The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did.

TV Last night in an idle moment, I straw polled social media: "How many of you have watched the Doctor Who spin-off Class? It seems to have generated almost zero buzz." The answers were pretty much as expected. No one is watching it. It's not something that really interested them and because they've not heard amazing things about it have stuck to that decision.  Some of these people are long term Doctor Who fans who you'd think would watch anything televised set in the Whoniverse and yet, even though this thing is free and available on demand they simply can't be bothered.

No one is talking about it.  Granted my Twitter feed is currently top heavy with people fearing the upcoming apocalypse emanated from across the Atlantic or how there isn't a satisfactory political  opposition in the UK for various reasons. But despite me also following loads of Who fans etc about the only person who bothers to tweet about Class is Patrick Ness himself, excitedly dropping trivia about the making of an episode but despite having 47.5k followers his tweets rarely receive replies and often from people who've either never seen the thing or want to offer some disparaging remarks.

It'd be useless trying to explain why that is beyond the show itself not being good enough for people to want to recommend it and create some word of mouth.  It's rarely in the top ten on iPlayer and official figures haven't been released yet.  Perhaps this will change with a tv broadcast, we are in uncharted waters in terms of how the show's being released, albeit for a public broadcaster (Netflix and Amazon have weekly shows too).  But this has the stench of failure that really shouldn't be the case with something that has the Who brand.  People even watched Torchwood's Miracle Day.

The commentary I've managed to ferret out for The Metaphysical Engine is that it's the best of the series mostly because the annoying kids aren't in it and isn't that problem when they're supposed to be the focus of the series?  Well, yes it is.  I don't necessarily agree, the kids can be quite entertaining when they're not being quite so horrible to each other and crack a few jokes, but it's fair to say Quill has been the saving grace of the series thanks to Katherine Kelly's acidic delivery and Chaplineque body language.

If the episode works at all, it's because Ness effectively decides to write one of those questing Doctor Who stories with numerous locales ala The Keys of Marinus, The Key To Time or Seasons of Fear, with its own Time Lord figure in Headmistress Dorothea flying a dimensionally transcendental travelling machine through the kinds of metaphysical realities which used to be found in Eighth Doctor novels instead of the usual alien worlds.   Such stories have the added element of mystery or what this new locale is and what they'll find there.

Pitching up in other people's belief systems and afterlife is novel and the execution, especially of the Arn, atmospheric, helped immeasurably by Wayne Yip's cinematic direction taking advantage of the landscape (Yip's previous work includes Misfits which suggests why he might have got this gig).  He also really knows how to seek out and take advantage of the micro expressions in Kelly's face, the side eye, the upwards motions of the side of her mouth, her seemingly telekinetic ability to control her hair.  Every close up is compelling, especially when she's at rest.

Plus the idea of telling a side story which explains where a character who was otherwise absent in the previous episode is pretty novel even if it decided to simply re-use material from last week rather than reshoot those scenes from completely Quill's POV.  The old BBC Books novel The Face of the Enemy offered a similar idea, with the Master filling in while the Third Doctor and Jo were off experiencing The Curse of Peladon.  That also featured Ian and Barbara and Osgood's Dad.  If only Class embraced the Who mythology with that kind of abandon.

So why did I literally nod off in places other than not being able to drink caffeine for medical reasons and my anti-depressants making me drowsy at inopportune moments?  Bluntly, it's because there's not a lot to care about.  I didn't empathise at all with Quill's quest; hers and Charlie's backstory is c-grade generic Star Trek material at best lacking the necessary foothold in human reality (RTD's Zog problem writ large) and, I suspect, due to the slender running time of the series we simply haven't had time to really get to know her character to the point of wanting her to succeed.

The long conversations about the nature of being a warrior are fine, and well played, but in identification terms they're a step too far for most of us, I suspect.  The stakes are counter intuitive.  We're being asked to cheer on someone attempting to return to her default setting of killing machine which is subconsciously a bit of a no-no.  At least when Spike had his chip removed in Buffy, having already marked himself out as a beloved character, we pretty much went with him, right up to the point where he gained his soul.

It's just all so blah.  Not awful, pretty watchable.  It's competently written, so there's nothing to get angry about as I did through Torchwood.  I can barely build up the anger to shout about Quill being subjected to a cross between a mystical pregnancy and "bun in the oven" syndrome which is pretty objectionable not least because there's a whole raft of questions about how intercourse works between two unrelated species pretending to be human and what the results of that might be.  If the viewer's left asking such obstetrical questions at the end of an episode like that, something isn't right.

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