Class: Nightvisiting

 

Warning: spoilers.

Now this is more like it. This is the kind of intelligent, thematic, high-concept storytelling I was looking forward to from Class. It’s a welcome sign that Class will not feel itself constrained by its YA-ish concept and premise, that it will dare to experiment and test itself and try out interesting ideas. It’s learning from the experiences of Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures in this way, both of which played it fairly conventional and safe in their first seasons before becoming more innovative and bold, and therefore interesting, in subsequent seasons. Class looks like it’s skipping the “play-it-safe” part and is eager to try out the interesting ideas of its writers without unnecessary ado. That’s very satisfying.

And the idea behind Nightvisiting really is interesting, and the show ought to be congratulated not only for having the initiative to try it out but also for executing it so successfully. The idea of people’s deceased loved ones coming back and visiting them in the night is on a special level of freaky, a level I’m really pleased that Class is prepared to play on. Not only that, but the way this concept was brought to life was utterly freaky. Jasper, Tanya’s father (or rather, the Lankin imitating Jasper) was a profoundly creepy and unnerving figure. He was positively ghoulish, with his dead gaze and his moaning voice. It’s the kind of thing intended to scare adults as well as children—children are easily scared by ghosts and zombies, but adults will be scared by the idea of their deceased loved ones appearing at their windows as ghouls like Tanya’s father. It’s what makes the idea of the Lankin so wonderfully frightening even after being stripped of its supernatural affectations—no one wants to find their dead father, girlfriend or sister sitting at their window, ghost or not.

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Another strength of this episode is the character writing, which is, as I thought, turning out to be this show’s standout feature. Tanya was not reduced to a passive plot device by being tempted by the Lankin’s deception. She was written consistently with her character’s perceptiveness, intuitiveness and emotional strength by remaining aloof and sceptical of her “father’s” overtures, notwithstanding her grief and her obvious desire to connect with her father again, even if her defences did begin to melt eventually. A weaker and less perceptive person would have given in to the Lankin, as we saw. And Vivian Oparah delivers some exceptional, absorbing acting to vindicate her character’s writing, the moment in the denouement where Tanya channels all her resentment and anger at her father into the Lankin especially stirring.

Moreover, it’s a welcoming sign of Ram’s emotional growth and healing that his first reaction to seeing Rachel again, over whom he was grieving intensely in the previous episode, was to go “NOPE NOPE NOPE” and run to find his dad—and, failing that, April. It’s a gratifying development from the “Nobody understands my pain, I’m shutting everyone out, just let me wallow” that we saw from Ram in the previous episode. Ram is quickly becoming the show’s most interesting character, even if he still is a bit of a twat, and I’m very intrigued to see where his character will end up by the end of this season.

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And, oh my god, let’s talk about April. There’s an emotional strength and depth of character there we would never have guessed in the first episode, April revealing the hidden emotional turmoil that we now see defines much of her character. It’s an absorbing and touching revelation scene that sees April and Ram bond in, er, more ways than one. Who the hell saw that kiss coming? I’m not criticising—it was unexpected but it does actually make sense. April’s explanation of the way she puts up defences against the inner turmoil surrounding her father in order to stop her father continuing to hold influence over her and control her life speaks to Ram, who’s trying to recover from the trauma and the suffering he’s recently experienced. They bond on a very intimate, emotional level over their shared experiences with trauma and coping, and, in the passion of the moment, kiss. It works. It was a gamble which, although it could have failed badly with worse writing, actually worked out well.

Even Miss Quill is — slowly — becoming more layered, even if she’s still the show’s single-note comic relief at the moment—not that I’m necessarily complaining. I’m thinking particularly of the scene at the end where Miss Quill appears to express her disgust at the kids’ sentimental post-victory bonding session before stalking off, but, was it just me, or did it seem like Miss Quill was just a tiny bit disappointed that she wasn’t included in the kids’ celebrations? I think she does long for real personal connection like Charlie has found with the others, even if on some level she does resent the “arses of smart” she’s been charged with looking after. What else are we to make of Miss Quill’s insistence that she’s “deranged with grief” for her people, and her disbelief in Charlie’s apparent aloofness? If the show continues to write its characters well, we’ll see much more of Miss Quill before the season is over.

Rating: 8/10.

Class: The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo

Eh. I guess every new show has its misfires—especially one as experimental and innovative as Class. When I say “misfire”, I don’t mean that it was awful. It was fine. Just fine. It holds up. But it doesn’t particularly impress. It’s just “meh”.  Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of really great moments in there, moments which, for me, vindicate my excitement about this show and my belief in its potential. But the script as a whole falls a bit flat because, at base, it just wasn’t that interesting a story.

