Class (Jul 30 - Aug 6)

July 30, 2017: "For Tonight We Might Die"
July 31: "The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo"
August 1: "Nightvisiting"
August 2: "Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart"
August 3: "Brave-ish Heart"
August 4: "Detained"
August 5: "The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did"
August 6: "The Lost"

July 30, 2017: "For Tonight We Might Die"

Oh, hello again! Now where were we?  Ah, that's right, Class.

As noted last time, Doctor Who took a year off.  But it wasn't a completely Who-free time: in October 2016, Class, a brand new original spin-off, premiered on the online-only channel BBC Three, as well as in Australia.270  Class was the brainchild of author Patrick Ness (perhaps best known as the author of A Monster Calls), who expanded a Doctor Who pitch into a full-blown series, all about life at Coal Hill (the school seen all the way back in the first episode, and most recently as the school that Clara taught at).  Over the season's eight episodes, students would have to balance their personal lives with alien threats, much like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  This was meant to be a show that spun off from Doctor Who but wasn't really tied to it, the way the previous spin-offs were.  Other than the setting (and the reappearance of Nigel Betts, from series 8, as the headmaster Mr Armitage), Class features a new cast of characters.

This first episode, "For Tonight We Might Die", is very much an establishing episode, as it takes the time to introduce all our main characters, but in a natural way.  So we get April, who seems to be the nice girl; Tanya, who's actually been moved up a couple years; Ram, who's a star athlete but needs tutoring help from Tanya; Charlie, a strange new kid from Sheffield; Matteusz, an immigrant from Poland who's Charlie's love interest; and Miss Quill, a fairly mean and sarcastic teacher who is connected to Charlie in some way.  The episode immediately sets out the series' stall in terms of diversity, if nothing else; Tanya's black, Ram is Sikh (or at least his father is, which therefore suggests Ram is too), Matteusz is an immigrant, and Charlie's gay.  But other than a brief mention from Matteusz, which is played for laughs rather than commentary ("Everything all right?" Charlie asks.  "Oh, yeah," Matteusz replies.  "My deeply religious parents are very happy I'm going to dance with a boy.  This has been an evening of love and warmth."  "Great!" Charlie replies brightly, missing the sarcasm), this is all treated just as a matter of course.  As it should be.

But yes, this episode is full of set-up.  We discover that Charlie is the last member of an alien race called the Rhodia, while Miss Quill is the last member of her species, the Quill.  The Rhodia and the Quill were involved in a war on their planet that the Rhodia won, and Miss Quill was sentenced to become the slave/servant (depending on who's speaking) of Charlie, who was the prince of the Rhodia.  But both races were wiped out by a third race, the Shadow Kin, who wiped out both races in a single day.  Charlie and Miss Quill only survived because they were rescued "by a figure of legend out of space and time itself" (aka the Doctor).  But because there's a rip in the fabric of time at Coal Hill (now an Academy instead of the School it used to be), the Shadow Kin are able to come to Earth to finish the job -- and because they want something Charlie has called the Cabinet of Souls, which they believe is a powerful weapon.  They can't just take over the planet, though, because the leader of the Shadow Kin has gotten his heart linked with April's; they both need to be alive in order to survive.  As I said, lots of set-up.

It's to the episode's credit, though, that all this set-up is handled fairly well.  Other than one big infodump speech to April about Charlie and Miss Quill's real origins, everything else comes up organically.  All the relationships are sketched out by showing rather than telling, which is really nice, and the threat of the Shadow Kin (who literally travel in shadows -- a bit like the Vashta Nerada from "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead") is clear without being oversold.  The way they come in and casually kill Ram's girlfriend Rachel just as a matter of course is horrifying but isn't fetishized.  It is surprisingly bloody though, as Ram is liberally splashed with Rachel's blood and subsequently loses half a leg attacking the Shadow Kin.

Tanya, April, Matteusz, Charlie, and Ram look as the Doctor tells them
they'll be protecting Coal Hill from the tear. ("For Tonight We Might Die")
Really, somewhat surprisingly the downside of "For Tonight We Might Die" is that the shadow of the Doctor hangs over the whole episode.  Usually the presence of the Doctor enhances things (as in the two SJA stories he shows up in), but here he's a distraction.  Peter Capaldi's name is right there in the opening credits, and you just keep waiting for him to show up.  The Doctor does show up, of course, but not until the climax of the episode.  This unfairly shifts the focus off the main characters as a result.  It also means that the resolution of this episode feels off, somehow; the Doctor knows there's a tear in time here and that all sorts of potentially dangerous aliens are going to be attracted to it, and more importantly in a way much of what happens here is his fault.  The tear in time is because there's so much artron energy around Coal Hill (in other words, the Doctor keeps visiting) that time has worn thin.  And yet he decides to leave it in the hands of these teenagers, with a rather lame excuse that even he can't fix everything.  It's the sort of situation that the Doctor would fix as a matter of course in his own show (especially since it's his fault), but because this is a spin-off he has to hand it over to someone else.  This wasn't a problem in something like Torchwood (which this episode frequently looks like it wants to emulate, with the tear being a lot like the Rift) because the Doctor didn't really know about it.  But here he does, and he chooses to leave it.  It's weird.

