Patrick Ness on his new book Release, the future of his Doctor Who spinoff Class, and more

patrick ness class release books doctor who interview class season 2 big finish the rest of us just live here

I hope that Class takes their concerns seriously – not overly seriously, but seriously. I hope it shows them as human beings, as more than one-dimensional human beings – they fight, they squabble, they love and they care and they’re brave and they’re frightened. The same kind of complexity that we always see in adults in drama – and again, that’s something I always wanted to see as a teenager, I felt like I was only seeing one kind of teen on screen.

Class is a real effort to make them fully rounded, and full of contradictions, and making their own choices – driving the action, they make the choices, it’s not a show about a bunch of young people sitting around watching adults make all the choices. They’re the ones that drive the plot forward, and it matters because they’re doing it. So, hopefully, it’s that – it’s paying a teenager the compliment of saying you’re a fully rounded human being.

So, here it is – my Patrick Ness interview! I’m extremely pleased with this piece – felt like the appropriate way to round off my experience with Class. It is, to the best of my knowledge, still the most detailed interview Patrick Ness has given about Class. This took place before the American broadcast, so it’s a little scant on details about his departure, and the cancellation of the show; someday, I’d love to chat to him about it again.

(Of course, on the above, there’s been some rumblings lately that Big Finish might be bringing Class back to our screens. Or, ears, rather. If they do, I’m going to have to pursue some interviews, because I do still rather like the fact that I’m the definitive Class interviewer, and I’d like to maintain that title…)

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Why you should be watching the YA Doctor Who spin-off Class

class detained patrick ness greg austin fady elsayad jordan renzo vivian oparah sophie hopkins wayne che yip doctor who big finish

When Class was first announced, the potential was obvious: a young adult sci-fi series set in the Doctor Who world, positioning itself as a British Buffy the Vampire Slayer with aliens. Even starting from such a fantastic premise, there was something else to set this show apart – Patrick Ness. Class comes not only from the world of Doctor Who, but from the mind of acclaimed YA writer Patrick Ness, who is genuinely one of the most talented novelists working today.

This talent is obvious throughout the duration of Class, as Ness is able to imbue the show with the best of the YA genre. YA Television is experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment, and Ness is able to keep up with the best of it and then some – Class consistently putting a new spin on what we’ve seen before, finding a fresh take and creating fresh potential. Young Adult, after all, doesn’t mean trite or small – in many respects, this genre is on the bleeding edge of drama, consistently going further and finding ways to be new and interesting in ways the rest of television could only dream of.

While we’re all excited about Doctor Who – wasn’t it wonderful? – let’s not forget about Class!

It was an imperfect show that often frustrated me greatly, but it never failed to make me think, and I’m so glad it exists. It’s absolutely worth your while, so check it out!

I wrote this mainly because the American broadcast of the show was coming up, and I wanted to do pretty much whatever I could to make sure the show continued. I even bought the DVD, and I basically never do that these days. Unfortunately, it didn’t work – there was never any new Class after the TV show ended – but some of the cast shared this article, which was nice.

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Class Series Overview

class doctor who greg austin sophie hokins fady elsayad vivian oparah katherine kelly patrick ness bbc three poster hd review ranking big finish

Once again, it’s time for the customary series overview, here looking at Class.

I did my reviews of Class for Flickering Myth, rather than on my own website. You can find them all here, alongside the series rankings:

  1. For Tonight We Might Die | 9/10
  2. The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo | 8/10
  3. Nightvisiting | 9/10
  4. Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart | 9/10
  5. Brave-ish Heart | 7/10
  6. Detained | 10/10
  7. The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did | 8/10
  8. The Lost | 5/10

Every episode of Class was written by Patrick Ness, of course.

And, here’s the traditional graph. Love the graph.

class doctor who episode rankings review ratings patrick ness bbc three big finish

Often when I come to make these graphs, I start to think that some of my scores were a bit overinflated – and never moreso than on this particular occasion. I suspect quite a few of these ratings are at least two points too high – Class wasn’t that good. It was decent, it was often well executed, and it was good. I am unconvinced that it was ever great, as such.