The monster, I felt, was poorly conceived and did not make for a particularly interesting plot. I got the impression that the episode was making up for the lack of engaging plotting that could be wrung out of the dragon-tattoo-monster by saturating the episode with gratuitous gore. Yes, I felt the gore was excessive; this may be a mature show, and some level of gore and horror is expected in a show like this, but on this occasion I think it traversed into the territory of vulgarity and detracted from the story. Furthermore, the episode’s denouement was confusing and felt very artificial. It was clearly supposed to represent the culmination of Ram’s emotional development over the course of the episode (which is why I say it felt artificial), but it was so contrived that, having watched the episode twice now, I’m still not quite sure what happened in that scene.

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Where this episode did well, though, was as a character piece about Ram Singh. You’ve got to feel for this boy. When we first met him he was, let’s be honest, a twat, but God he’s been put through some horrific trials in the intervening two episodes. It’s so unfortunate that he’s had to go through all that, but for better or worse it’s brought out the person Ram is inside, who’s clearly a person of great passion and feeling and sensitivity. He’s not just the arrogant football jock we took him for at the beginning of the first episode, it’s beginning to become more clear now that that’s a front he puts on. He obviously had deep feelings for his girlfriend as his (very well written) emotional turmoil in this episode showed. Moreover, in his insecurity about not being able to play football we learned that his connection to football is very much an emotional connection—football is inextricably part of his identity and his self-worth, which is why it means so much to him that he can start playing again. In this way the final scene between Ram and his father was beautiful, just astoundingly well-written and exactly the encouraging, hopeful note this episode should have ended upon.

Moreover, I’m really liking the budding Ram-Tanya relationship. They’re two such very different people whom you’d think unlikely ever to form any kind of meaningful relationship, but Tanya seems like the only person Ram can talk to and open up to about his feelings and insecurities. I find their relationship really, genuinely interesting and I anticipate that this—character writing and relationships—will be one of Class‘s greatest strengths. I already love all the characters and the character writing has been exceptional across the board so far. Even Miss Quill, definitely one of my favourite things about this show, who continues to be simultaneously hilarious as the show’s comic relief and really, really interesting as an enigmatic alien character with a mostly hidden backstory.

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You can’t necessarily blame a young, energetic new show like Class for its misfires. I didn’t expect the whole of the first series to be amazing, or even good. It’s still feeling its way forward, testing its strength, figuring out what it wants to be and what it’s good at. Both good and bad is bound to come out of this process and, to be fair, this isn’t bad at all. It’s certainly enjoyable enough and has its moments of brilliance. It’s not nearly as unfortunate as what came out of Doctor Who’s early days of experimentation (you know the episode I’m talking about). I just hope that in coming episodes we’re going to see the brilliant as well as the “meh”.

Rating: 6/10.

Class: For Tonight We Might Die

Warning: spoilers.

I’ll state my verdict of Class’s opening episode at the outset: I think it’s a really promising start to a show whose concept has simultaneously been met with mixed feelings by fans and heaped with fairly high expectations. I was not among those who felt disappointed by the announcement that Class was going to be the new Doctor Who spinoff (as opposed to… I’m not sure exactly), but my expectations of the show were pretty high, if only because of how excited I was. While we’ve only seen the first two episodes so far so it’s too early to tell yet, I think what we’ve seen has shown that Class is a show with enormous promise and potential. It has a cast of really interesting characters and talented actors as well as great intelligence and creativity in its writing. It feels a little bit like Torchwood’s early days at the moment — not completely sure of its direction or purpose — but the potential is definitely there for it to be a fantastic new sci-fi drama.

I think what I’m most excited about, just from these first two episodes, is the cast of wonderful characters. I can see that a great deal of thought and care was put into assembling this lineup of characters, writing them and casting the actors to play them. Each one of them is interesting and engaging and each one of them is a character I’m really excited to get to know better. There’s so much potential for character development for each of them, and to that end we’ve already seen some meaningful development with Ram, “the boy who hears applause every time he enters a room”, undergoing horrific trauma in just the first episode (not to mention the second). The events of the first episode have brought all our main characters together in what is no doubt the foundation of an involving group dynamic along the lines of BuffyTorchwood, Pretty Little Liars (take your pick). For my own part, I think my favourite character is April. She’s sweet and endearing, but there’s a toughness and depth there as well, and something tells me she’s going to have a fairly big role to play as the story develops.

