TV Having booked this weekend away from work due to my birthday happening on Monday and wanting to treat myself, theoretically I could have tuned into this third episode of Class as soon as it was posted to the iPlayer at 10am this morning. But Class doesn’t feel like a “daytime” show. Much like its parent series, there’s something to be said for waiting for the darkness and watching when you’re slightly tired and more susceptible to whatever suspense it’s about to deliver. Plus if I had watched this morning, I’d have immediately wanted to review the thing and there goes half the day. Sometimes routines are good and Saturday evenings often don’t feel the same unless I’m chiding myself for three hours about my lack of vocabulary.
Nightvisiting repaid my patience and anticipation with its twilight atmosphere, surreal suburban imagery and emotional depth. Surely inspired by Buffy’s Conversations with Dead People, this relatively stand alone instalment is narratively more straightforward than previous weeks, more engaged with providing extra dimension to its characters. Plus it’s the first episode not related to something happening within the school and although that might be for budgetary and scheduling reasons, it does demonstrate the show doesn’t feel tied to Coal Hill Academy as a locale. Many shows have standing sets that are consequently pressed into service because they exist. Class is designed to be rather more flexible.
As suspected too, Class is also going to have to work hard to find a different identity to The Sarah Jane Adventures. That earlier series also dealt with grief and parental disappointment on numerous occasions and although it presumably wouldn’t have played out in tense almost real time and would have had a PG certificate, a version of the central concept of the episode could have existed in that series, albeit perhaps affecting someone other than the regulars. A fair few of those stories eventually ended up cross cutting a stand off against a visiting alien with Rani and Clyde chasing through the streets searching for clues or their friends or both. Functionally, what is Mrs Quill, but Sarah Jane and Mr Smith rolled into one?
The Lankin are in the phyla of Doctor Who monster designed around the requirements of the emotional core of a story rather than a special effect, although in this case, the accompanying visuals and body horror were suitably horrific. The kind of gestalt being which might rock up in an Eighth Doctor novel in that period when the text was like a poetic word fountain even if the human mind couldn’t quite conceive what was being described (eg, Lawrence Miles). Emotion feeders are a staple of the genre, and often using loved ones against the hero and as was seen in Doctor Who’s Last Christmas, grief is a particularly potent tool. With its heartbreaking opening montage, the episode succeeded in drawing us into Tanya’s pain.
It shows how strong Ness’s writing is that she doesn’t become the victim. There’s another version of this episode where she unequivocally succumbs to the Lankin’s offer and it’s the thrashing about in her front garden, which ultimately saves her. But the big theme of the episode is turning anger into a strength, April against her father for his weakness making her stronger, Matteusz transforming his parent’s misunderstanding of who he is into love for Charlie, Mrs. Quill’s rage against her sister motivating her to help humanity this time, Ram’s general annoyance at his new situation leading him to listening for once. If the show’s successful, there’ll soon be a YouTube edit soundtracked by Katy Perry’s Roar.
The performances are top notch, especially Sophie Hopkins who is more than capable of holding a close-up and underplaying the emotional when required. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is just creepy as the manifestation of her Dad, with his Chameleon-like blinks and body language demonstrating physical restraint, of being attached and held back back the larger entity. But once again lets worship at the fetishy boots of Katherine Kelly, mesmerizingly striding through the thing (or at least striding with as much as her character's reluctance will allow) and taking full account of the humour potential of Mrs Quill's exile, cynically coping with the domesticity and humanity the Doctor's landed her with. It's the kind of role which could be played too big, but for all her boggly eye rolling, it's contained, compelling.
If there’s some mild consternation it's in how the only two available kids in the group are developing a romantic interest and although such things are not an unrealistic result of intense situations, in some ways having April and Ram remaining platonic feels like it would have been stronger. Which isn’t to say that the writer isn’t applying some quite logic bits of character business like April needing a break due to her heart problems and Ram still retaining some of his irascibility, not quite used to embracing the version of himself that bullied Charlie in the first episode. Plus it is notable that April makes the first move, holds his hand, kisses him, as if to demonstrate just how emboldened she is.
But overall this is well directed with some good laughs and scares and a sense of achieving what it’s setting out to do. Would I be watching if it wasn’t a Doctor Who spin-off? I’d like to think so although I’m putting everything off at the moment due to ploughing through the whole of Star Trek (twenty-one seasons to go) which makes this impossible to really gauge. Plus I was a huge fan of Spooks: Code 9 which shows I’ll watch anything designed for this demographic. Reviews have been notably positive across the board and although a couple of have suggested this is the best yet, I’d argue they’ve all been equally good. If the strike rate remains this high we’ll be clamouring for Ness to take over the main series once Chibnall leaves.