Still, it's the first episode, and there's time to adjust the balance of things, particularly once Class can get a chance to stand on its own, away from the Doctor.  Its influences are clear (and overt, as the characters mention Buffy, Once Upon a Time, and The Vampire Diaries at the end as parallels to their own situation), as is its goal to be a somewhat dark, supernatural show aimed at teenagers and young adults.  They have a strong cast and some sparkling writing, and while it's not 100% successful in the first episode, there's enough here to be encouraging.

July 31: "The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo"

I'm not quite sure what to make of this episode.  It's ostensibly about a killer tattoo (well, sort of), but the story seems far more interested in examining the human cost of the events last episode, particularly with regards to Ram.  That's an admirable goal, but it does mean that this is shaping up to be a rather different show from what the first episode seemed to indicate.

Let's be clear: Ram's storyline is very well done.  It's good that we get an episode that isn't shy about dealing with the fallout from the previous week, and Fady Elsayed is more than up to the task of portraying Ram as someone who's hurt and confused and can't even take solace in football anymore, thanks to his new prosthetic leg that the Doctor gave him.  You really get a sense of the anguish Ram is going through, with his girlfriend dead and him unable to tell anyone about it, other than some weird kids he was only thrust together with because of the circumstances.  The only one he kind of opens up to is Tanya, and we do get the sense that their relationship is stronger than we might have otherwise guessed -- Ram might ostensibly be using her for tutoring help, but there seems to be a stronger connection beyond that between the two of them.

The other nice thing that this episode does is actually examine what it would mean for these kids to be watching over the "bunghole of time" (as Tanya calls it).  "Even if something does come through, what are we supposed to do about it?" Tanya wonders.  "We're not superheroes."  But this is where the episode goes slightly awry -- because something has come through, and they don't really have any idea what to do about it.

Ram confronts the dragon's mate. ("The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo")
That something is not actually the dragon tattoo that keeps moving around on Ram's coach Dawson's skin (which brings to mind the tattoo-like thing on Me in series 9's "Face the Raven"), but rather that dragon's mate, which kills people by skinning them alive and has Dawson reach into the corpse so that the mate can feed on the fresh blood.  Dawson is OK with this because the dragon made him stronger and more powerful.  What's notable about these scenes is how Class appears to be doubling down on the gore.  Ram is once again splashed with blood, and he witnesses the dragon kill one of the cleaning staff, as well as the aftermath of its killing one of the assistant coaches.  (Not that the others emerge unscathed, as they watch the dragon kill the headmaster, Mr Armitage -- which is actually pretty upsetting, given how much we'd seen of his character in Doctor Who, and how he seemed like a decent person.)  Writer Patrick Ness seems to really want to confront Ram with this awfulness, to keep reminding him of what happened to Rachel, but he does it in a rather sensational manner.  Which is fine, this is obviously trying to be a darker show, and it doesn't feel as pointless as it did in early Torchwood, but it is still noticeable.  And the good thing that comes out of it is Ram confronting the dragon's mate: "So she's trapped.  Maybe you'll never get her off his body.  That's the new reality. What are you going to do about it?  ...  Maybe you'll never have her back the way you want.  I'll never get Rachel back either.  But at least you'll have her.  Maybe you could find a way to make the new reality work."  But that means that they all seem to be largely accepting of Dawson's ultimate fate.  OK, fine, he was a murderer (or at least complicit), but it still doesn't sit right.

And this resolution is also where the episode falls down a bit.  Because the episode has made a point of saying that this group doesn't really know how to stop anything that comes through the tear.  (I'm gonna keep calling it the "tear", as I don't know that I can quite bring myself to keep using "bunghole of time" seriously.)  And the ultimate resolution of that is to talk to the creatures that come through, reason with them.  That's a laudable message, but I suspect it won't work that often.  (It didn't really work with the Shadow Kin last time, for instance.)  And so that means that they don't really have any more of a clue of how to handle things at the end of the episode than at the beginning.  And that's really unsatisfying, particularly because the episode seems to believe that they do have a better handle on things.  Maybe Miss Quill will be of more help next time (since here she gets her own subplot about being observed by a robot which has apparently been constructed by the Governors (aka the school board) which is clearly setting up something for later on in the series).  But as of right now I don't really buy it.