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We can see that the show is definitely testing its strengths and trying to figure out what it is in just this first episode. We know for sure now, despite the innocuous title Class, that this is definitely not a kids’ show. It’s not just that the level of violence and gore and, as I have a suspicion we’ll see in coming episodes, sexual content is inappropriate for the children who enjoy Doctor Who, it’s also that kids just wouldn’t find Class interesting. It’s a mature show dealing with mature themes. I suspect that we’ll find that the show’s focus will be less on the monsters than on the character drama, the monsters perhaps serving as instruments and metaphors for the characters’ emotional struggles, development and coming-of-age, much like in Buffy.

Perhaps that’s why, ironically, the aspects of the show which seem like they’ve received the least attention and thought are the pure science fiction elements—the monsters and the sci-fi lore (concerning Charlie and Miss Quill’s backstory). The “Shadowkin”, for example, I found quite uninventive and lame. But I appreciate that this is a premiere episode and it’s more about introducing the characters and setting up the series than telling a riveting story in its own right, so I hope that more consideration will be given to the sci-fi side of the show in coming episodes.

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Also somewhat ironically, I think the Doctor’s guest sequence was one of the weaker points of this episode, just because when the Doctor arrived it suddenly turned from a Class episode into a Doctor Who episode, in the sense that the writing completely changed. It’s obvious the two shows have quite different tones, so the key-change felt slightly jarring. All the suspense and the drama the scene had built up was suddenly broken when the Doctor turned up and proceeded to crack jokes as though this were the cheap comedy episode of a Doctor Who series. The menacing figures of the Shadowkin suddenly looked like the lame and slightly comical CGI objects of the Doctor’s PG-13 comedy. That’s not to make any criticism of Peter Capaldi, who was as good as ever in the role, just that I’d like to have seen the Doctor written in a tone appropriate for this show.

As an aside, does anyone else get the feeling that Miss Quill is being written as the Whoniverse’s answer to the female Doctor controversy? It certainly looks like she’s being set up that way, given the way she’s been put into the role of defending the Earth with her young companions charges, and defending it without weapons in true Doctor-ish style. I have no complaints because I think Miss Quill is amazing, one of the best things about this show, and I’m excited to see more of her.

Anyway, that’s my verdict of Class‘s debut. A little weak in spots, not completely sure of what it’s supposed to be yet (although it has some very exciting ideas), but it’s a debut which reveals enormous promise and potential, which hopefully it will prove itself equal to capitalising upon. It’s a show we should all be excited about.

Rating: 8/10.

New companion: first impressions

…And it’s Pearl Mackie! She plays Bill, who seems to have an ’80s vibe going on with that wicked style (and hair) of hers. We’ve had a brief glimpse of Bill and Twelve working together in a short trailer the BBC released introducing the new companion, allowing us to form our first impressions of Pearl Mackie as Bill.

I have to admit, I didn’t take to Bill immediately. My initial reaction when I saw the trailer was: “annoying”. Maybe it was just the poorly-written dialogue, but Bill comes off as someone who will prove to annoy me over her time on the show. That she doesn’t take the threat of the Daleks seriously, but rather makes glib jokes when her life is in danger doesn’t bode well on that front, to be honest. Nor was I very inspired by the chemistry between Bill and Twelve. Perhaps it’s still just strange and uncomfortable seeing Twelve with someone other than Clara, but this partnership feels a bit jarring.

Moreover, she comes across to me as another iteration of the standard Moffat strong-female-companion archetype, i.e. she’s a bubbly, feisty, perky, self-confident, quick-witted young woman who’s unrealistically fearless in the face of danger, just like Amy, Clara and River. I love Amy, Clara and River for those qualities, but the trope has run its course, and to make Bill another iteration of this archetype is going to feel repetitive and unsatisfying: Bill is simply not going to out-Amy Amy or out-Clara Clara, because she’s not Amy or Clara and she’s going to look inadequate in comparison if she tries (talking about Bill here, or rather Moffat-writing-Bill, not Pearl, who, I’ve no doubt, will do her valiant best with the hand she’s dealt).

I’m hoping there’s more to this character than it seems so far. I’d be more prepared to accept another standard Moffat-style companion if she were to undergo some significant and meaningful character development over her time with the Doctor that clearly distinguishes her character and makes her into someone unique and interesting and more relatable. I’m not going to be happy if the character we saw in the trailer is the character Bill will remain for the rest of her time on the show.

I guess I’d just like to see something different. A companion who represents a stark change from what’s come before. An introverted companion, for once, an intellectual, an actual realistic, relatable person, or someone with loads of space for genuine, positive character development. Moffat has a type, and it’s getting old. From what we’ve seen, Bill is just more of the same.

