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There have been a few Doctor Who spinoffs over the years, from 1981's K9 And Company to 2006's Torchwood. None, however, have featured as tenuous a link to the main show as Class. Class's connection to Doctor Who is simply the coincidence that it takes place in the same school that the Doctor's granddaughter Susan Foreman was a student at back in 1963: Coal Hill School, now known as 'Coal Hill Academy'. Since 1963, the Doctor has worked as the school's caretaker and his most recent companion Clara Oswald was an English teacher. Given that it takes place after Clara's exit in Series 9, she doesn't make an appearance; bar the Doctor's guest appearance, there's no equivalent to Captain Jack, Sarah Jane or even K-9. It's not your traditional spinoff...but in some ways it being a spinoff actually becomes an issue for the show's first episode. More on that later.
Class follows a group of four students - Ram (Fady Elsayed), Charlie (Greg Austin), April (Sophie Hopkins) and Tanya (Vivian Oparah) - who along with their physics teacher Miss Quill (Katherine Kelly), are tasked with protecting Secondary School/Sixth Form Coal Hill Academy from alien menaces who come through a tear in time and space. In their first episode, the Shadow Kin (Paul Mark Davis) gatecrash the school prom and when Miss Quill and the students struggle to deal with the alien menace Miss Quill is left with no option than to call in the Doctor (Peter Capaldi), who assigns them with the job of protecting the academy in his absence.
When the spinoff was announced, I had no idea what to expect. It sounded like a pointless idea for a Doctor Who spinoff and I was bemused as to why they weren't doing a Paternoster Gang show instead. Having watched the first episode however, I found it a surprisingly addictive experience. There's a lot to love about this show and in some ways it is actually better than The Sarah Jane Adventures. As much as I liked the Bannerman Road Gang, the Class kids feel more like realistic characters. If you compare Charlie to Luke, for example, Charlie is a much more compelling character and is generally portrayed better by Greg Austin than Luke was by Tommy Knight. Tommy Knight was okay but at times (especially early on) he could be pretty wooden. No such problems with Charlie, who is wonderfully endearing and one of the Whoniverse's best alien characters.
The standout of the Coal Hill students is by far Sophie Hopkins as April however. April feels exactly like the kind of quiet but caring character you would often encounter at school/sixth form. I love the way we get to see her frustration on never getting listened to, for example, when she tries to warn the students at the prom of the impending danger (even if it would have made far more sense for her to set off the fire alarm). I can totally imagine somebody like April doing that in real life. Fady Elsayed is also good as Ram but unfortunately it doesn't feel like we get to know him as well as we do April; it doesn't help that his girlfriend is given barely any screentime - so when a later scene comes where his girlfriend becomes a victim of the Shadow Kin we don't understand or care why he's so upset at recent events.
Impressively the show boasts Katherine Kelly among its lead cast - and she's just as good as you would expect her to be. Miss Quill has a lovely sense of sarcasm with her students and Katherine Kelly ingeniously portrays her like Professor Snape from the Harry Potter films. You get that same sense from the writing and acting that you never quite know whether you can trust Miss Quill - she is definitely one of the Whoniverse's most complex characters in that regard and it would be fun if we ever get to see her alongside the Doctor in the main series. An episode with the Doctor, Quill and Missy would be perfect...
...especially if it was written by Patrick Ness, whose writing here is outstanding. It is incredibly poetic and directly echoes the kind of dialogue you read in Young Adult novels (hardly a surprise given Patrick Ness is a novel writer first and foremost). For Tonight We Might Die seems like the kind of episode people expected from Frank Cottrell Boyce with Doctor Who Series 8's In The Forest Of The Night. It would be crazy if Patrick Ness is never brought onboard to write a Doctor Who episode after his debut writing his spinoff series.
The visual effects for the Shadow Kin by Milk are also very impressive, given the relatively low budget. Unlike the main show, this series has been made for BBC3 Online and as such the series is working on what will be a very minuscule online budget. You honestly can't tell watching the show that it does have a smaller budget than Doctor Who though; the Shadow Kin could easily appear in the main series without anybody telling the difference in comparison to, say, the Vashta Nerada.
Which brings me back to my point earlier on the show being hindered by it being a spinoff to Doctor Who. You see, the premise of the Shadow Kin is strikingly similar to the Vashta Nerada from the Doctor Who Series 4 two parter Silence In The Library/Forest of the Dead. Both monsters are shadows that kill their victims; this wouldn't be a problem if Class wasn't a part of the wider Whoniverse - no idea is completely original - but these similarities become more obvious when you realise the introduction of the Shadow Kin means that there are two monsters that involve killer shadows co-existing in the same universe. If this show really had to be a Doctor Who spinoff, then Patrick Ness would have been better off simply using the Vashta Nerada as the episode's monster-of-the-week rather than trying to create the same concept from scratch.
Then there's Peter Capaldi's cameo as the Doctor. Whilst Peter Capaldi is as awesome here as he was throughout Series 8 and 9, his appearance in Class is too distracting from the episode's plot. He just randomly shows up towards the end of the episode, with a clumsy flashback to an earlier scene indicating that he was responding to Miss Quill's call for help. Class doesn't need Peter Capaldi to show up as the Doctor - at least not yet, anyway. In The Sarah Jane Adventures, the Doctor didn't show up until episode five of Series 3 - The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith episode one. The first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures - Invasion of The Bane - was quite simply setting up the show's format and introducing us to the characters of Maria and Luke. That's what Class's first episode needed to be. Class shouldn't even be a Doctor Who spinoff: it should be a totally original Young Adult sci-fi drama as at the moment, that's what the show feels like.
Overall, For Tonight We Might Die is a strong first episode for Class with great performances from the show's lead cast. At the moment Sophie Hopkins as April and Katherine Kelly as Miss Quill look to be the standouts, however Greg Austin is good as Charlie too. Unfortunately the episode is let down by its connection to Doctor Who; Class feels like its own show rather than a Doctor Who spinoff and would be much more successful if not connected to the wider Whoniverse. The Shadow Kin's similarities to the Vashta Nerada would be less obvious for a start and Peter Capaldi's cameo feels forced, as though writer Patrick Ness felt required to include it rather than adding the scene because it worked for the narrative he was trying to tell. Patrick Ness's dialogue is nicely poetic though and the visual effects for the Shadow Kin are outstanding for a low budget online sci-fi series. Class's first episode is well worth a watch - but would be a better watch if the Doctor Who connections didn't feel quite so forced.