So I dunno.  If you were to judge this based purely on Ram's storyline, and on the growth he experiences, as he's finally able to (start to) confront his demons and his new reality and is even able to confide in his father Varun (Aaron Neil, doing an outstanding job), then this is a great success.  If you judge this based on avoiding characterization clichés and making our heroes actually confront what it's like living in this sort of world, then this is a success.  But if you were judging it based on the dragon/coach subplot, then it feels both a bit standard/unsurprising and a bit unresolved.  So that's probably the definition of a guarded success, then.

August 1: "Nightvisiting"

Now this is more like it!

If the first episode of Class was largely setting everything up, and the second was good but a bit disjointed, then this episode is where they hit the ground running, firing on all cylinders.  "Nightvisiting" is a good balance of the character stuff and the "problem of the week" stuff.

This time around we focus primarily on Tanya; last week we learned that her dad had died, and this week it's the two-year anniversary of his death from a stroke.  Tanya is still broken up about it (or perhaps the anniversary has caused all her old feelings to resurface), which is why this week's monster has chosen to try and latch onto her.  This week it's a weird plant-like creature called the Lankin271, which is here to feed on people's grief.  But fascinatingly, the Lankin can't just grab people and force them to give up their grief; instead, people have to reach out to the Lankin, to be willing to surrender their grief to them.  This means that the Lankin has to convince people to do so, which it does by presenting people with dead friends and relatives, offering them a form of closure.

Tanya talks to her "dad". ("Nightvisiting") ©BBC
Effectively, that means we get little character studies between Tanya and her deceased father Jasper, as well as (to a lesser extent) Miss Quill and her dead sister.  We learn who Tanya is and how much her father meant to her, and we learn that Miss Quill (or Andra'ath, as her sister calls her) doesn't like her sister very much.  Oh, and Ram sees Rachel again, because apparently the poor guy hasn't suffered enough -- but he books it out of there pretty fast (although that allows the show to have a very effective scare, as Rachel suddenly appears in April's Skype window due to the video lag).  But that also means that not only do we get insights into these characters, but also that we get to see just how manipulative the Lankin is.  It's fascinating, watching it try to say just the right things, freely admitting that it's not actually the dead come back to life (although it does suggest that it possesses the dead's souls) but nevertheless trying to convince people that it doesn't matter, that they can give over their grief to the Lankin -- although it leaves out the part that it will kill the person.

But because this isn't your typical swaggering alien invasion, "Nightvisiting" gets to be a much quieter piece, about characters talking to each other -- whether that's interactions with the Lankin, or Charlie's interactions with his boyfriend Matteusz, who's been kicked out of his parents' house.  And since this is geared toward teenagers/young adults, you'd better believe we get a sex scene -- tastefully done, mind, but still there.  But ultimately it's the two differing conversations with the Lankin -- Tanya's and Miss Quill's -- that hold the most interest.  Miss Quill is immediately distrustful and is largely playing for time, while Tanya seems actually interested in the Lankin's proposition, even if still hesitant.  It's a fascinating discussion that makes for compelling viewing.

I said last time that Class didn't really have a handle on how to actually deal with anything coming through the tear (and thank goodness the characters are back to calling it that this week too), but that was partly because it seemed like the sorts of things coming through were going to be largely beyond their capabilities.  The Lankin, by contrast, is a clever idea that the team clearly can deal with, and while the final solution is to drive a bus through the Lankin and sever its link to Tanya and her dad, it feels like a reasonable solution, rather than a skin-of-their-teeth save.

So in "Nightvisiting" we get a clever, intriguing monster that leads to a whole series of character studies and even some character growth (including Tanya letting go at the end and Ram starting to open up to the others), and most importantly the balance struck here is near perfect.  This is an excellent piece of television and an encouraging sign for the series.  I suspect this might end up being the high point of the run, but if the remaining episodes can even come close to this then they'll have a winning show on their hands.

August 2: "Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart"

After a couple episodes dealing with other things, Class gets back to some of the plot threads left dangling after the first episode: namely, what's up with April sharing her heart with the leader of the Shadow Kin?  The answer is nothing good.

My wife has a term that I've found useful.  When a show has characters acting in certain ways because it suddenly adds to the dramatic tension of the show, rather than because it's how these characters would actually behave (based on everything shown up to that point, as well as general common sense), she says that show has gone "CW", after the American TV network that airs shows (such as The Vampire Diaries) where such things are fairly common.  It's an artificial way of creating dramatic tension, rather than letting it arise naturally from the characters and the storylines.  And for me, "Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart" is Class going CW.

