Doctor Who fans at WonderCon this year were in for a treat as BBC America was on hand to premiere their latest spin-off Class. Now, granted, the series has already not just premiered in the United Kingdom at this point but also finished it’s first season. Despite this, there was a pretty good crowd and the attendees who packed into the WonderCon 2017 panel room were the first North American audience to see the show. (There was, of course, an obligatory joke about them being the first to see it legally.)
While none of the cast or showrunners were on hand for the panel, the BBC America folks still had some fun stuff planned. Everyone walked away with a little Doctor Who goodie bag (complete with stickers and temporary tattoos) and attendees had a chance to win one of these prize packs:
— NERDOPHILES (@nerdophiles) April 2, 2017
If you’re not already familiar with the premise of the show, you’re probably wondering: what is Class? The short answer is that it’s a Doctor Who spin-off.
The series takes place at Coal Hill Academy – the latest incarnation of the Coal Hill School, which has appeared periodically throughout Doctor Who canon beginning with the series’ very first episode back in 1963. In Class, we learn that it’s become a nexus for all kinds of dangerous invaders from all throughout space and time. So, basically, it’s not exactly the safest school in the world. And this point is made even more obvious by their memorial listing the dead and missing alumni and faculty members from across the years.
In the first episode (entitled “For Tonight We Might Die”) we’re introduced to our cast of heroes. There are five of them primarily: the new kid, Charlie, and his strange and gruff caretaker Miss Quill; pretty boy athlete Ram; the incredibly intelligent Tanya; and the unassuming April. As deadly shadows descend up on the school it’s up to them to figure out what’s going on and basically save the day with a little help from Peter Capaldi’s Doctor at the end, who calls on them to protect the school from any future dangers.
Whoever told me that Class was a Doctor Who spin-off for kids has a lot of explaining to do. The Sarah Jane Adventures was a spin-off for kids. While Class definitely has a younger cast and takes place in a secondary school setting, it is much more than just a kids’ show. The general brand of silliness that often accompanied The Sarah Jane Adventures – and at times Doctor Who – is gone, replaced with a somewhat darker tone.
The series certainly does not pander to a younger audience by pulling any punches.
In “For Tonight We Might Die” we see children violently hunted and murdered by shadow creatures during a school dance. Charlie, who we learn is alien royalty from a dead world, is forced to grapple with questions of revenge and genocide. One of our main characters even suffers a bloody dismemberment. And I don’t mean to spoil that last bit for you guys but it was seriously shocking to me. It also made me a lot more excited about the future episodes because it means we’re not looking at a sci-fi version of Degrassi or something. This is a show that takes itself seriously.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the series is probably the cast and characters. While some of the characters come off as a bit stereotypical in the beginning (Ram as the athlete and Tanya as the brainy prodigy, for example) those assumptions fall away pretty quickly. We spend a good amount of time with each of them in this first episode and we learn a bit about each one. By the end, you’ve got a real feel for who they are, what their motivations will be moving forward, and what about them would make the Doctor peg them as the hero type.
I was surprised by this because one of the things that shows can often fail at is giving each of their ensemble cast members their due. But Class does a really great job of balancing things. Everyone gets a chance show us who they really are beyond the monster-of-the-week conflict. We get a chance to see the relationship between Charlie and his prom date (and presumably, later, boyfriend) Matteusz begin. We see a bit of Ram and Tanya’s friendship as she tutors him outside of class. They even introduce each character’s parents, which is a nice change since most teen shows tend to ignore parents and their impact on their kids’ lives.
There’s a lot of potential for each character moving forward and I can only imagine how much they’re going to grow over the course of the next seven episodes. Dare I say it but I really believe that Class had a stronger first episode than any of the other current Doctor Who series so far — including Doctor Who itself. (But I’m also not a Torchwood fan in the least bit so my opinion may be a bit biased.)
I’m not going to rehash the full episode for you guys. At this point, the series has completed it’s run in the United Kingdom so you can find full episode recaps on Wikipedia if you want, but I am here to tell you that if you’ve been on the fence about watching the series the easy answer is: you should.
You should definitely watch Class.
If nothing else, it’s a way to pass the time as we languish in the limbo between Doctor Who seasons. But, really, you should watch it for the show itself. It’s well written, the characters are great, and the first episode shows an incredible amount of potential. This isn’t just a show for kids or teenagers. It’s a show focused on teenagers that Doctor Who fans of all ages will enjoy.
Class is set to premiere on BBC America on Saturday, April 15 at 10:10 PM EST so if you weren’t at WonderCon you can catch it then!