling about, but his world is a world of monsters, horror, blood, and death, things he is often fighting against and losing people to. He generally saves people, but there’s a lot of collateral damage, and many of his foes have pushed him, likely the single most dangerous individual in the universe, to his very limits. His victories have not always been by wide margins, and there have almost always been dead bodies in his wake.

Now, all of that gets piled onto half a dozen random people, mostly kids, who aren’t remotely ready for it. And this in addition to their own ordinary ordeals of life, like family, friendships, sorrow, sex – because there must be sex in these stories, right? – and school work. Most people have a hard enough time dealing with these normal things, but throw the Doctor’s universe of monsters at them? It’s nothing short of traumatic. These kids could already benefit from therapy before all of this. After? No contest. They need help, of more than one kind.

I will say, I did appreciate how each of the first season’s eight episodes focused on the characters, especially binding up their external crises with their internal baggage. Through dealing with the one, they come to deal with the other, at least a little. Some of these narratives were quite tight, well-told, and somewhat believable. Others… not so much.

Listing every instance of the latter would go into spoilers, but I think my favorite example is when they actually fight at all. Tanya wants to learn how to fight? Oh, just give her a quick, five-minute sparring session with Quill and she’s perfectly competent on the field of battle! April, high school girl who never fought before in her life, needs to challenge the shadow king, who has slaughtered worlds, to a duel? Oh, no contest, she wins easily!

Good grief! I know they don’t have much actual fighting anywhere in the Doctor’s universe, but still! They could at least try to get it right, instead of getting it dramatic!

That’s a big thing with Class, and it’s the same reason why YA tends to get a sideways glance, because it has so much teen angst juvenile drama. Sometimes, though, it’s done in such a way that it sort of works. It’s a question of pros and cons, and how much we’re willing to put up with in exchange for what we get.

I must admit, I did enjoy Class more than I didn’t. Seeing normal people dealing with Doctor-sized crap from the universe was intriguing, if also horrific. Learning about the shadowy school Governors, and eventually seeing their apparent master, was a pretty good hook to leave off on for the season. It leaves me weighing what I didn’t like against what I did like, asking if it would be worth it to continue next season, with just a little bit of incentive making me lean towards, “Yes.”

So, while I can’t quite shout praises for Class from the rooftops or anything, I think I will follow it. Not adding it to my weekly lineup, though. 😉

Rating: it might be generous, but I’ll give it 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: C-Plus.

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