Coal Hill Academy.
If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you might remember the name. Or you might not. Coal Hill is the school where Doctor Who first began in 1963. It was the opening setting for “An Unearthly Child,” which featured the Doctor’s granddaughter (!!), Susan, as a student. Two of her teachers become the Doctor’s first (unrelated) traveling companions. Coal Hill has shown up in different episodes throughout the series, most frequently since the 2005 reboot.
And all this time travel mess has thinned the walls of time and space around the school. And so now there are problems.
Class, set in the modern day, has seen the school’s name changed from Coal Hill Secondary School to Coal Hill Academy. The show aired from October to December 2016 on BBC Three (which is online only) and is currently airing on BBC One.
The characters are mostly teenagers, led by Charlie, an alien prince who is hiding on Earth from the Shadowkin, a warhungry race that destroyed all of the people on Charlie’s planet. Along with Charlie, we follow Ram, Tanya, April, Matteusz (Charlie’s boyfriend, who became a regular in the last half of the season), and Andra’ath, also known as Miss Quill and who is also an alien tasked with protecting Charlie, against her will.
I binged watched the 8-episode first season of the series recently to write this blog post (it’d been on my TBW list for awhile), and I was pretty pleased with it. Class has all the cheesy things one can expect from a Doctor Who property — weird-looking aliens hell bent on someone’s destruction, goofy one-liners that can’t help but make you laugh. But Class has some elements not often seen in Doctor Who itself.
Lots of blood. And lots of sex.
In the pilot, “For Tonight We Might Die,” there is dismemberment and murder with buckets and buckets of blood. That trend carried on to the second episode, “The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo,” (yeah, I dig the titles too) where a dragon is chomping on athletes and administration alike. There’s a bit of blood and gore throughout the following six episodes as well, but not as much as these first two.
Sex, while definitely something that teenagers deal with in some way (whether actually doing it or pressure to do it), is not something that’s often seen in shows targeted for the teen market. Well, in the US, anyway. There are a number of sex scenes in Class that I wouldn’t expect to see in US shows. Nothing overly explicit, but a lot more skin than US audiences are likely used to — including same-sex pairings, which I found to be super refreshing. Nothing surprising about that, though, since its creator and writer, Patrick Ness, was also the producer on Torchwood. If you haven’t watched Torchwood, you should do it. Now. Okay, wait til the end of the post. But definitely get to it soon!
The only adult who has a major role is Katherine Kelly (who I *loved* in Mr. Selfridge as Miss Mae). She plays Miss Quill, also known as Andra’ath. She is part of a race which lived on the planet Charlie is from, but they were a race which was constantly exploited by Charlie’s people.
As a punishment for terrorist activities (which, to her, were patriotic activities to protect her race from exploitation), an organism was planted in her brain which will kill her if she fires a weapon or if she engages in battle (unless Charlie has been threatened). Her directive is to protect Charlie. Her story arc is very interesting, because when the group is tasked in the first episode to guard Coal Hill by the Doctor (I did mention he has a cameo, right? ;)), she finds herself having to protect Charlie even more often. So over the course of the series, she finds herself fighting alongside these kids who, mostly, are very brave and, in the case of April especially, very good.
Andra eventually goes on a quest to try to rid herself of the creature in her head. I think Andra’s story was probably my favorite episode, because it showed a depth to her and an ability to make connections to others that hadn’t been obvious before.
A human girl, April, is one of the main driving forces of many of the stories within this 8-episode season. April is a good person — kind, compassionate, and generally forgiving. By a weird turn of events in the first episode, she ends up sharing a heart with the leader of the Shadowkin. So if she dies, he dies. And vice versa. This leads to a lot of interesting stand-offs and a huge twist in the finale (which I won’t spoil for you!).
Speaking of the finale, it was just full of unexpected turns. I’m usually pretty good at predicting outcomes (which can annoy my friends and family 😉 ) and while I did predict a couple things, there were definitely some surprises for me, which I always love. I did feel like some of the pacing was off at parts within the season, particularly in the first half. But that’s not uncommon in a new series. It sometimes takes a bit to get their feet under them. The actors did a great job with their parts, though, so that kept me engaged even through the rough patches.
There are a lot of subplots (like the Governors, who answer to a power Doctor Who fans will…appreciate; and the return of April’s mentally ill father that prompts her to channel the Shadowkin’s power) and different layers to the show that I didn’t really touch on in this post. So if it sounds intriguing to you, know that there’s a lot more depth than I’ve mentioned.
I definitely enjoyed Class and will be watching it whenever season two drops.
Have you watched Class? What did you think? Who was your favorite character and why? Will you watch season two?
If you haven’t watched it yet, do you plan to?