Class: The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo

A little bit of a wobble for the second episode. It was far from terrible, but if it wasn’t for the Doctor Who connection, I’m not sure what would be compelling me to stick with it. I get the feeling that the show’s not quite sure who its audience is. It’s trying to be Buffy, but it also seems to be making its appeal narrower than it needs to be; just because your characters are teens, it doesn’t mean you have to aim so squarely for that demographic. The focus on character development and relationships is good, and that stuff’s universal, but it seems to fall down whenever there’s any sci-fi action required.

This is mainly because it veers worryingly into the realms of the silly, drawing unwelcome comparisons to Who‘s last “more adult” spin-off. There’s a lot of blood and gore – I’m neither for or against that in theory, but it’s used so frequently and with the same shots repeated so often that it loses all impact and just becomes comical. Especially as it’s always poor old Ram who seems to get splattered in the face by buckets of the stuff.

His recent experiences have seemingly turned him into a bit of a prick since the first ep. And do you know, he smokes. But at least he’s working his way through it, and it’s good that the show takes the time to examine the impact that all this insanity is having on our heroes’ lives. Well, apart from Matteusz, Charlie’s prom date who was there when the Doctor put the gang together but has seemingly since been dropped – we’re told he was “grounded” this week, but he doesn’t feature in the title sequence or main publicity photos with the others. A bit odd, really – is he the Class equivalent of Kelsey?

Still, after the gore count was upped with Mr Armitage’s recurring crossover character status coming to and end, the core group came together to defeat a monster without the Doctor’s help for the first time, and they achieved it by just having a bit of a chat and persuading it to leave. Like I say, it falls down a bit when it comes to the actual plot – why couldn’t the dragon have fed on cow blood from the local butchers or something, rather than killing all those humans? – which means that while it’s an enjoyable setting to spend 45 minutes in, it doesn’t quite satisfy in the end.

Oh, and also Miss Quill is Sherlock now, in a seemingly unconnected side-plot where she discovers an Ofsted inspector is a mysterious robot in disguise by noticing that his trousers are older than his jacket, or something. I assume that the robots will become important at some point in the future – that foreshadowing of “The Governers” at the end was far from subtle.

RATING: 6

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Class: For Tonight We Might Die

Yes, it’s on to what is ambitiously billed on the Bluray cover as “series one” of Class, the spin-off that has thus far completely passed me by. I dutifully downloaded the first couple of episodes when they appeared on BBC Three, but I hadn’t got round to watching them by the following week. As this project was well underway at this point, I decided to just delete them and hold off so that the series would be fresh for my future self, who is now my current self.

Since then, and perhaps inevitably given the state of affairs with BBC Three, it’s become clear that there was no real need to stay up to date with it anyway. I’ve heard a few bits and bobs about the series, and none of them particularly good, so was surprised to find I quite enjoyed the first episode. I was cynical about whether a man in his thirties could get much from a YA drama about teenagers written by a man in his forties, but it was well-crafted and had a lot more depth than the start of Torchwood, which is its nearest point of comparison.

Admittedly, some of the dialogue did have a hint of “how do you do, fellow kids” about it, mostly when it came to April, the angsty one with the disabled mum who had her heart literally stolen by a smoke monster. Becky from Coronation Street is pretty good as Miss Quill, the super-strict teacher slash undercover alien freedom fighter – a sort of cross between Captain Jack and Mr Bronson. She’s joined by Charlie, the nerdy school weirdo slash undercover alien prince who’s basically Sarah Jane’s Luke but with a slightly more up-to-date haircut.

Then there’s Tanya, younger than the others having been moved up a year, who we know the least about at this stage but who seems like she might be the most likeable character. Completing the gang is Ram, who starts off as the stereotypical jock and what passes for the class clown in a class of super-gifted kids, but who will presumably be changed by the quite shockingly gruesome sight of his prom date being eviscerated in front of him. He probably won’t be so unrealistically good at football now that his leg’s been chopped off either.

For the most part it’s like watching a decent CBBC drama, but those occasional moments of unflinching horror, along with a bucket or two of blood and the odd utterance of the word “shit”, place the tone somewhere in the middle of the two previous spin-offs. It’s clearly setting its stall out as a British Buffy, and I enjoyed the knowing references to that and other shows with a similar premise. I only worry about whether it has the resources to pull it off – the effects on display looked good but it’s clear they have to be used sparingly. Shadows make for a very cheap monster.

