Class S01E01: For Tonight We Might Die
Writer: Patrick Ness
Director: Edward Bazalgette
Starring: Katherine Kelly, Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins, Vivian Oparah
A review by Billy Seguire with heavy side-commentary of excitement by Insha Fitzpatrick
BILLY: In a better world, Class would have been the perfect series to cover the absence of Doctor Who in 2016. It’s a clever substitute utilising fewer sets and presumably cheaper actors to throw loyal Whovians a bone while we waited for series ten. In fact, that’s exactly what happened… in the UK. Even Canada got the series in October. Canada. America, meanwhile, has had to wait until April 15th to get Class, directly following the flagship on BBC America. Insha, I am so, so sorry you had to wait.
INSHA: It’s fine. We don’t get nice things very often in America. Have you met America? We don’t tend to deserve nice things either. I feel Class coming to America this late was just to punish us for the sh*t we do.
BILLY: Does that late arrival diminish the value of Class? We’re going to find out. Rather than hold us over for our main course, Class and Doctor Who now combine to deliver a smorgasbord of time and space and I intend to feast.
INSHA: Think of Billy as Hannibal as he eats the brains of Steven Moffat and Patrick Ness to absorb their storytelling power. You’re welcome.
BILLY: T..thank you? That’s a thoroughly disturbing image. Also disturbing is that Class is not yet renewed for a second series in the UK.
INSHA: Right? COME ON. I mean, I’ve skipped ahead a few episodes because they’re out there (thank you Tumblr *clicks tongue*) and this is a totally worthy series to get a season two.
BILLY: I’m optimistic that a series this strong, this on-brand, and this budget-conscious will still have a home through the upcoming showrunner transition. In For Tonight We Might Die, Patrick Ness introduces us to the students of Coal Hill School and shows us the potential to tell deeper stories here when you have characters who aren’t too busy mindlessly running through corridors or flying away when the day is saved.
INSHA: Billy has such good faith. This is why I’m only the companion, but Class very much deserves all of the optimism that it can get and a second season. This show has a massive amount of good things running through it and the best parts about it are it’s characters, but more on that later. Another fantastic part is it’s showrunner. Patrick Ness is a delight to in the Doctor Whoverse. He is, in fact, a YA author, with titles like A Monster Calls, More Than This, The Rest of Us Just Live Here and the Chaos Walking series in his library of work. He’s even written short fiction for Doctor Who before with Tip of the Tongue. So, welcome Patrick Ness! You are officially a Whovian. Make us proud! Or else…
BILLY: The first notable aspect about Class that sets it up in juxtaposition to Doctor Who is that it’s clearly built from the ground up to take place in one position in time and space. Coal Hill definitely looks recognizable from its recent appearances in the eighth series of Doctor Who. Unlike the way Doctor Who seems to create characters to a purpose within the story of the episode, these kids all have complex lives and emotions already in play. Ram is an early favourite, with his courage and perseverance in a latter scene elevating him to iconic levels, and I was pleasantly surprised to see not only female characters interacting, but characters of colour acknowledging their isolation in the mostly-white school. These are threads I’m excited to see the series explore later on. I’m drawn into this world primarily because of the science-fiction monsters and stories, but drama with consequences is also vastly appealing.
INSHA: Ram being Billy’s second one true love is everything.
BILLY: I love how For Tonight We Might Die takes all the strongest elements of the young adult genre and leans hard on that concept by putting character and relationship drama first. Fewer stories of the week, more long-term serialised plotlines. Patrick Ness has already proven himself as a great choice for showrunner of the overdue Doctor Who spinoff. These aren’t the typical adolescents you see in media. They namedrop media in a way that young people actually do and beyond that, they actually look like teenagers. When one character drops “it’s like a Hellmouth” in casual conversation, it doesn’t feel like branding, but genuinely the easiest metaphor to use. It’s a statement of a show that knows what it wants to do and just wants to get on with it!
INSHA: The best thing about Class as well is that it’s really an adult-like young adult show. Like Billy said, “it knows what it wants to do and just want to get on with it.” You’re not muddled by a lot of things that other young adult shows are. It keeps going. The relationships between the characters are the most intriguing part because they’re all SO different. Not only in diversity, but in the way they’re portrayed. For Tonight We Might Die, gives you the relationship and friendships (or lack thereof) within these characters right off the bat in a way that feels so real without shoving it in your face.
BILLY: Charlie and Miss Quill in particular present a fascinating twist to the core cast of characters. Their history as the last members of a warring alien race has depth, particularly when one is essentially a terrorist who believes the ends justify the means. The reveal of their history and relationship in this episode is masterfully done in For Tonight We Might Die to keep the audience guessing and I’m already ecstatic at the thought of seeing these morally grey characters make their way through Class as peers with the rest of the group. Katherine Kelly in particular looks like she’s having a blast playing her role as chaotic neutral.
INSHA: Miss Quill: Gets Sh*t Done should be the name of the show.
BILLY: She’s so interesting as a pseudo-antagonist of this episode, because she isn’t Missy. She doesn’t kill for the thrill of it or because she’s an insane genocidal maniac. She’s a freedom fighter with a strong moral motivation. Her extreme tactics could even arguably be justified depending on how strongly the series wants us to empathise with her perspective.
