The first three episodes of Class range from fine to really good hours of television, but the subsequent two-parter of “Co-Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and tonight’s “Brave-ish Heart” have made plain their basic shortcoming: Those first three episodes were those of a show still in need of its own identity, and not necessarily actively engaged in searching for one. The premiere felt too ensconced in the Doctor Who universe to assert how it would be different—hard to blame any actors for being overshadowed by Peter Capaldi, but so it goes—and the next two episodes were serious and well thought-out and hard to take much issue with, but they were missing that essential spark that would define Class as something other than a cover version of earlier, better young adult shows. This two-parter has given Class an identity, and much of it has to do with just how gloriously bonkers this show is. It’s a show where a teenage girl become king of dimension-hopping shadow monsters, one where an alien prince is forced by his evil head teacher to use a doomsday device containing the souls of his entire race to defeat an invasion of carnivorous petals. It’s also one where everybody’s loser parents show up and act like total dorks, god.
Let’s leave April aside for one moment and consider the last two parts of that list. There’s a common through line there of… well, I can’t say realism or naturalism with a straight face, but there’s a certain logic to what unfolds tonight. The killer petals rank among the most eerily effective threats in the entire Doctor Who universe, because there is nothing to them beyond a taste for blood and a seriously impressive ability to reproduce. This is a fictional universe with more than its fair share of overelaborate contrivances—have you heard the one about the 2,000-year-old alien who travels in a police box that’s bigger on the inside?—but this is a planetary peril that starts with a single petal and escalates. There’s no secret plan, no hidden operator, no complicated mythology: Just something alien and hungry, with abilities that instantly make it an existential threat. Doctor Who is rarely so restrained with the monsters it creates, so credit to Class for keeping it simple.
And as for the parents, there really wasn’t any logically coherent way to keep the adults out of the story for much longer. After all, April and Ram couldn’t be bothered to lock her bedroom door before they had sex: What chance did they ever have of keeping their world-saving extracurriculars a secret for much longer? Class bought a bit of credibility on this score by having Ram’s dad have some vague idea of what was going on, with his son revealing his prosthetic leg and offering some vague, sanitized details on what they were fighting. But any threat of reasonable size—and the twin dangers of the petals and the Shadow Kin surely qualify—would be hard to keep invisible from the kids’ parents, even if April and Ram hadn’t jumped to the Shadow Realm in front of the former’s mother and estranged father. Again, Class hasn’t been perfect on this score, pulling some decided bullshit in the first few episodes to keep parents—particularly Tanya’s mom, who is still none the wiser, much to her daughter’s hilarious delight—out of the way of the stories. There’s a reason the first rule of young adult storytelling is you kill or otherwise remove the parents, but if you’re not going to do that, at least acknowledge that the kids’ parents couldn’t logically remain on the sidelines.
That basic acknowledgment of logic buys the show a lot of credibility for its more outlandish elements. Which is good, as elsewhere Class makes no secret of how absurd its world is. The Shadow Kin in particular are goofy foes even by Doctor Who standards, to the point they would feel a bit out of place if they suddenly showed up to menace the Doctor and Bill. They technically play on an elemental fear in the way a lot of the best new series monsters do, but their shadow-based threat was already done nearly a decade ago far more eloquently and more viciously by the Vashta Narada in “Silence In The Library”/“Forest Of The Dead.” To have foes like the Shadow Kin is, on some level, to embrace Class’ more juvenile side, even if April and Ram swear and talk about their sex lives while fighting them. It’s an odd mix, honestly, but it’s all the show’s own, and that lends the proceedings an energy that early episodes lacked.
Most importantly, the show has discovered enough specifics about its characters that the plot’s resolutions now feel tailored to and informed by what we’ve learned about them over multiple episode. The use of April’s father here is especially on point. To its great credit, Class refuses to even hint at redemption for his actions, as they remain unforgiven, perhaps unforgivable. “Brave-ish Heart” recognizes that he has an insight into April’s torment and misery that nobody else quite has, and he has self-awareness enough to use himself as a negative example to warn April to find a better way. Frankly, it’s hard to know whether she actually did, given she still ends up with an entire race at her command and still sends the Shadow King to be tortured for the rest of his days, which is a worrisome far cry from the April who worried about killing the gym teacher. Either way though: Class is at its most perceptive when her dad tries to wheedle his way back into his daughter’s life, in however minor a way. He studiously refuses to get that April is sending him away as firmly and definitively as she can without shutting the door completely on a future meeting. He clearly thinks he deserves to be the hero of this story, not recognizing that his past actions mean that role is forever out of his reach.
The business with Charlie, Quill, Matteusz, and Ms. Ames is similarly good. The big achievement of this subplot is the extent to which it develops a genuinely alien perspective and takes it seriously. Whereas Charlie’s claims that his treatment of Quill is a cultural norm always come across as making an excuse—which is a good character beat, not a storytelling flaw—Quill does advance a legitimately compelling viewpoint about Charlie’s princely duties to the universe at large when she argues his responsibility is to use the cabinet to destroy the Shadow Kin, not the petals. It’s not a perspective a human is ever likely to agree with—especially not Matteusz, whose stated hatred of guns means he’s officially nearing Doctor-ish levels of moral rectitude—but it makes a grim sort of sense, and Katherine Kelly is skillful enough to make the argument sound like more than just Quill crying out for vengeance.
“Brave-ish Heart” then is a satisfying, occasionally silly, often perceptive conclusion to the show’s first big multi-part story. It does right by the audience in resolving most of its storylines, while still leaving Ms. Ames and the mysterious governors ready to take their rightful place as the show’s primary adversaries. The show’s heroes appear more ready than ever to deal with them, and Class as a show appears more ready than ever to tell that story in a compelling way.
- I’m a simple man with a simple love for all things Fifth Doctor, so of course I loved the episode title being a reference to what Peter Davison’s incarnation would always say to companion Tegan Jovanka.
- I’m not absolutely sure why the episode came to a halt for a couple minutes there to drop some knowledge on Sikhism, but you know what? That was actually kind of cool.
- I also appreciated April’s mother pointing out that April never asked her whether she wanted to be healed of her paralysis, and that she was perfectly happy and able just as she was. That’s not a message you hear very often in narratives like this, so kudos for the show for including it.