12 November 2016

Class - Brave-ish Heart

The middle of a series run is a good place to hit a peak and this fifth episode absolutely achieves that. Visually superb and narratively involving matters come alive by focussing as much on the foibles of the characters as the overall scenario. It may be a tad self- conscious in its attempts to woo a target teenage audience and I still can’t understand a word the Shadow Kin say but overall this a bold episode that plays with big themes and big emotions and earns a strong victory.
Spoilerific review follows..
"If we take the Jubilee Line, it's four stops to the Shadow Kin McDonalds"

The whole thing looks amazing- the world of the Shadow Kin is the best alien landscape I’ve seen in many a year with those `lava bubbles` a particularly good addition to emphasise its strangeness. I was also intrguied by the explanation as to where the place is- somehow underneath the Universe. Patrick Ness has certainly come up with one of the most interesting alien races in the Who stable in a long while. Meanwhile the petal invasion happening in the present day is equally well conveyed with some very gruesome looking inserts of victims.
The main thrust of the episode though is the choices that the characters have to make. Here Patrick Ness’ script soars because unlike a lot of recent Doctor Who he wants to bring us into the drama rather than have us sit back and be impressed by how clever it is. Even if you find some of the more sci-fi explanations a bit unlikely the basic ideas of a suicide mission and a threat that has to be stopped very soon are enough to propel you through. Ness’ script also includes some excellent sidebars touching on religion, love, parental concern and more with a touch that always supports the main story. And he’s not above a little self- mockery either- “If you think about it not one of those sentences makes any sense” someone says!
Charlie was well impressed with the new iPhone
Often in this kind of drama parental figures are gently mocked or given either comedic roles yet without us realising it the parents of these characters have been able to come to the fore in a more realistic way. So April’s father’s speech at his estranged daughter is about to perhaps kill the alien king is delightfully ramshackle and over dramatic (“even I don’t wanna be me”) yet that is this character. Con O’Neill delivers a standout performance here combining with the script to bring a fallible humanity to even the most extreme scenario. The episode does show too that when you combine both adult and teenage characters you end up with a richer overall result.
While I’m sure some critics will say that Charlie’s dilemma over what to do went on too long I found it refreshing that Ness did not go for the telefantasy norm of someone being talked round a lifetime’s convictions in about two scenes.
It’s an episode in which everyone got a lot to do, even Matthias whose purpose in the show till now has seemed unclear but who provides a moral counterbalance to Charlie in much the same way as Ran does for April. Miss Quill meanwhile remains the indignant outsider and I look forward to her indulging in more verbal jousting with the new Head.
There are still a few weaknesses- April and Ram’s talks could be better placed – would she really stop in the midst of a confrontation for that conversation and more importantly why would her enemy let her? One viewing did not make it clear to me how they knew the petals could be killed by shadow especially as some of them were in shadow when we saw them outside.  Also a gag about Frodo seems misplaced- I bet every teenager knows who he is.  Yet these are picky moments in a wholesome rewarding episode that shows Class is beginning to live up to its name.

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