I guess the word I want is functional, really. Which is, you know, fine – just a little disappointing.

It might be – and I suspect this is a huge part of this – that my expectations were too high. Certainly, going into the series, I was expecting – well, I was expecting it to be perfect. Something visionary and life changing, taking everything I love about Doctor Who and yet carving out something entirely new within it. I now suspect, admittedly, that this is the sort of programme that really does only exist in the mind, and there was no chance for Class to live up to that ideal – so it’s unfair to expect it to, or to compare it against that.

Undeniably, there were lots of good things. I suspect the chief strength of the series will be remembered as the acting; the six leads (yes, Jordan Rezno counts) routinely gave excellent performances, and I think they often elevated the material they were given. It was also, actually, quite well directed at times – Wayne Che Yip, who directed both Detained and The Metaphysical Engine, should absolutely be given an episode of Doctor Who to direct. (Actually, I just checked his IMDb, and he’s credited as doing two episodes of Series 10 – this might end up being the best thing that comes from Class, actually.)

And, actually, it must be said, there were a lot of interesting things being thrown up by the Rhodian/Quill storyline, particularly in terms of how it often rejected the standard Doctor Who paradigms in terms of how it presented the legitimacy of violence. Simply by virtue of being new, it had the potential to be quite compelling.

class detained patrick ness greg austin fady elsayad jordan renzo vivian oparah sophie hopkins wayne che yip doctor who big finish

It’s just that it feels, in many respects actually, that the main problem with Class is that it simply didn’t go far enough – as though it could, and should, have been a lot better.

I wrote an article a while back, extolling Patrick Ness’ virtues and talents as a writer; I’d recently read his book The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which was both excellent and felt like a clear archetype for Class to mimic. I suspect that, had Class been a lot more like The Rest of Us, it would have been a better series; in the end, it rather felt as though Class wasn’t quite to the standards of the rest of his work. I don’t know why that is, exactly – I’d guess it’s simply a result of this being Ness’ first attempt at screenwriting for television, and just not being as experienced with that medium as he is novels.

I do wonder, actually, if Class might have been more effective as a novel. It often felt as though many aspects of the show were heavily underdeveloped; a result, I suspect, of both the format of the show (eight episodes, with 2 two-part stories) and the manner in which these episodes were structured. The series was front-loaded with introductory & backstory pieces that relied on monster-of-the-week storytelling, before devoting the rest of the series to setting up the finale. Certainly, moreso than has ever been the case with Doctor Who, I suspect Class might actually have really benefitted from an American style 24 episode season – it just needed more time. Time for consequences, time for growth, and time to stay still.

Though, mind you, nothing would have solved the bloody Shadowkin. Honestly. What were those even for? Useless bloody things.

class doctor who miss quill katherine kelly hd patrick ness the metaphysical engine

At this point, there’s just one question left. And it’s not one with a particularly clear cut answer.

Where next for Class?

In story terms, it’s clear enough where the next series would go; dealing with April’s resurrection, the fallout from the genocide of the Shadowkin and the deaths of Ram and Tanya’s family, and of course the Governors and ‘the Arrival’. But in practical terms, are we likely to see it?

Probably not. Class has, to put it bluntly, not done amazingly in terms of ratings, both on its original BBC Three broadcast and during the BBC One repeats. While it’s yet to air in America, the fact that it’s been so delayed since it’s UK broadcast hardly inspires confidence that it’ll be a ratings hit. To an extent, you can’t help but feel that the handling of Class was mismanaged, from the advertising to the scheduling – but no matter what well-meaning critiques you make, the end result is going to remain the same.

(I also suspect the departure of Moffat and Capaldi is going to be something of an issue – if, as appears to be the case, the Chibnall era is to be marketed as a clean slate, Class could well be an awkward hangover that hasn’t really justified its continued existence. At most – and even then, it’s unlikely – we might see Patrick Ness write an individual episode of the main show to wrap up Class, but given how much Ness struggled with the more crowded episodes of Class anyway, I’m not convinced this is even a good idea anyway.)