The thing I have the hardest time buying is April and Ram's relationship.  Last time Ram only called her up because he couldn't get a hold of Tanya, and while they subsequently shared a kiss in a stressful situation, the impression at the end of that was they had started to develop a friendship, not a romantic attraction.  Yet here we're meant to think that these two would just naturally end up together.  It's hard not to view this with a cynical eye: Charlie and Matteusz are already in a relationship, Tanya's two years younger than the others, and obviously Miss Quill is off-limits, so it feels like the production team said, "Well, I guess that just leaves Ram and April."  Because apparently these people don't know anyone else at all.  So that's already kind of annoying, but the speed at which Patrick Ness tries to throw these two together doesn't feel plausible, even taking into account the fact that teenagers are sacks of raging hormones.  If they'd taken one additional episode to show the relationship growing it would have been better.  Hell, just give us a montage of a week or two of them developing romantic feelings.  But I'm guessing they felt they didn't have time for any of that, and so the result falls really flat.

The other major CW aspect of this episode is how Ness has decided that we've been growing to like Charlie too much, so he decides to bring up some unpleasant aspects of his character, primarily the way he orders Miss Quill around.  To be fair, that's been lingering in the background prior to this, but here he seems much harsher when discussing it.  To her credit, Tanya refuses to put up with this ("Please don't question the morality of my culture," Charlie tells her.  "If the morality of your culture keeps on looking like slavery, you're not really going to stop me from asking questions," Tanya responds), but it's not a question that's really answered, as Matteusz has them focus on all the flower petals instead.

It's not all bad; the storyline with Miss Quill and the new head teacher, Dorothea Ames, is quite interesting, particularly as Ms. Ames has all sorts of information you might not think she would have (for instance, she knows that Charlie and Quill are aliens).  She's been sent by the Governors (remember the robot from episode 2?), and freely admits that the Governors have been watching all the goings-on at Coal Hill.  This is a much more engaging storyline, and the idea that the Governors might be able to remove the creature inside Quill's head that forces her to serve Charlie is a good one.  And in the background of the story is the proliferation of these pink, blood-sucking flower petals that the Governors want Quill's help to deal with.

April cuts a tear in space and time to go get her heart back.
("Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart") ©BBC
Fortunately we'll be coming back to this next time.  But that does mean that our focus this time around is on April -- not just the stuff with Ram, but also how she's being influenced by the Shadow Kin (since they did something to the king at the top of the episode).  It makes her a lot more violent and angry, as it threatens to take over.  And the reappearance of her dad, who just got out of prison after trying to kill her and her mum, doesn't help either.  (I'd say that's another CW aspect, except CW doesn't really have a monopoly on the "estranged parent shows back up" cliché.)  There's not really anything wrong with this, honestly, and Sophie Hopkins does a good job of being genuinely quite terrifying as the possessed April, but because I was already disengaged by the April/Ram stuff, this didn't really do much for me, and I found myself wondering when this storyline was going to be over with.  Well, the answer is "not yet", as this ends on a cliffhanger: the Shadow Kin king is preparing to come kill April (and everyone else on Earth) and take her heart, but she decides to take the fight to him by cutting a hole in time and jumping through, with Ram following close behind.

So ultimately I found this to be a very frustrating episode, as it suffers from a high dose of that CW-ness, and the actually interesting bits of the episode are relegated to the B-plot.  Hopefully the next episode will correct course a bit.  But as of now this is the least successful episode of Class yet.

August 3: "Brave-ish Heart"

Of course, the other problem with having an episode going CW is that the subsequent episodes have to deal with the fallout of going CW.  And so, unsurprisingly, there's some of that here.  But to his credit, Patrick Ness largely sidesteps a lot of it.  There's a brief conversation between April and Ram about their relationship, in which each one points out that they've only known the other for like a month, that does feel a bit like trying to have it both ways, of acknowledging the ridiculousness of a romantic relationship while trying to also actually have that relationship, but generally (and wisely) most of the CW stuff is ignored.272

