As a rule, nothing endears me to a TV show more than a group of loveable alien-fighting misfits. It may not be new or original for a rag tag bunch of teenagers to be brought together to combat the threat of supernatural activity. You know there will be love-interests, hormonal arguments and journeys of self-discovery. All set against a backdrop of man-eating monsters and rogue robots. Latest inheritor of this”if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” formula is Patrick Ness, writer of the new Doctor Who spinoff Class for the BBC. As a huge fan both of Doctor Who and Ness’ children novels, I was anxious to see if the show could inject life into a franchise that has been spiralling downhill ever since Steven Moffat became show-runner in 2009.
The drama takes place at the famous Coal Hill School, the location of the first ever episode of Doctor Who. Here, we meet a group of familiar types— the arrogant football jock, the try-hard teacher’s pet, the isolated child prodigy— all thrown together by events outside of their control. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say the premise revolves around a tear in time and space; the Doctor Who universe now contains so many rips in the fabric of reality, it has become the cosmological equivalent of that school jumper you had back in 2004, the one that your mum had to throw away because it ended up having more holes in it than material. Sure enough, deadly aliens start pouring through what one character charmingly deems “the bumhole of time”, and those squabbling kids have to get their act together and save the world.
Class might not be the most original program to hit our screens, but it contains much of what I used to love about Doctor Who: tantalising glimpses of other planets, witty dialogue, LGBT representation that isn’t patronising, and a winning mixture of the fantastic and the mundane. Extra-terrestrial shenanigans don’t put a stop to real life, and though Ness might not have mastered the emotional fluency of the Russell T Davies era, he avoids the artificial dialogue of the most recent series. Instead, character-development is subtle and effective. Fiercely intelligent and straight-talking Tanya, kind-hearted but spoilt Charlie, lonely yet quietly confident April and headstrong, misunderstood Ram start to emerge as distinctive personalities, with the potential to become firm favourites as the series goes on. The only indication of Moffat’s executive producer role lies in the clacking heels and swishing bob of Miss Quill. She clearly belongs to his vast stable of underwritten female characters, defined by the fact they are “badass and a bit sexy”—see River Song and his version of the Master.
Nevertheless, Class is a welcome return to form for the franchise. It might be gorier than Doctor Who, but it carries forward its irreverence, humour and humanity. Besides, I’m firmly behind any show where the main characters assemble to attack a dragon whilst M.I.A plays in the background.