Class, BBC America’s newest Doctor Who spin-off, really wants to be the “British Buffy.” Not only is that how Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat described it, but one of the characters actually compares the show’s setup to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the series premiere, because every show is self-aware these days. While Class clearly has potential, it’s definitely way too early to say it comes close to rivaling Joss Whedon’s masterpiece; the show’s not nearly as subversive or as fun. And that’s perfectly okay because what we get is still pretty entertaining — even when it gets lost in its own darkness — thanks to a talented cast and a few standout episodes.
Executive-produced by YA novelist Patrick Ness, Class is set at frequent Who-verse location Coal Hill School, which has started attracting all sorts of extraterrestrial threats because years of timey-wimey shenanigans has created tears in the fabric of time and space around the school. After saving the school from the Shadow Kin — monsters who move through Shadow — The Doctor (Peter Capaldi, whose guest appearance was revealed in March) deputizes four teens and a character with varying levels of attitude to defend the school from the monsters who come through the breaches, a.k.a. this show’s version of the Hellmouth. This new group of heroes, which is formed at the end of the season premiere includes: April (Sophie Hopkins), the “nice girl” who is more than just that description; Ram (Fady Elsayed), the sensitive athlete; wiz-kid Tanya (Vivian Oparah), the youngest of the group because she skipped several grades; Charlie (Greg Austin), an outsider with a dark backstory; and Ms. Andrea Quill (Katherine Kelly), a sardonic teacher at the school who reluctantly promises The Doctor she’ll keep an eye on the kids.
Class‘ main attraction is its cast. The young actors are all very talented and have no trouble handling the show’s heavier material. In fact, I found myself wishing there had been more than just eight episodes in the first season because it would’ve been nice to have seen a bit more of the group’s lighthearted side. That being said, the show’s MVP is clearly Kelly, whose Quill not only delivers some of the best lines but also the best arc of the season. Without giving too much away, her dynamic with one of the student leads is the source of some of the season’s most interesting thematic material.
Watching Class is somewhat jarring because of how much it differs from the mothership. The violence is more graphic, the body count rises as the season progresses, and it deals with more adult themes and material than Doctor Who. From the beginning, the show makes it clear that being tasked with saving the world isn’t going to be as fun as it is on Doctor Who, which unfortunately makes the series itself slightly less fun. And, Class doesn’t waste any time in establishing this fact. Episode two, “The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo,” finds our heroes dealing with the weight of their new responsibilities, and the third episode is a rumination on grief. The show’s self-seriousness reaches its heights in the April-centric two-parter that briefly turns the series into a silly slog. At one point April asks, “Do you ever feel it’s so dark it’ll never be light again?” which is a question I actually found myself asking throughout the first season.
The series, however, saves its best episodes for last. “Detained,” the sixth installment, is a suspenseful, claustrophobic, and impeccably acted and directed bottle episode that digs into the group’s relationships. A few more episodes in the season would’ve helped it hit a bit harder, but that’s a small quibble. The seventh episode, which focuses on Quill’s arc, rivals six for the best hour of the season, and the finale is tragic and a game-changer. If anything, these final three episodes make a strong case for sticking with the show until the end.
Class premieres April 15 at 10 p.m. on BBC America.