And in fact, while the flower petal storyline is still more compelling than April and Ram's trip to the Shadow Kin homeworld, there's a really lovely scene between April and Ram that actually takes a moment to address Ram's being a Sikh:
APRIL: These are here to remind them that the universe will crush them if they don't defeat it.  All of it.
RAM: Pretty bleak.
APRIL: Yeah, well, most religions are.
RAM: Not all.  Not mine.
APRIL: Says the Sikh boy with the short hair.
RAM: Ever tried going through airport security in a turban?  My dad doesn't like that I don't practise Kesh.
APRIL: That's the long hair and the beard, right?
RAM: Yeah.  But you know, modern times, you got to look sharp.  I like that he does, though, honestly.  Tells me where I came from.  ...  This is the Kara. (his metal bracelet)  It reminds us that we're part of the community and that our hands and life should do good work.  We believe the important thing in your life is to do good action.  But, if you do the good action, right, somewhere in the process, there's got to be God, even if you don't have faith or believe there's some dude out there looking after you.  Isn't doing a good thing, one human to another, the closest we're going to get to God?
It's interesting to see an effort to actually describe what one of the character believes and to tie it to their religion without an automatic "religion is bad" viewpoint -- and in fact the contrast between April's and Ram's beliefs helps set up the argument as an argument, rather than a lecture.  Consequently, this is one of the better moments in the story.

It's not perfect, of course; April's parents very quickly grate on the nerves.  I get that having people keep exclaiming how they don't understand what's happening and choosing to start fights with other people (in this case, Ram's dad) is a realistic way for people to behave, but that doesn't mean I actually want to experience that.  It also doesn't help that Con O'Neill, as April's dad, chooses to play most of this in a heightened state of hysteria that frequently threatens to tip over into OTT-ness.  Ram's dad is better (although there's a weird moment at the end where he doesn't want Ram to hug April because "she's an alien now" -- although Ram gets a good rejoinder: "Dad, at least pay attention") but it's really Tanya holding this plot together, as she's the only one level-headed enough to actually look for solutions to the problems.  (And full marks to Vivian Oparah, by the way, who has consistently knocked it out of the park as Tanya every week.)

Charlie prepares to weaponize the Cabinet of Souls while Ms. Ames
threatens Matteusz. ("Brave-ish Heart") ©BBC
But as I noted before, the flower petal stuff is more interesting; Ms. Ames (the head teacher, in case you've forgotten) seems to know an awful lot about the alien stuff, although she notes that the Governors aren't affiliated with UNIT, they are well-informed, even if a bit sinister: "Governments have a way of tripping over themselves, slightly too concerned with rights.  It's terribly inefficient," she notes.  Her solution to the petal problem is to get Charlie to use the Cabinet of Souls to attack the deadly plants (and once again Class is going for the horrific factor, with the scenes of severely bloodied victims out on the streets)-- but doing so would destroy all the Rhodian souls in the cabinet.  Miss Quill, on the other hand, wants Charlie to wipe out the Shadow Kin, both as an act of vengeance and to save the universe from their future attacks.  Charlie doesn't want to do either, but Ms. Ames threatens Matteusz -- although, when Ms. Ames is sufficiently distracted, Matteusz knocks her out: "Even with a gun, you should never turn your back on an angry Pole."  That still leaves the killer flower problem, of course, but since April defeats the Shadow Kin's king in a duel and thus becomes the new king, she's able to order the Shadow Kin to go to Earth and kill all the flowers, saving Charlie from having to decide how to use the Cabinet.

So there are some good moments in here, and it's definitely better than the last episode.  Still, there's a bit of a sense of a letdown, with a story that's juggling a bit too much at times.  It's as if Ness wanted to resolve the Shadow Kin threat, at least for now, but it does mean that a lot of writerly heavy lifting had to occur to get there, rather than a more natural-feeling storyline; in some sense you can sense the gears moving.  Still, the Governors stuff is still intriguing, and the regulars continue to do a great job, which helps things no end.  "Brave-ish Heart" isn't a standout episode, but it's not a disaster either.

August 4: "Detained"

It's a bit surprising that Class has a bottle episode (i.e., one set and basically just the main characters) when the series is only eight episodes long.  (Of course, next week's trailer looks pretty set-and-CGI-intensive, so I guess they needed a break.)  Bottle episodes can sometimes be a good thing, since it forces the characters to interact and (theoretically) leads to their growth and development and our appreciation for them.  That's what they're going for here, I think, but I don't know that they quite manage it.

It doesn't help that this is an episode that frequently threatens to go full CW again.  In fact, the only thing that stops it is that there's actually a narrative reason for these characters to start fighting with each other (since full CW is marked by a lack of understandable motivation for characters to behave in dramatic ways).  It's a bit of a fig leaf, true, but it helps.

April grabs the rock. ("Detained") ©BBC
The set-up is straightforward: the gang has been put in detention by Quill while she goes and does something else (we'll find out exactly what next episode), when a tear opens up outside the classroom and shoots a meteor into the room that ends up removing the classroom from space and time completely.  That's because the meteor was part of a prison, and the prisoner whose consciousness is still in the meteor is trying to make the students angry so that they'll kill each other, because that's the only way the prisoner knows to escape -- through death.  Oh, and the prison forced people to tell the truth, so anyone who holds the chunk of prison is forced to confess.  "They were living consciousnesses, put in a prison where guilt was their weapon," April tells the others.