INSHA: Charlie was super interesting to me. I’m still so fascinated by Charlie’s sheer reluctance to be who he is, protect what he has and create a new narrative for himself. People would think he’s a massively white character, but he balances out that light and dark so well within his character. You never know how he’s going to sway, especially with Quill in his ear. Charlie and Miss Quill’s relationship reminds me of the Doctor Who episode “The Witch’s Familiar” (S9E2), not the episode itself, but just the way that Miss Quill and Charlie are around one another. She pushes him to almost do dark sh*t where he has a moral compass there that prevents. Miss Quill is kinda like that with everyone though, she’s indeed the physical manifestation of ‘the devil on your shoulder’ to Charlie.
BILLY: It also wouldn’t be worth setting Class within the Doctor Who universe without some monsters, and For Tonight We Might Die takes its opportunity to set up the villains of the entire series with the Shadow Kin. While I thought the design of these creatures was particularly great, there were a few moments “in the shadows” that remind me how the BBC’s track record with CGI has kept it one of the premiere practical-effects shows running. In-story, the Shadow Kin are terrifying concepts. The fact that the kids of Coal Hill fend off such a foe is impressive. Seeing them in the flesh in full practical make up with hints of CGI was absolutely fantastic. I just hope Class uses the shadow CGI sparingly.
INSHA: The Shadow Kin were so very clever. I love any type of villains are monsters in the verse that are set up to make you take a look over your shoulder. Those are the most effective type of monsters to me because you never see coming. The Shadow Kin are THOSE kinds of monsters. The design for them were so Lord of the Rings-esque and it just fit so perfectly with what the universe is. I have to agree with Billy as well for them to use the CGI only in case of emergencies. Break that glass when you need it, but don’t do it when it’s unnecessary. That’s how a lot of shows spiral when they rely too heavy on what it can do for them rather than the other way around.
BILLY: Visually, Class looks great. Setting the final showdown at the school dance added some amazing atmospheric lighting to events that fill the screen with deep blues and saturated colours that not only look great on the diverse cast, but ensures Class develops its own look independant of the parent series.
INSHA: Ah! That final showdown created an epic conclusion to what the first episode of Class is all about and what the series shapes up to be. It’s a wild ride and it’s only going to get wilder. Billy’s so spot on with Class getting it’s own look. While it’s a spin-off, it creates a universe all on it’s own. It’s in it’s own time and space and that’s a great connector to Doctor Who. When you’re a spin-off show, it can make or break you, especially when you have a parent with so many years under its belt. Class does a great job in packing its backpack and leaving for college, but with a little help from Dad along the way.
BILLY: And speaking of Dad, there’s a special appearance in this first episode that we all could have guessed: The Doctor. Peter Capaldi makes a third-act appearance as the savior of Coal Hill when the TARDIS appears in a swell of triumphant music. I liked that the students weren’t merely sidestepped by his appearance though. They came up with the solution and the Doctor was around to give their solution a “boost in the voltage”. It wasn’t just a cameo however as the Doctor’s presence is crucial to the backstory of Class, not only in For Tonight We Might Die but causing the time/space “thinning” around Coal Hill that makes the school vulnerable. It makes Class feel like the Doctor Who universe proper, and I love that.
INSHA: Capaldi looks mega adorable by the way. Just… I needed to say it.
BILLY: It wasn’t the Doctor from series ten though! That coat was definitely the 2016 Doctor, and it was the only moment of the whole episode where I really felt the delayed airing.
INSHA: Doesn’t matter. Adorable.
BILLY: One of the most important factors, for me at least, was that Class also made a point in its first episode to address the issue of disability. Midway through For Tonight We Might Die, April is given a heart condition. While it doesn’t slow her down, the episode makes it clear that this is a lasting effect that her character will have to find a way to live with. We later see her mother in a wheelchair, and Ram has a struggle of disability that’s going to have consequences of its own. By treating both visible and invisible disability with such dignity in a series that has also seamlessly developed race into its makeup is laudable in itself. To do it in a science-fiction series with a brand as recognizable as Doctor Who is incredible.
INSHA: This was so well done. It was way too perfect seeing this in a show. It’s one of those things that are so low-key that you don’t notice, but visible enough to see. Especially when you consider that Ram and April are the main character who are going to struggle with this like everyday life. I just wanted to give my mini praise to this honestly. Thank you for this Patrick.
BILLY: Class is what you get when Doctor Who has a threesome with Skins and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
INSHA: Holy sh*t. That’s actually a completely accurate statement. I want to be in a threesome with Skins and Class now. Not Gen 3 of Skins. That can stay where it is. It doesn’t even get to watch.
BILLY: I was emotionally invested in this cast and blown away by the second half of For Tonight We Might Die in particular. Above all else, there’s an authenticity to the premiere of this series that you simply can’t get from a show where the hero is an immortal time traveller who’s always the cleverest man in the room and who always wins. I want to see these kids struggle to deal with their own issues, as well as the supernatural antagonists. It’s brilliant to see a series put people of colour and disability in the forefront.
INSHA: I commend Class for this so much. It’s about time we addressed disability and diversity in young adult science fiction because it doesn’t seem to be anywhere. I’m tired of seeing the same people floating in space.
BILLY: In short, Class demands more from its audience and gives back more in return. Consider us in attendance.