All that said, though, I don’t want it to seem like I’m not going to give Bill a chance. Of course I’m going to give her a chance, and of course I want to go into Series 10 as open-minded as possible about the new companion. I don’t want to make rash judgments from a two-minute trailer (he says, after making rash judgments from a two minute trailer…), and I’d prepared (albeit sceptical, based on Moffat’s record), to have my first impressions of Bill proven wrong. It occurs to me just now that I thought precisely the same things about Clara when she became the new companion in 2013, and, although it took me a while, I ended up loving Clara. So it may well be that I’m proven wrong once again.

On Steven Moffat’s departure

Save your #moffatmustgo tweets, Moffat haters, because you’ve finally got your wish: Steven Moffat is retiring as Doctor Who showrunner after Series 10, to air in Spring 2017 (Autumn for we antipodeans), to be succeeded from Series 11 onwards by Chris Chibnall. I don’t mean to be resentful: it’s fair to say that Moffat’s era and style of Doctor Who hasn’t been received with universal adoration by the fandom — Moffat has had his legions of ardent fanboys and fangirls (like me), and conversely, a sizeable contingent of dissenters for whom Moffat’s interpretation of Doctor Who rubbed them the wrong way and who’ve never stopped clamouring for him to go. I know personally someone, a good friend and devoted Whovian, who will be delighted by this news. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with either perspective.

For my own part, I’m both saddened and gratified by the news. Anyone who reads this blog would know that I’m a huge Moffat fanboy, an unabashed Moffat partisan who will defend him and his era to the death. I think he’s by a substantial distance the best writer ever to contribute to the show, the best showrunner Doctor Who has ever had, and, I would propose, one of the best things ever to happen to Doctor Who. His era is easily my all-time favourite; he created my two favourite Doctors, Eleven and Twelve; and my favourite ever companion, Amy Pond. I became a fan of the show during Moffat’s tenure. Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who, in short, is my Doctor Who.

At the same time, I’ve been of the opinion for a long time that it’s about time for Moffat to go. As much as I’ve loved Steven Moffat as showrunner, Doctor Who thrives on change and renewal and reinvention, and the show should not ever become synonymous with one person’s creative vision. I don’t think Moffat had begun to run out of ideas at all — Series 9 has been the most creative and pioneering series in years, I would suggest since Doctor Who came back, in terms of pure boldness of vision. It suggests Moffat is still brimming with interesting ideas for Doctor Who. I’ve no doubt that Moffat could, if he wanted to, go on indefinitely directing Doctor Who and producing a high-quality show. But, by the end of Series 10, Moffat will have pretty much reached the limit of how long a single showrunner should be in charge of the show. If Moffat were to continue on after Series 10, it would be too long for the show to have been stuck in a familiar style, directed by a familiar vision employing familiar tropes and motifs. A new voice is needed. Which is why I’m glad about Moffat’s departure, even if I’m going to miss the man enormously. It’s, frankly, the perfect point for him to leave.

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As for Moffat’s chosen successor, Chris Chibnall, this isn’t an announcement about which I’m not without reservations. To be sure, I’ll be glad of a fresh vision guiding the show, but Chibnall would not have been my first choice (that would have been Jamie Mathieson, although I realise that was a pretty optimistic hope). Chibnall has commendable showrunning experience in producing Broadchurch, an absolutely fantastic show which is a huge credit to Chibnall’s ability to make high-quality television. He was also showrunner of a lesser-known BBC period drama called Born and Bred, which is also an exceptional show, and one of my favourite ever dramas (I highly recommend watching it). It’s his work on Broadchurch and Born and Bred that makes me very excited about the thought of Chibnall as Doctor Who showrunner.

But it’s Chibnall’s work on Doctor Who about which I have reservations. In his Doctor Who scripts to date, he has never particularly distinguished himself as a writer. His best script, in my opinion, was Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, which is a delightful romp, and in my opinion the best episode of Series 7, but not really what I’d call the most memorable of episodes. In contrast, when Steven Moffat was announced as showrunner, he’d written four all-time classics under Russell T Davies: The Empty Child/The Doctor DancesThe Girl in the FireplaceBlink and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. Chibnall has nothing like Moffat’s Doctor Who writing record under his belt going into assuming creative control of the show. That said, he’s written a few very good scripts for Torchwood: CountrycideAdrift and Fragments. But he was also responsible for Cyberwoman, one of a small handful of stories in the wider Doctor Who franchise that I can say without hesitation that I hate with a visceral passion.

