Class, the 2016 young adult drama series about two alien refugees hiding undercover at a modern-day school teaming up with pupils to fight alien life slipping through cracks in the fabric of space-time, is almost a taboo subject amongst Doctor Who fandom. The most recent Doctor Who spin-off, and the first one since Torchwood ended back in 2011, Class was unfortunately axed after just one short eight episode season, initially available only on online channel BBC Three. The show’s failure – according to some fans – was either due to lack of promotion, or simply down to bad writing. But whatever the reason, the show died after its first series. Or did it?
For a show that was arguably awful on occasion, there was a lot of hope within Doctor Who fandom for it to continue in some shape or form, possibly due to it being set within Coal Hill, the school featured in Doctor Who since its very beginning in 1963. So with the release of two brand new boxsets containing six full-cast audio dramas featuring the original cast, have audio production company Big Finish managed to meet fan expectations, and once again work their well-established magic, breathing new life into the dead spin-off?
Unlike the expected continuation from the series’ cliffhanger ending, the new audio stories are very much set within the existing series of Class. (This may or may not due to the BBC hoping that Netflix will commission a second series, now that the show is available on the popular streaming platform.)
Volume One contains three such stories, first of which is “Gifted” by Roy Gill. As the opening salvo of a new range, there’s a lot of pressure on it to impress and entice the audience into listening to the rest of the set. “Gifted” does this job well. The dialogue is well written and is completely believable, and paints the visuals within your mind’s eye. The story – based on mythical legends and songs – features a deep and mystical narrative, keeping the audience on edge throughout. The story focuses on the relationship between April (Sophie Hopkins) and Ram (Fady Elsayed), who worked well on screen together, and here their relationship works well on audio too. Hopkins proves to be particularly strong on audio, Elsayed sadly less so, but on the whole, they provide an entertaining audio adventure.
“Life Experience” by Jenny T Colgan focuses on Ram and Tanya (Vivian Oparah) while they are on work experience at a laboratory. Naturally, there’s a creature are on the loose, and all inside could become its victims. Colgan has captured Tanya and Ram’s characters well, although I’m not entirely sure about Ram’s “Tanya, are you mansplaining me?” line.
The final drama in this set, “Tell Me You Love Me” by Scott Handcock, features an alien parasite that transfers from host to host when they say ‘I Love You’. This story focuses more on the relationship between Charlie (Greg Austin) and Matteusz (Jordan Renzo) and their love for each other, as well as the relationship (if you can call it that) between Charlie and Quill (Katherine Kelly). For what is essentially a three-person conversation lasting an hour, it is solidly engaging from start to finish, leaving you shocked but not surprised by Quill’s solution to the situation.
Volume Two also contains three episodes. The first of this set is “Everybody Loves Reagan” by Tim Foley, a strange tale about a girl from Manchester who places herself into people’s memories – and the only person who can see the truth is April. Being thematically similar to Volume One’s “Tell Me You Love Me”, in that it’s also about love, the story sadly make the series appear a tad repetitive.
“Now You Know…” by Tim Leng sees Tanya and Matteusz discover a force that fights against bullies, albeit in a cruel and nasty manner. The story is a great and adult demonstration of the effects that bullies have on a person. The story also highlights the contemporary racism found in modern day schools. The story uses the rips in time in an interesting manner too, allowing the essence of a child who was bullied in the sixties seep through time, seeking vengeance on those who bully others…
Finally, the highly antipated “In Remembrance” by Guy Adams. Quill and Charlie find classic 1980s Doctor Who companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) in the school hall. She is there to capture and destroy a Dalek that has slipped through a rip in time from the 1960s (during the events of classic story “Remembrance of the Daleks”). The idea that the Doctor knew that a Dalek had slipped through time, but forgot to go and fix it, doesn’t quite sit right – perhaps it would have been more believable if Ace had detected a rip in time somehow – but that aside, this audio is by far the best of both sets.
The music within these sets are arguably some of the best soundtracks on a Big Finish series. The pieces are composed by Blair Mowat, who also worked on the BBC Three series, which makes them fit in well. Some fans may be disappointed to find that the electronic rock theme song – “Up All Night” by Alex Clare – has not been used for these audios (due to rights issues), but in my view, the replacement theme – the TV show’s end credits music – now makes Class feel more like a part of the Doctor Who world. Along with the music, these audios have brilliant sound design by Luke Pietnik, which perfectly creates the world that is on the page in front of him (besides the odd dodgy kissing noise!).
Overall, both boxsets are brilliant, utilising the promise shown within the show but which never truly materialised. For me, the best part was the better use of Matteusz; in the show, it felt like he was only there to be a love interest for Charlie, but here is a fully-rounded character.
Class: Volumes One and Two are both available to buy now exclusively from Big Finish as downloads or as limited-run CD boxsets.