The school itself is unrecognisable from its recent appearances, despite the presence of the same headmaster, having been upgraded to something much more swish and modern than the bog standard inner-city comprehensive where Clara worked. It’s still clearly supposed to be the same place though, with all that history, thanks to little touches like “S Foreman” appearing on what seemed to be a memorial wall, along with “D Pink” and “C Oswald”. Does that mean Susan’s actually dead, or just presumed dead after she disappeared from that junkyard?

Anyway, it’s a good job the Doctor turned up when he did, otherwise this would have been a very short spin-off series. This gang of misfits were seriously out of their depth, so they’d best buck their ideas up; he can’t turn up to save their necks every week, and it remains to be seen whether the remaining seven episodes will be as enjoyable without the big crowd-pleasing cameo to structure the story around. But on first impressions, definitely some cautious optimism, tempered only by the knowledge that what I’m watching was a complete flop by most metrics.

Seriously, it’s definitely better than Torchwood.

RATING: 7

Dark Water / Death in Heaven

This is the first two-parter for a hell of a long time, and I must admit it was nice yesterday to just watch an episode without having to immediately write about it. This is a return to the traditional two part finale, where the first episode takes its time to slowly build to a climax, putting everything in place for the real action to begin in the second. Knowing what’s coming allows you to appreciate the details during the set up. Those teardrop logos were everywhere, but I don’t think I noticed them on first viewing until the little Cybermen sting played.

The big highlight of the first episode was of course the death of Danny Pink. I know it’s supposed to be sad, but I was just amused at the possibly that the accident was Clara’s fault for bollocking on at him while he was trying to cross the road. The volcano scene, though, is incredibly powerful and tense. I love the pay-off – “do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference? – as it says everything about how the Doctor really feels, despite his general demeanour.

This could easily have been redemption for Danny’s character, but he’s still a bit of a knob even when he’s dead. He’s so thick that he can’t think of something to tell Clara that only he’d know. And later, when he becomes a sad Cyberman, why does he take her to cemetery, of all places, when he knew it’d be full of reanimated Cybercorpses? Then, when she’s talking about the Doctor and being a liar, he loses his temper and points his gun at her. There’s no coming back from that – he can fuck off and stay dead.

The Cybermen were nice and formidable, despite still retaining the Wrong Trousers sound effect, and the shot of them all emerging from St Paul’s was obviously very special. But they were very much second fiddle to Missy. The gender swap really works, and makes me excited about the Doctor’s future. I wonder how long the Master had been wanting to snog the Doctor. If indeed this was the first time it’s happened.

On to the second episode then, in which the actor credits are swapped round and it’s Clara’s eyes that appear in the titles. This is a lot of fun, but the Clara-as-the-Doctor stuff is little more than a red herring. What’s far more interesting is the actual Doctor teaming up with his new UNIT chums to become the President of the Earth, and I love that he gloats to Missy about how he’s got what she’s always wanted.

I like that one of those chums is Sanjeev Bhaskar, and it’s a shame that he didn’t have more to do, but then nobody survives very long around the Master, who’s just as callous and cruel as ever. The Doctor sealed Osgood’s fate when he started hinting that she could become a companion, but it was always in the back of my mind that there were two of her knocking about. Kate’s apparent death is shocking, but not as shocking as how she survived. I have some reservations about how tasteful the Cyberbrig is, but the Doctor saluting him brought a tear to my eye.

All that remains is for Danny Pink to sacrifice himself a couple of times – which still isn’t quite enough to make him less of a prick – and for Clara to have the first of her several goodbye scenes. I’d forgotten about the indecisiveness around when she’d leave, but I’m glad that she stayed on, as I really like her and Capaldi together. I know they both have their critics, but it’s that partnership that made me enjoy this series so much, which in turn inspired me to start this project. After the 50th anniversary reinvigorated my love for Who, this series cemented it.

RATING: 9

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8

  • Seasons/Series watched: 34 of 36
  • Stories watched: 252 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 812 of 839

The Caretaker

It’s fairly rare these days for the Doctor to spend a prolonged period of time on contemporary Earth. More often than not, it comes about because he has no choice but to stay in one place, and it usually falls to Gareth Roberts to write it. Like the recent James Cordon-based diversions, this episode is a cheap and cheerful change of pace, but it differs in that it focuses on driving the over-arching stories of the series forward, rather than taking a break from them.

