There’s an oft-cited principle of young-adult storytelling—I actually already mentioned it a few weeks back—that the story can’t really begin until the parents are removed. They don’t have to die, necessarily, but there’s plenty of pathos to be mined from such deaths, and either way that narrative removal is meant to signal that the last vestiges of safety are gone forever. For its first seven episodes, Class split the difference with the kids’ parents. Only Matteusz has both parents definitely still together, and they kick him out for being gay at the very start of the series. Ram’s mother is only mentioned and appears to no longer be living with her son or Varun. The death of Tanya’s father is at the crux of “Nightvisiting.” April’s father might as well be dead to her, though he does play a major role in the mid-season two-parter. Charlie and Quill are both the last of their species. So parents have been downplayed from the start on Class, with their roles largely restricted to the world-building of the first couple episodes and that two-parter, which acknowledges how implausible it would be for the main characters to go around saving the world—or, you know, having sex in an unlocked room—without their parents finding out.
Otherwise, though, characters like Ram’s dad and especially Tanya’s mom—her daughter capped off that two-parter by saying she was so glad they hadn’t invited her!—have felt superfluous to the proceedings, there more as acknowledgments that these kids aren’t all orphans instead of characters will richly developed motivations or relationships. And that, as much as anything else, is why it feels so misjudged to build the finale around those parents’ sudden, brutal murders at the hands of Corakinus, the Shadow King. Such purposefully shocking deaths can work as a way of escalating the stakes of the show’s universe, of reminding characters and audience alike of the true dangers to which we had grown complacent. And it would be wrong to say that Class has all been safety and fun and games up to this point. As Ram acknowledges, first Corakinus killed Rachel, and now the Shadow King has killed his dad. But the show in recent weeks has largely shunted its body counts off-screen—Ballon’s death last week a big, big exception, but that didn’t affect the kids—with no real sense that it was sacrificing the “seriousness” that’s supposedly comes with casually depicting death. If anything, deemphasizing the role of death on Class felt like a key part of the show carving its own distinct identity.
Look at Ram’s breakdown after his dad is murdered in front of him. Fady Elsayed tries his absolute best to locate some emotional reality in the material, but the episode needs him to compress all that grief and anguish into another turbocharged plot. “Brave-ish Heart” found more time for him to explain to April why he finds value in Sikhism even without practicing Kesh than “The Lost” is able to give him time to process his father’s death. Recognizing the reality of Ram’s—and, soon enough, Tanya’s—situation should overwhelm the entire episode, which is why Class devoted almost all of “The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo” just to Ram coming to terms with Rachel’s death, with that episode’s main story providing thematic resonance with Ram’s faltering efforts to find meaning in a suddenly meaningless world. If this episode were just devoted to sitting with Ram and Tanya as they came to terms with their parents’ deaths, maybe the story would hang together.
Instead, that unimaginable suffering is instrumentalized in service of… well, a lot of gobbledygook, mostly. Until tonight, Class has mostly managed to stay on the right side of the line in how it uses its most outlandish elements. The Cabinet of Souls and April’s shared heart with the Shadow King aren’t interesting because they are big, crazy, fantastical concepts, but rather because of what they say about the characters. At its best, Class has understood that. April’s connection with Corakinus accentuated the simmering rage she felt toward her father. The prisoner in “Detained” forced out the petty resentments and insecurities all the characters felt and made them appear to be all-encompassing truths, which is pretty much being a teenager defined. The metaphysical engine proved the perfect vehicle for exploring Quill’s beliefs and her understanding of herself as a soldier. The distinction can be a fine one, but tonight’s episode slowly loses sight of what made Charlie and April’s arcs interesting in the first place, with the climax turning on a lot of loud noises and portentous technobabble.
The episode centers itself on April sharing a heart with the Shadow King—a concept so weird and abstract I still don’t really understand what it means, and is thus best left in the background as much as possible—and on Charlie stating his intent. That at least is inflected by Matteusz’s efforts to stand by him, but at a certain point this episode is just about whether Charlie will use his weird magic box to save the day, not what said decision says about him. It doesn’t help that the Shadow Kin are such daft monsters. Much like the previous Class episodes, the best Doctor Who monsters are those with an allegorical aspect. The Cybermen are the loss of emotion and humanity. The Daleks are unreasoning hatred and obsession with racial purity. The Vashta Nerada, the previous shadow-based monsters, were a very direct extrapolation of what’s scary about being lost in the dark. The Shadow Kin don’t have that same kind of applicability to a relatable fear, instead being a warrior race with a lot of complicated, quasi-mystical powers. This worked quite well in the bonkers fun of the midseason two-parter, but it’s why the Shadow Kin felt so weird when pitted directly against the 12th Doctor, and it’s why Corakinus isn’t a great villain for what’s meant to be the big, serious finale. The Shadow Kin are the show’s most juvenile element, and Class’ efforts to bridge the gap and make Corakinus our heroes’ deadliest foe just feel like the show straining to overcompensate.
Tonight is the show’s weakest entry, which isn’t a great way for Class to wrap up—especially when the show’s anemic ratings during its original run in the United Kingdom don’t make a second season the likeliest proposition. And while “The Lost” is a mess, at least it’s an ambitious one, trying to move the characters’ stories ahead in big, bold ways. In particular, a pregnant Quill training a broken Tanya is one of the more intriguing subplots, but it just all comes together so damn fast. For most of its run, Class has made a virtue of its willingness to move at lightning speed, with the past four episodes in particular feeling like it hit its stride. Here, though, the episode’s biggest beats desperately need time to breathe, and the show has run out of time. The pieces of a truly compelling final chapter for this season’s story are in evidence tonight, and there are enough isolated moments that work for this episode to not be a total lost cause. If Class was going to go down, at least it went down taking the biggest, silliest swings possible.
Honestly, what could be more in keeping with new Doctor Who and the other spin-offs than to have a fun, imaginative season let down by an overstuffed, overwrought finale? Like it or not, Class, you’re officially part of the family.
- Don’t worry, I didn’t forget them: The Weeping Angels showed up right at the end there! Killing Ms. Ames did rather end her story before it had a chance to get properly interesting, but if the show ever does come back, the Weeping Angels are intriguing adversaries for our heroes. I know they have a reputation as overexposed, but I’m just ready to move on from the Shadow Kin.
- Oh, and Quill is pregnant! While that informs a few moments here and there, particularly with Tanya, that also feels like a story that would be developed further in a highly theoretical second season.
- Also, right, April is inside Corakinus’ body! That’s so deeply stupid, but it’s the kind of stupid that I have come to really love about Class, so I’m all aboard for that concept, assuming we ever see any more of it.
- I was pleasantly shocked Matteusz made it out of the alive, as I figured his recurring status made him a goner. His idealism made him one of my favorites, so I’ll take it as a small victory that the Shadow King didn’t manage to cross him off his kill list.
- Well, that just about does it for Class. Eight episodes are so few to really say all that much about a show, but I enjoyed how the series found a formula that was distinctive and equal parts serious and goofy as the show went on. The final two episodes represented deviations from the norm, with “The Metaphysical Engine” proving a far more successful departure than “The Lost,” but oh well. Overall, Class is a flawed but worthy addition to the Doctor Who universe, which itself basically personifies the phrase “flawed but worthy.”