However, frustrating though Class was at times, I’d still like to see a second series.

No matter what it turned out to be in the end, Class began as a show bristling with potential. It’s why Wikipedia quotes me as saying that this is a programme that can and will stand on its own – and maybe even surpass Doctor Who, one day – much as I hope that doesn’t end up my sole legacy, it is true.

There was a moment, early on, where Class felt like something genuinely new and fresh and exciting. The first few minutes of For Tonight We Might Die – the classically Who corridor sequence, before launching into a title sequence that subverts all expectations. That was the promise Class made – to be that show, that subversive, energetic, new show.

And while the promise is still unfulfilled, I think it might warrant a second series. So they can get it right next time.

Quick interjection from Alex of May 2018: Hello! I have no idea how much I agree with all of the above now, however, one of the big things I’d like to do in the future is a proper set of in-depth articles about Class. So, watch this space! Further elaboration to come.

Related:

Click here to find everything I’ve written about Classincluding an interview with Patrick Ness!

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Class Series 1 Episode 8 Review – The Lost

class the lost charlie smith miss quill greg austin katherine kelly patrick ness finale hd julian holmes

As an episode of television in its own right, it’s simply far too crowded – in attempting to tie off the various plot arcs of this season, while introducing a new arc for a potential second season (more on which shortly), it does rather seem that Patrick Ness over reaches himself. The Lost moves far too quickly between different beats, creating a real tonal mishmash that can only be described as a disaster; one almost gets whiplash in moving from the unnecessary gratuity of the murder of Ram and Tanya’s parents to the teen romance aspects of the show.

Sadly, the finale of Class was a pretty disappointing conclusion – a rather resounding let down after the promise of the prior episodes. You can find my full series retrospective here.

(Coming back to this in May 2018, and noticing I only wrote 885 words for this review! Definitely need to go back over Class again.)

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Class Series 1 Episode 7 Review – The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did

class doctor who miss quill katherine kelly hd patrick ness the metaphysical engine wayne che yip

There’s a real depth of textuality to The Metaphysical Engine, which demonstrates a lot of Patrick Ness’ greatest strengths as a writer – indeed, strengths that he perhaps hasn’t always been able to demonstrate on Class, given the nature of the programme as a Doctor Who spin-off. Here, however, you can really see his imagination being let loose; Ness deftly establishes the three different belief systems with relative ease, and quite quickly too, while still allowing each time to breathe. It helps that, typically speaking, they’re relatively simple and well-defined ideas – the best being Ness’ conception of hell for a shapeshifter – but The Metaphysical Engine does touch on some interesting concepts regarding belief and one’s perception of it. True, more could have been made of it; in some regards, one is almost inclined to wish that The Metaphysical Engine had been the two-part story for this season, rather than the previous Shadowkin episodes. However, there’s plenty going on here for the episode to be both entertaining and thought provoking, which is more than enough for now.

A decent, albeit imperfect episode, which is still a lot of fun. It probably would have been better served, admittedly, by a simpler plot – allowing some of the more interesting ideas to breathe a little more. Or, alternatively, if it had been positioned slightly earlier in the run, giving some room for the ideas within to be explored more in subsequent episodes.

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Class Series 1 Episode 6 Review – Detained

class detained patrick ness greg austin fady elsayad jordan renzo vivian oparah sophie hopkins wayne che yip doctor who big finish

On the strength of Ness’ writing, the central conceit of the episode is able to transcend its apparent artifice, instead providing the impetus for some powerful character drama. It’s often moving, consistently nuanced, and regularly insightful; Ness has a real ability to get to the heart of his characters, and Detained is the best example of this. There’s a real energy to this episode – it’s a tense, moody piece of drama, quite unlike anything the show has given us so far. And yet, in many ways, one can’t help but feel that Class would have been significantly diminished, to the point of being incomplete, without this episode.

Frankly, this is undoubtedly the best episode of Class’ run. If we get a second season, more of this, please.

