After 50 years on the air, Doctor Who has created an infinitely complex universe featuring a fascinating spectrum of characters and alien worlds. That's why it's no surprise that the BBC has commissioned various spin-offs of the long-running drama over the years, the latest of which, Class, premieres this Saturday (10:10/9:10c, BBC America).
The eight-episode first season follows the students of Coal Hill Academy, Clara's (Jenna Coleman) former employer that becomes the Whovian version of a Hellmouth after the walls of space and time stretch so thin within the school that monsters are easily able to break through. In order to protect the planet, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) tasks a group of five misfit students and their teacher (including an alien prince who is protected by an alien freedom fighter) with stopping whatever sneaks through the rips in time and space.
But with the return of Doctor Who also just around the corner (Saturday at 9/8c), is Class really worth your time? We weigh the evidence below.
Pro: It has a great, diverse cast of characters.
While Doctor Who still struggles with diversity after a half-century on the air, Class has clearly made inclusivity a priority. The show's most likely breakout star, Fady Elsayed, plays Ram Singh, a Sikh student whose soccer ambitions go out the window after a run-in with an alien takes his right leg. Ram has a low-key friendship with Tanya Adeola (Vivan Oparah), a Nigerian prodigy whose young age makes her constantly feel alienated from the rest of the group. There's also Matteusz Andrzejewski (Jordan Renzo), a Polish student whose family severely disapproves of him being gay, and April MacLean (Sophie Hopkins), a fairly ordinary student with a dark family past who must find a bravery she didn't know she had after she becomes intertwined with the king of the alien race the Shadow Kin. Additionally, Coronation Street'sKatherine Kelly stars as Miss Quill, the last of her species, the Quill, who has become enslaved as a servant and protector of Charlie (Greg Austin), the prince of the Rhodians and the last of his species who is tasked with protecting a dangerous weapon.
Working greatly in Class' favor is the dynamic between Quill and Charlie, which provides a fascinating, fresh take on power, justice and compassion. Having lead the Quill armies against the Rhodians, Miss Quill is enslaved to Charlie as punishment, now only able to use a weapon if it is in service of protecting his life. And while Quill masquerades as Charlie's guardian on Earth, he often treats her as little more than a slave, showing little respect for her rights, thoughts or feelings. Throughout the course of the season, the repercussions of Charlie's treatment of Quill and questions over whether compassion is possible when the balance of power is so one-sided are raised in interesting ways that continually evolve. And as Quill, Kelly also delivers a delightful performance filled with dry wit, irreverence and a self-assured thirst for blood that carries the show in it's most beleaguered moments.
Con: It takes a while for them to truly shine.
Although each character brings a unique perspective to Class, it sadly takes a while for the series to figure out how to best take advantage of this. Early on in the season, the characters are there to mainly service the plot, but once the series hits Episode 6 -- a bottle episode in which all the students are trapped in a classroom with a rock that makes them tell the truth -- Class finally begins to mine the conflict and emotional intricacies that happen when a wide-range of personalities clash together.
Pro: We're obsessed with Charlie and Matteusz's romance.
Falling in love should be easy, and we fell quickly for Charlie and Matteusz's heartwarming romance -- almost as quickly as they fell for one another. Although the couple isn't without their struggles -- what couple is? -- their devotion and support of one another is admirable and pure. Perhaps most importantly, though, is the way the show treats their relationship, meaning it's not singled out or treated different than any other relationship depicted on the series. It's beautiful and they're beautiful and we can't stop thinking about how beautiful everything is.
Con: We hate Ram and April's.
Class already has one inspiring romance in Charlie and Matteusz, it didn't need another -- especially as one as contrived as Ram and April's. After Ram's girlfriend is murdered in the premiere, he quickly grows close with April and soon the pair develops a romantic relationship. And while we totally get that people seek comfort in times of confusion, Class treats Ram and April's relationship like it's one of the great loves our of time without ever putting in the legwork to show why these two are good together beyond the fact that they've both been forever changed by alien encounters.
Pro: It definitely feels Whovian.
There's no doubt about it: Class is definitely part of the Doctor's wild and wonderful world, and we're not just saying that because the beloved Time Lord makes an appearance in the pilot. Rather, the look and feel of Class connects the teen drama to its long-running parent series.
Two of Doctor Who's most prevalent themes involve finding one's inner hero as well as discovering the humanity within those who appear a little less than. And from the very first moment we set foot in Coal Hill Academy, those same themes are again present as our main protagonists fight off and eventually face off against the villainous Shadow Kin and everything that else that slips through the cracks in the walls of time and space.
And speaking of connections to the Whoniverse, the silly-looking monsters and aliens that pop up throughout the show's first season obviously feel reminiscent of Doctor Who, and while we sometimes roll our eyes at them, they're also part of the show's charm. Well, except for the evil butt tattoo. But(t) you can't win 'em all.
Con: We'd rather be watching Doctor Who.
Spin-offs have the terribly daunting task of honoring what's come before while building off of it in a way that they're able to offer something new. Unfortunately for Class, the show never quite reaches that point. The most exciting moment of the show's first season is the Doctor's predictable arrival in the pilot, and that really says it all, doesn't it? At the end of the day, we'd still rather be watching the Doctor's adventures in the TARDIS than sit through the teen angst-driven stories of high school students that don't offer much in the way of new stories.
Maybe it's because with the Doctor we can escape this world and travel the stars while Class is largely limited to one location on Earth. Maybe it's because no one can compete with the Doctor for our hearts. Or maybe it's something as simple as Doctor Who being off the air for more than a year and we're starved for the familiar warmth it brings. We're still trying to pin down exactly what it is that keeps us from fully engaging with Class the way we do with Who, but we didn't have this much trouble orienting ourselves to the world and team that made up Torchwood. But then again, nothing compares to Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and we're sorry we ever thought something could.
Class premieres Saturday at 10:10/9:10c on BBC America, following the Season 10 premiere of Doctor Who.