In theory a nice idea, but (even though we know there's a reason for it -- and even before we know know we can tell something's wrong) it still means we have to watch the characters get angry with each other while occasionally confess some shameful truth to the others.  And most of the confessions don't feel that grave, honestly.  Maybe it's just because I'm pretty sure I'm older than the target audience, but things like "I worry that I'll never feel as strongly for you as you feel for me" don't feel devastating.  Yeah, maybe that's true, but it's not a contest.273  There's certainly nothing like April revealing she's actually super bigoted or Tanya confessing her love for Ram too (thank goodness) -- nothing that would be actually devastating or potentially unfixable.  And the stuff about Matteusz being just a bit freaked out sometimes that his boyfriend is an alien and has a weapon of mass destruction with him seems very understandable and human.  And to be fair, Matteusz does try to explain this to Charlie afterwards, via a metaphor involving Narnia that ends with a reasonable point: "Do you never complain about your friends?  Do you never complain about me?  Even in the privacy of your head?" Except Charlie claims he doesn't.  (But then he also claims later on that he's not feeling angry right before he launches into a speech that sees him get really very angry indeed, so maybe he's not quite sure what he feels.)

And we also get some acknowledgement of Tanya's feelings of being left out, due to being three years younger (not two, as I thought) and also black.  "White people," she grouses to April.  "... Always so optimistic.  Always so certain things are going to work out for you.  Oh, well, because they usually do."  "My dad tried to kill me when I was eight!" April replies.  "But you got your mum up walking again," Tanya retorts.  "Typical white-person happy ending."  It's an interesting moment that they don't belabor, but it's still there.  Although I'm not quite sure lampshading that actually changes anything: Tanya's lost her dad, after all.

So yeah, lots of anger being thrown around and such, and even though we know why it's happening it doesn't really make it less awkward to watch, just less unmotivated.  And other than a few insights, like Charlie's claustrophobia and April and Ram's feelings about their relationship that I'm still not 100% convinced is all that believable in the first place, we don't really even learn that much about the characters that we didn't already know.  "Detained" tries, and the underlying prison concept is neat (even if mainly just used as the motivating force here), but it's ultimately a bit of a mixed bag.

August 5: "The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did"

At the end of the last episode, Miss Quill came in and rescued the others by shooting the space prison rock with a gun, and then she presented Charlie with the dead body of the Arn that had been stuck inside her head to force her to serve Charlie.  She also had a wicked scar across her left eye and much longer hair.  This episode, "The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did" (great title, by the way), tells us how she got to that point.

In general this is a much more interesting episode than "Detained" was; we still learn things about Miss Quill and her people, but it feels much more natural here than it did in the last episode.  Here we get Quill, the head teacher Ms. Ames (who Quill keeps calling "Headmistress"), and someone new: a member of the Lorr species named Ballon.  Ballon is a shapeshifter, albeit one "frozen" in human form; in exchange for helping remove the Arn from Quill's head, he'll be given his freedom by the Governors, who apparently have lots of alien resources at their disposal.  It's more than a little like old-school Torchwood, from before the events of "Army of Ghosts"/"Doomsday", but there's still an awful lot they haven't told us about their goals or even who/what they are.  And some of what we do learn (like how some of them think the space-time tears around Coal Hill are intentional) make them sound a little bit cult-like.

Miss Quill, Ms. Ames, and Ballon are pulled into the metaphysical
engine. ("The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did") ©BBC
But the main motivator in this episode is a little machine called a metaphysical engine, which can transport people inside shared beliefs as their own realities.  "Everything in the universe is conserved," Ames tells the other two.  "Everything, even belief.  Get millions of creatures believing something strongly enough for long enough, and even space responds."  In practical terms, this is a bit of an excuse to let them travel to strange and exotic locations, but it's still an intriguing idea.  Plus they use it to go to deliberately non-real places, including Arn breeding grounds (a forest, despite the fact that the Arn are bred in labs), Lorr hell (where all Lorr are frozen in one form), and the beginnings of the Quill race, according to their mythology; this means that they're deliberately left questioning the reality of their situation, which ties in neatly with the whole metaphysical thing.  It certainly makes for fairly compelling viewing.

