I can’t remember a modern Doctor Who series about which so comparatively little was known two weeks prior to broadcast. We don’t even have all the story titles yet. What plotlines we do know are brief summaries from an interview with Steven Moffat and what we have seen are a dazzling array of images. There is certainly an optimism about this series amongst fans that perhaps was missing last time round. Even that 2015 series’ trailer went along the lines of `same old same old` which wasn’t the best way to market something new. This time round the first trailer harked back to 2005’s `trip of a lifetime` approach with Bill talking about meeting the Doctor. This makes it seem fresh again.
Later trailers focussed on the monsters always a way to incite interest. The result was a surge of enthusiasm especially for the Mondasian Cybermen and also the Emoii robot plus the new Ice Warrior. The main new aliens the Monks do seem menacing too. Overall the tone of the trailers is definitely that of a show that has rejuvenated itself.
Around the time the new series starts here, Class will be screening in the US for the first time. It’s really best not to think of Class as a Doctor Who spin off even though obviously it is! The first episode does play on its connections to the show but even the setting doesn’t look like the Coal Hill School we saw in `The Caretaker` episode. It’s been rebuilt- with alarming speed- as one of those modern Academies. I think the problem some people had in the Uk was that the marketing wasn’t quite sure how to pitch the series and being on the BBC’s bizarre BBC3 channel buried deep, deep within the iPlayer hardly helped. In addition we’d had 11 years of modern DW and other spin offs. The best way to approach Class- and the way you’ll get the most out of it- is as a totally new show. While I think even the producers would concede it’s not perfect the series is tremendously enjoyable, fizzing with ideas and good performances that are well worth seeing. More than that, towards the end you can really see the potential for a second series though print papers like the Daily Mirror and Metro have already claimed it has been cancelled.
Class in many ways is more suited to the US than it is to the UK which actually reflects what has happened to schools here. Academies resemble American high schools now, they have Proms (which we never used to have in the UK) and take some of the pep and school pride notions from the familiar American model. Thus if you happened to glimpse a scene from Class without hearing the voices you’d think you were watching an American show. It also borrows the bravado of American shows sketching larger than life characters and challenging theme each week.
The writing has the richness of the novels that Patrick Ness is known for and as such differs from the very televisual aspects of Doctor Who. There’s no mistaking the latter series’ origins as scripts, whereas Class contains whole scenes that may seem odd in a tv production but which let us into the heads of the characters. Visually Class is gorgeous, it really is. The recurring aliens – the Shadow Kin - are a triumph of design with a heat haze and floating embers to match. When we visit their world it looks like one of the most alien places any telefantasy series has depicted. Their look includes heavy Samauri warrior influences and their power comes across on screen. When you have such a strong antagonist- yet one that has some depth- it makes any show better.
The series’ other main strength is drawing characters we can find interesting and casting well. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in Miss Quill, the show’s standout character. She initially starts as an eccentric teacher but as her story unfolds the writing and Katherine Kelly’s performance bring out different aspects without softening her initial impact. Incidentally – and topically- her presence also answers that old question as to whether a female Doctor would work in the main series. If she’s like Miss Quill in this, she certainly would! Like the teenagers it features Class can be a little rough round the edges but has the heart and soul to engage viewers of many ages. Hopefully it will be well received in the States.
Something that has been well received lately is issue 3 of the `fanzine` `Vworp Vworp.` I say fanzine whereas if you’ve seen it you’ll know it’s much bigger than that. Arriving a casual six years after issue 2 it has the heft of a book and an attention to detail that explains the publication gap. Then again co-editor Colin Brockhurst has always thought big when it comes to fanzines. His earlier title `Circus` got bigger with each issue. One thing though is that DWM suggested zines like this and also `Nothing at the End of the Lane` might kickstart a new fanzine revival. I reckon they might have the opposite effect. Most would- be editors will look at these labour intensive, bound volumes which are larger than some books and give up there and then!