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Episode two of Class had rather unusual scheduling: rather than releasing it a week after episode one, it was decided that it would be uploaded online the same day as episode one. If this was the second part of a two part story, I could understand...but it wasn't. I'd love to know the reasoning behind the BBC's decision on this. The Sarah Jane Adventures may have been broadcast two episodes a time, for example, but those stories were two parters and so you were essentially getting a complete story. Regardless, it doesn't affect the enjoyment of the story - Class is one of those shows you could watch for hours and it wouldn't grow dull.
Episode two focuses largely on Ram (Fady Elsayed) and his struggles after losing the events of the previous episode. His Football coach (Ben Peel) is giving him a hard time and he is generally struggling with the loss of his girlfriend Rachel (Anna Shaffer). Meanwhile, a skin-peeling dragon is roaming the corridors of Coal Hill Academy and its actions bear some connection to Ram's coach...
Essentially, this episode is 'Ram's story' and I think this approach of focusing largely on one character works quite well for an ensemble cast. It allows us to relate to the characters more and develop a clearer understanding of who they are as individuals rather than a team. Episode three 'Nightvisiting' (which I will review at a later point) mainly focuses on Tanya, so this seems to be a structural decision by writer Patrick Ness - and a very smart one at that. Hopefully we can expect a Miss Quill (Katherine Kelly) -centric episode at some point, as Katherine Kelly deserves an episode of her own.
The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo is essentially the 'Russell T Davies' episode of the show, in that it goes more for the human angle of life in the Whoniverse rather than the sci-fi fairytale of the Moffat era. This is more about how the mundanity of life co-exists with the aliens and monsters of this world; how living in this world can, in fact, leave an impact on certain members of humanity. Remember when Mickey Smith was accused of murdering Rose Tyler because she disappeared for a year, for instance? That could easily be a Class storyline here. Some of the best stories are more about what some sections of fandom like to call 'the soap opera elements' than the genre elements; this is definitely the case here. The skin-peeling dragon is cool but that's now what makes this a strong episode; The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo is excellent more for the way it explores how Ram has been affected by the loss of his girlfriend and his leg.
This episode relies on Fady Elsayed giving a good performance as Ram - and boy does he succeed. Fady is absolutely outstanding here and if this was a movie, I'm pretty certain he'd be nominated for an Oscar. It's thanks to Fady that you really feel sorry for the character's loss; the performance he gives is more like the kind you would expect from a top-class actor like Daniel Radcliffe. It's a very moving turn from the actor that demonstrates just how right Andy Pyror got the casting for the series.
One thing I failed to mention in my review of For Tonight We Might Die is the title sequence. I know many are disappointed with the titles, especially the music chosen for it. I, on the other hand, love it. It is a title sequence that is very fitting for the Young Adult demographic; the visuals have a very modern aesthetic that's reminiscent of other Young Adult TV Series and the song choice is inspired with its thumping rock sound.
The song is Up All Night by Alex Clara and whilst the lyrics don't directly correlate with the series, you can see why they picked it:
In this instance, 'she don't know what we do in our spare time' could mean 'fighting monsters after school' - the 'she' being their mothers.
Unfortunately, there is a major drawback with this episode - and that's the bizarre subplot with Miss Quill and the OFSTED inspector. Seeing Quill suspect the inspector is an alien is very amusing but the way the sub plot is concluded feels very underwhelming. It turns out that the inspector is a robot - but there's no foreshadowing to this revelation, so it just comes out of nowhere. The other bizarre thing is how Quill makes it very clear she hates the inspector - yet kisses him near the end of the episode! Again, it comes completely out of nowhere; it's almost as though Patrick Ness just thought it up on the spot.
The acting by Ben Peel as Ram's coach is also terrible. He is extremely wooden in the part and it's honestly a chore to watch whenever he is talking. Fortunately the skin-peeling dragon and the revelation concerning his tattoo is more important than the character himself but it's still a shame they couldn't find someone better to play the part of the coach. Looking at his IMDB he appears to be an actor who largely plays bit parts, so it is no surprise that he's the weak link of a very strong cast.
A strong cast that also includes Nigel Betts as Mr Armitage. In the main series, Mr Armitage was a pretty forgettable character that didn't leave much of an impact on viewers. In episode two of Class however, he becomes a very endearing character - thanks largely down to Nigel Betts' portrayal. He is so much more interesting here that when his character exits the series, you actually feel sad that he'll no longer be in the show. For me this is the biggest u-turn I've ever had on a Doctor Who character; Mr Armitage is the kind of head teacher that everybody loves. He's the one you could imagine hanging around at parents' evening to answer parents' questions, who would know the name of every student in his school and who clearly has a great deal of care for those who study there. In just one episode of Doctor Who in a minor role and two episodes of Class in a supporting one, Mr Armitage has become a fan-favourite character who may even one day gain his own Big Finish spinoff. As Tom Baker's Curator would say, 'Who knows?'.
Overall, episode two of Class is a moving episode that tells the story of Ram and how the events of For Tonight We Might Die have affected him. Fady Elsayed gives a phenomenal performance but unfortunately is let down by the terrible acting of Ben Peel as Ram's football coach. There is also a pointless sub plot featuring Miss Quill and an OFSTED inspector which doesn't really go anywhere. Nigel Betts is immensely likeable as Mr Armitage though (seriously, Big Finish: we need that Mr Armitage spinoff) and the series does have a fitting title sequence.