Some minor spoilers ahead…
As best as I can tell, the enthusiasm ahead of the debut of Doctor Who spin-off Class (ABC iView and ABC2 in Australia) has been cautious, perhaps doubtful. Many (me included) would prefer more Who, than new. Or a return to Torchwood, rather than what could be considered Torchwood Senior High, the Angst Years.
Having watched the first two episodes, I appreciate the self-awareness of the main characters, and the reflexivity of the writing. The program immediately identifies where it sits alongside others, what with the first episode’s ‘prom night’ shenanigans. Without direct references to Buffy, anyone familiar with that program would immediately see similarities. Even the premise: of Coal Hill Academy with an oddly high body count of the missing and deceased, is basically your Sunnydale High circa 1997.
Except, rather than have one obvious leader, Class is a cast full of intelligent Willow and caring Xander types with a reluctant Watcher Rupert Giles as teacher Ms Quill. This makes it interesting, so while there is a ‘posh’ Prince he is too new to lead – and that would be too typical as well. While, as the only adult really in on the situation, Ms Quill’s power is modified by her complicated relationship to the Prince. So she is not a leader either. Class is more than a title then, it’s a motto. They may ‘win’ by working together. But what kid actually enjoys class group work projects?
The first Big Bad is defeated, perhaps too easily, given they wiped out the population of an entire planet. And the program is gruesome in a way Buffy wasn’t. For all the vampires there wasn’t much actual blood. There is more blood in Class so far, thus English Prom Night looks more like Carrie with Aliens. And more shadows, but these aren’t infected.
However, this isn’t 1997. These students have the technology, for starters. While Buffy took a series to defeat a demon robot, things happen more quickly at Coal Hill. And the reason is the Torchwood scenario stuff comes through not a ‘rift’ but a ‘bunghole’ and they must defeat them or convince them to stand down, go away or return home. Fast.
In the space of two episodes they encountered at least three sorts of aliens and others who will obviously lead into an arc. They’ve witnessed murder, been injured, had stories of genocide related, and generally had a really traumatising time in a more visceral way than most Doctor Who episodes of late. Speaking of which, yes, they met The Doctor, who conveniently turned up to provide their mission statement and improve the lighting. Look for the call back to Clara too. Gone, but not quite forgotten.
So yeah, we’ve seen this before, a group of smart kids who are pop culture clever in the midst of growing emotionally through what they identify as PTSD. There are less puns than Buffy, but more inclusivity. Class wears this on its sleeve, so it’s diverse in terms of species (alien and human), in terms of sexuality, ability, and cultural background. There are jokes about Nigerian parents amid peer grief counselling and when the new kid from ‘Sheffield’ admits he is an alien this is amusingly accepted immediately, because obvious.
And kudos to the camera people, the opening shots of the first episode were well done.
It makes me nostalgic for the best of Torchwood, and Buffy. But we’ll see, hopefully Class will evolve into its own thing.