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Class Series 1 Episode 5 Review – Brave-ish Heart

class brave ish heart ram singh fady elsayad april maclean sophie hopkins shadowkin corakinus paul marc davis patrick ness bbc three doctor who spinoff

The episode is far more effective when it’s grounded in the personal – in Charlie’s fear of letting down the last of his people, or in Quill’s rage and need for revenge. It’s some of Greg Austin and Katherine Kelly’s best work in the series so far, in fact, and it does a long way to elevate the material in the few places where it drags; certainly, Quill’s raw emotion when Charlie refuses to kill the Shadowkin is a standout moment for the character, who has thus far been somewhat neglected in terms of development. It’s a particularly insightful look into the psyche of this character, and goes a long way towards helping us gain a far deeper understanding of just what motivates her.

Another review of Class. I did this one at something of a remove from the preceding episodes, so there’s definitely something of a perspective shift for these last four instalments.

For anyone wondering about the lengthy gap between the final four reviews and the initial set, basically… well, the weekly workload got the better of me, basically, and I lost track of the Class reviews along the way. So what I decided to do was review the back four in keeping with their (ridiculously scheduled) BBC One repeats. If you like, you can pretend it was about keeping the series in public consciousness when it was on again. Really it was just my mistake. Ah well.

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Class Series 1 Episode 4 Review – Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart

class shadowkin corakinus paul marc davis april maclean sophie hopkins patrick ness phillipa langdale co owner of a lonely heart

There’s an interesting running thread regarding parents running through this episode, with Ram’s dad forming a direct contrast to April’s, and the parents’ evening that forms a backdrop to the episode. It’s nice to see a YA property that does depict one of the main characters trusting their parents, confiding in them about the aliens and so on, and actually maintaining a positive relationship with them. Equally, though, the depiction of April’s family is quite effective, with Sophie Hopkins giving another stellar performance. It’s clear that she’s a very talented actress, effortlessly switching between the vulnerabilities of April to the rage of the Shadowkin. 

Perhaps one of the weaker episodes of Class, but it had a lot of good stuff nonetheless.

The picture for this review is the Shadowkin, who irritated me no end. Fun fact, though: Paul Marc Davis, who played Corakinus, is the only actor to be in Doctor WhoClassTorchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. That’s pretty neat, right?

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Class Series 1 Episode 3 Review – Nightvisiting

class nightvisiting tanya adeola vivian oparah lankin patrick ness ed bazalgette big finish bbc three ya

Nightvisiting went above and beyond, grounding the story quite heavily with its core characters. In an impressive break from the norm, Class focused here on an aspect of grief which isn’t typically considered: anger. More specifically, though, that’s anger at the deceased; Tanya (Vivian Oparah) ultimately defeats the Lankin because of her anger directed at her late father. It’s a very clever take on matters, which allows Nightvisiting to give a very nuanced and subtle take on the grieving process – the anger at those who have died is something which isn’t discussed very often, perhaps out of guilt, but it’s a facet of mourning which is unavoidable. In juxtaposing Tanya’s anger at her father with a very clear love for him, Patrick Ness weaves a very subtle, yet very true, picture of loss, which is portrayed fantastically by Vivian Oparah.

Another strong early episode, with a great performance from Vivian Oparah.

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Class Series 1 Episode 2 Review – The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo

class ram fady elsayad the coach with the dragon tattoo patrick ness ed bazalgette episode 3

Primarily, then, this episode deals with Ram (Fady Elsayad), and his reaction to the trauma he suffered in the series debut. It’s an impressive tale of PTSD and insecurity, as Ram deals with both the emotional damage of his girlfriend’s death, and the physical damage of losing his leg. Elsayad gives an impressive, nuanced performance; there’s a real sense of Ram as a multifaceted character, trying to be brave in the face of danger, dealing with his insecurities in petty yet understandable ways, and ultimately finding a sort of solace amongst his group of friends. Certainly, on the strength of Elsayad’s performance, it’s clear that Ram is beginning to become one of the show’s standout characters.

Another Class review; this one particularly focuses on Ram, Tanya and the show’s early aspects of character development.

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