It's also kind of nice how, after having Ames basically be an exposition character, Patrick Ness reveals that she's in fact somewhat new to all this and doesn't actually have all the answers.  It adds a bit of charm to the proceedings and stops her from becoming a tedious info-dump character.  But it's ultimately Quill and Ballon who steal the show.  Quill has been largely backgrounded during the series, with Katherine Kelly mainly there to provide sarcastic quips, but here they put her front and center and that is definitely a good thing.  Quill maintains that sarcastic element, but we also learn about her beliefs as a soldier and how she feels about what the Rhodians did to her people, and Kelly excels at selling this while making it seem like part of the same character.  Ballon is also well-sketched, with discussions of how being "frozen" in one form seems like hell to a shapeshifter, and Chiké Okonkwo plays Ballon as such a noble person that even when we're told he's been imprisoned for murder, we believe him when he insists it was an accident.

So we get to go to strange places and explore metaphysical realities and have nice character moments as well.  Ballon is able to remove the Arn from Quill's head (which is a really impressively gruesome effect), which leads to him and Quill celebrating their victory with sex.  "Quill celebrate victory in battle in a certain way," Quill tells him.  "All species say that," Ballon replies.  But that leads to the twist, which is that Ames has trapped them inside the Cabinet of Souls and that the Governors are only willing to expend enough energy to pull one of them out.  Quill initially refuses to fight a fellow soldier, but Ballon forces her hand, motivated by the thought given to him by Ames of another Lorr on Earth.  He even ends up winning, but the gun provided tricks him, killing him instead of Quill, which leads to a great moment from Quill, as the Rhodian souls finally descend down to where Quill is.  "Ha!  You come to see me grieve! ... You just keep taking.  Is that all you ever did?  But I fought you and I will still fight you.  Because you know what?  I am free.  I am free and you are not the last.  There is one of you still living. ... I suffered in your home world and I have suffered in your heaven, but I will suffer no more.  No more!  Because I, I am war itself!"  She frees herself from the Cabinet of Souls (which she does on her own, it seems, rather than with the Governors' help -- which makes their forcing Quill and Ballon to fight seem completely unnecessary) and goes to check up on the others, who she'd left in detention.  She's free -- and also pregnant, it seems.  Cue cliffhanger!

This is a significantly better episode than the last one, and the setup it appears to provide for the series finale (with Quill angry at both the Rhodians and the Governors) makes you want to find out what happens next.  But the best thing about "The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did" is that it finally gives Katherine Kelly a chance to really show off, and to give one of the more interesting characters on the show her due.  It's not quite as good as "Nightvisiting" was overall, but this episode comes closer to clearing that bar than any of the others have.

August 6: "The Lost"

This seems...confused.  In some ways this moves so quickly that characters barely get a chance to catch their breath, with Ram's dad murdered in the cold open (and Aaron Neil as Varun was one of the best things about this show!) and Tanya's mum murdered not long after.  But in other ways this slows way down, with long drawn out hesitations and indecision -- particularly in Charlie's case.  This makes sense to an extent, as it shows the conflict raging inside him, but it does noticeably shift the pace.

"The Lost" obviously wants to be a big season finale, and so it's immediately upping the stakes by killing off some of the better supporting characters as the Big Bad from the first episode, the Shadow Kin, returns to threaten the entire planet.  There's also some stuff regarding Quill's pregnancy (that, somewhat oddly, is never actually explained -- is it Ballon's child?  Is it one of the Rhodian souls?  Is asexual reproduction just something that the Quill race does?), but regrettably she's largely backgrounded in this episode.  Instead we focus on the main students, as Ram basically falls apart, Tanya wants revenge, and the others don't really know what to do.  In theory this should be a good thing, but one of the underlying problems throughout this first series of Class is unclear character motivations.  It's really quite hard to get a fix on what April is supposed to be like as a character, or what exactly Charlie feels, and so this episode falls flat a bit.  They want to push these characters to the limit, to see what it will take for them to break or stand firm, but if we don't have a great feel as to who these characters are we can't really tell if they're going to break or not, or even if this is their limit.  Take Charlie, for instance.  Is forcing him to use the Cabinet a really terrible choice for him, or is it just him giving into his desires?  Are we meant to believe that April is staying true to herself by offering herself up to Corakinus, the Shadow Kin king (and that's another unanswered question: how is he back in charge of the Shadow Kin?  Did he defeat April somehow that we didn't see, or is Shadow Kin law fuzzy on ruling in absentia?), or is she meant to be experiencing some sort of personal growth after being selfish in her relationship with Ram?  This means that this episode has less emotional wallop than I think they were going for.