This is the most soapy the show has ever been, and that’s not a criticism; there’s a reason soaps are the most popular dramas on TV, and there’s no reason why Doctor Who shouldn’t aim to have characters who you care enough about to be invested in their personal lives. I guess the crux of this episode is whether you consider Clara to be at that level; I remember not quite being there with her when this went out, but I am now, and so I welcomed the chance to learn more about her in a less-hectic-than-usual episode.

Danny Pink, on the other hand, is a complete knobhead. I can’t help but agree with the Doctor that Clara has “made a boyfriend error”. It’s not that he’s necessarily in the wrong – it’s natural that he’d be suspicious of the Doctor, and keen to protect Clara, and he does have a point about the Doctor being like a military officer. But considering that we barely know him, who does he think he is, coming round here calling our hero a prick? Putting him in direct opposition to the best character in the history of television doesn’t help us to like him.

The bigger issue, though, is how he is with Clara when they’re in private. He’s controlling, demanding and manipulative, asserting his patriarchal dominance and using emotional blackmail to get his own way. He makes her promise to never hide anything from him, as he believes that being her boyfriend entitles him to control her life, and threatens to leave her if she doesn’t comply. He’s not good enough for her – not because he’s an ex-soldier, or because he resembles a P.E teacher, just because he’s a bit of a shit.

Still, I’ve found that I’m able to look past my dislike of Danny Pink more often than not during this rewatch. Perhaps it’s because I’m looking forward to seeing him die fairly soon. Putting him to one side, there was plenty to enjoy here, with Capaldi on great form as usual, and given a fair amount of comedy to do. I loved his assumption that Clara’s boyfriend would be the one who looks vaguely like Matt Smith, and how pleased with himself it made him. Plus Chris Addison has turned up now, raising the prospect of a Malcolm/Ollie reunion.

RATING: 7

Into the Dalek

I don’t know where to start with this one, as nothing really stood out as being exceptionally good or bad. It was a bit like Dalek, with the focus on one individual Dalek and its philosophical debates with the Doctor, but mixed with The Invisible Enemy, with a little dash of the antibodies from Let’s Kill Hitler thrown in for good measure. A bit of a mish-mash of ideas, but it looked great and it was well directed. Always nice to see Tyres too.

It doesn’t quite hit the heights of Dalek because it only really gets under the skin of the creature in the literal sense. I was hoping that the hippy stuff about Rusty seeing the error of his ways after watching a star being born was all just a ploy, but it seems he meant it. I feel the Dalek should have been more cunning, but then the episode is as much about examining the new Doctor as it is the nature of his enemy.

It offers the theory that they’re very much two sides of the same coin, which is interesting, but my answer to the question of whether the Doctor is a good man is always: “well, of course he is, he’s the Doctor”. You can see that Capaldi is taking a very different approach, but fundamentally all that’s changed is that he’s become less tactful around death. This is admittedly being said with the benefit of hindsight, as you can tell that the intention was to be suggest that he might have gone a bit Colin Baker this time round.

It’s a bold move, and I can sort of see why it put some people off, even though I completely disagree with those people. I’ll admit to being taken aback by how casual he is about the high body count, but the side-effect of the Missy cutaways is that they make it all slightly softer. The people who sacrifice themselves in the Doctor’s name are being plucked from time, raising the hope that they might be saved (even if that hope turns out to be false), and reassuring us that there is a plan behind all of this (even if it’ll be a while before it’s all made clear).

Meanwhile, we’ve also got the introduction of Danny Pink, in scenes that feel very separate from the rest of the episode, which is a consequence of this persistent trend for the companion to live away from the TARDIS. All we learn about him at this stage is that he’s an ex-soldier and that he may well have killed a woman, so he’s not immediately seeming like boyfriend material.

I’m not keen on the Danny Pink element of this series, but it’s early days, and he’s not too infuriating yet. This is a decent if not spectacular episode, and the high point is the way Rusty saunters off after describing the Doctor as a good Dalek, giving him the side-eye all the way out the door. That made me laugh so much, whether it was intended to be funny or not.

RATING: 7