On balance, I think the jury’s still out for me on Chris Chibnall as showrunner. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see what he produces before I pass judgment. And, frankly, at the end of the day, I am very excited, as well as trepidatious, to see how Chibnall does. At the very least, it can be said that he’s a real Doctor Who fan, he understands the show, and he’s likely to have an interesting vision for the show, which will probably be quite different from Steven Moffat’s. He’ll also be inheriting probably the best stable of regular writers the show has had since it came back: Jamie Mathieson, Peter Harness, Sarah Dollard, Toby Whithouse, so he’ll be very well-equipped as showrunner. One thing I will say unreservedly in his favour, though, is that he seems to have tremendous skill and instinct for writing characters. This is unmistakable from his work on Broadchurch and Born and Bred (again, I can’t recommend watching this show highly enough), as well as his writing for Doctor Who; he did create the character of Brian Pond Williams, after all, for whom the only apt description is “amazing”.

One last thought, on the 2017 air date for Series 10. Of course, I’m greatly disappointed that we won’t get any Doctor Who this year apart from the Christmas special (what is this, Sherlock!!?!?!?), but I can agree that the extended wait might be worth it. It’ll give Moffat and the crew plenty of time to perfect and hone Moffat’s final series. Moffat will want to go out on a bang, and I can anticipate that Series 10 is going to be huge, especially if Capaldi also leaves at the end of Series 10 (which I think is likely). An extra 6-8 months should surely give Moffat et al. enough time to hone Series 10 into the best series it can be, and, above all, make it worth the wait and worthy of the showrunner’s swan song. At the same time, though, I’d have thought, at least, that we’d get some Doctor Who in 2016: at least a couple of specials (à la 2009), or a split series. In that case, though, Series 10 better be worth the wait. I’m just wondering what on Earth I’m going to write about for the next year.

On the Series 10 debacle

So there have been rumours hovering around for some time now that there will not be a full series of Doctor Who in 2016, initially reported by the magazine Private Eye. The Mirror (whose track record on Doctor Who rumours is infamously deplorable) recently caused considerable hubbub among the fandom with its report that the number of episodes in Series 10 will be “halved”, supposedly because Peter Capaldi wanted to work on other projects.

These rumours appear to have been laid to rest with Steven Moffat’s confirmation that Series 10 will, indeed, be a full 12-episode run. This has been taken in many quarters to mean that, yes, 2016 will feature a full 12-episode Series 10, same as this year and last year. That may well yet turn out to be the case, but I have reasons to doubt that a full-length Series 10 in 2016 is guaranteed, at least at this point.

Reading Steven Moffat’s “confirmation”, it seems like he’s chosen his words very carefully. He didn’t say “there will be 12 episodes in 2016”. What he actually said was, yes, Series 10 will be 12 episodes, but “I don’t know when it goes out. That’s up to someone else. And even if I did know – which I genuinely don’t – I wouldn’t be allowed to say so as I have absolutely no say in it whatsoever.”

So Series 10 will be 12 episodes, but when it airs, and over what time frame, we don’t know—not even Moffat knows yet.

That Moffat has — finally — spoken up about the Series 10 situation, when these rumours have been circulating for approximately three months now, since the original Private Eye article was published, is curious. Why allow the rumours circulate for so long?

My hunch is that the situation of Doctor Who for at least the next two years is up in the air at the moment, that the BBC or whoever be the relevant powers that be have not yet decided what is happening with Doctor Who in 2016. Moffat’s “confirmation” of a full Series 10 has only come now to hastily cover Doctor Who’s (and Peter Capaldi’s) back after the damaging Mirror report.

I talk about hasty back-covering without resentment. If a full series of Doctor Who isn’t possible in 2016 for whatever reason, that’s fine. I just wish that the BBC had put out a statement earlier making the nature of the situation clear, so the rumours wouldn’t have been allowed to get out of hand, as they did. So no undignified covering of backs was necessary.

For my part, although a full Series 10 next year would be fab, I wouldn’t mind too much if we got, say, a split series (à la Series 7), or a year of specials before a full Series 10 in 2017. If we don’t get a full series next year, my preference would actually be for the latter, a succession of 3-6 Sherlock-esque feature-length specials spaced evenly throughout the year. It would make for a very different kind of Doctor Who than we’re used to, and I’d be very interested to see what Steven Moffat does with the 90-minute time-frame in Doctor Who.

Even a split-series might be an interesting experiment, if Moffat has learnt his lessons from Series 7 (i.e. “blockbuster of the week” is no substitute for quality narratives). Six regular episodes a year should, one would think, allow more time and effort to be put into writing and production of those episodes, making for better stories.

But we’ll see.