Where this episode does succeed is in some of the smaller moments.  Basically any moment with Katherine Kelly is worth watching at this point, and her attack on Corakinus in the library or her showing Tanya how to fight are good moments.  And I've been crabbing about Charlie a bit, but his scenes with Matteusz (who continues to be one of the best characters on the show) are really quite lovely -- particularly the confrontation with Ms Ames, as Charlie threatens her with Quill's gun: "People are dead," Charlie says.  "More will die.  Here's your chance not to be one of them."  "What happened to our pacifist Pole who didn't like guns?" the headmistress asks Matteusz.  "We will speak of this after," he replies.  "But that is our business."

The Cabinet of Souls is unleashed upon the Shadow Kin.
("The Lost") ©BBC
But the big finale moments are here, present and correct: not only do we get those early deaths, but also an invasion of Earth by the Shadow Kin, complete with random people being threatened by them.  And after weeks of teasing the Cabinet of Souls, Charlie finally chooses to use it, wiping out all the Shadow Kin (and causing their home planet to collapse in on itself somehow).  Again, this is meant to be a big moment, but it's undercut a bit by the fact that we don't really get any discussion of it afterwards; instead this looks more like the big CGI shot of the episode, inserted where the big triumphant moment would be if this were a Doctor Who finale.  So the fact that this isn't meant to be triumphant is a good move, but it's hard to shake the feeling that the episode is trying to have it both ways here.  And there's the moment right before where Charlie kills April with the gun, making him the king of the Shadow Kin.  (I guess Ram hasn't been tortured enough this episode.)  Undeniably a big, season-ending moment.  But, perhaps because so much else is going on and they're already at a fever pitch before trying to go even higher, it just never quite clicks.

So ultimately "The Lost" feels like there's almost too much going on, crammed into a 45 minute episode.  It's like they tried to do a Doctor Who two-parter in half as much time, and so the pacing is a bit off, particularly since they want to have character moments in there too.  This episode is frantic, but also occasionally not, and it starts with a lot of high emotion that it just keeps trying to increase, rather than giving the audience a chance to absorb what's happening.  It's not really a bad episode, but it's hard to say it's good.  In fact it's a bit hard to say what this episode is at all, beyond big.  Definitely another mixed bag.

It ends with a couple big cliffhangers, though: Ms. Ames is killed by a Weeping Angel (apparently the Governors work for them), and April is revived by a Rhodian soul, albeit in Corakinus' body.  We'll (likely) never find out what happened next, though: Class as of now hasn't been picked up for a second series, and it's looking pretty certain that it won't be -- ratings just weren't good enough in either the UK or in the US.  It's a show that never really found its audience.  I have to say that I'm not terribly surprised by that; Class reminds me a lot of Torchwood: Miracle Day, with a strong start that lost its way somewhere along the line, ending with a bit of a confused resolution and some unresolved threads.  But where Miracle Day at least had a built-in audience from the previous Torchwood seasons, Class only had the Doctor Who connection, which it didn't really exploit much.  That's fine, wanting the show to stand on its own, but I don't know that it really had anything to provide instead.  Class is a show that's well-written at a dialogue level (in fact, make that very well-written, as this show sparkles with one-liners and generally naturalistic dialogue) but suffers a bit at the higher scripting levels.  Inconsistent characterization seemed like a problem (which is actually really weird, given these were all written by the same person), and it never seemed like there was anything to distinguish it from the other young adult TV shows out there now, nor any reason for people outside the target audience to bother to tune in (unless they really wanted teenage angst).  It's not a bad show, and had they given it a chance it perhaps might have gotten better (after all, don't forget how appalling the first series of Torchwood was).  But what we ended up with was decent but ultimately flawed.


270 But not in the United States, despite the show being a BBC America co-production.  BBC America chose to hold the show back to air directly after new episodes of series 10 of Doctor Who.  In October, US viewers were instead provided with a new adaptation of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency -- a show that somehow manages to take a Dirk Gently-esque plot and put a title character who bears only the most fleeting resemblance to Douglas Adams' original conception inside it, with very mixed results.
271 This appears to be a reference to the old ballad "Lamkin", about a sort of bogeyman who murders a mother and her son.  Some versions call it "Lankin", hence the name here.  It doesn't appear to be a parallel to the Shadow Kin from the first episode (so it's not actually the Lan Kin, as some sources have suggested).
272 Although the "Next Time" trailer makes it look like the CW stuff has been delayed until then, rather than dropped altogether.
273 OK, no, wait, there might be a counterargument to this involving Gricean maxims.  If it's the case that the statement "I don't love you as much as you love me" involves the implied meaning of something like "I don't love you the correct amount", then this might make a bit more sense.  I have a suspicion that that's the sort of conversational implicature that one loses as one gets older and yeah we're back to me not being part of the target audience, aren't we?  OK, so maybe withdraw this particular objection and just call it "characterization" instead.