This is a spoiler-free review. Read on at the bottom for spoilers.
After the opening double-bill introduced us to Coal Hill students Charlie, April and Ram, it’s Tanya who takes centre stage in Nightvisiting, the third episode of Class. It may take place on a school night, but it’s set entirely away from campus – here’s a story that’s more about how the areas around the bunghole of time are affected by the invasion of a powerful new alien.
It’s been two years exactly since Tanya’s dad Jasper died suddenly and she’s understandably upset. However, that’s nothing to how she feels when her dad knocks on her window that night. Jasper (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) wants to take her away, so that their souls can be reunited, but Tanya can’t help but notice the huge plant-like tendril protruding from his back. Similar growths are reaching out across the neighbourhood from Coal Hill, while Tanya’s friends investigate and Miss Quill contends with a face from her own past.
If last week’s two episodes weren’t proof enough that Patrick Ness has hit the ground running, the third already feels like we’ve known these characters all our lives. At this early stage in the series, there’s still a lot to uncover in their respective pasts, but to use this kind of episode to do that is a bold statement of intent. Again, Ness prizes the characters above the fantastical threat in a way that will keep drawing flattering comparisons to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, at least until Class sets itself out more individually.
It’s not a runaround by any stretch of the imagination, mostly zeroing in on two confrontations in two rooms, heightening the stakes but keeping them contained at the same time. The wrongness of Jasper’s heartfelt appeals for Tanya to take his hand is squeamishly brought to life by his noisy blinking and Blair Mowat’s eerie incidental music, as director Ed Bazalgette keeps finding new and disgusting angles to show the botanical arm that keeps him upright.
Mowat is particularly valuable here – although he sometimes presses on the Murray Gold pedal by scoring emotional beats and conversations a little too assertively, the John Carpenter-inflected horror stings elsewhere more than make up for it.
Meanwhile, Quill’s turn is predictably more snappy, as a long-lost rival gets a human face to hold her as a hostage of her own non-violent conditioning, forced to have a two-way conversation rather than interrogate it. Upstairs, the relationship between Charlie and Matteusz comes along nicely, as the two are blissfully unaware of the invasion. These scenes bring some sweet levity to all that’s going on outside Charlie’s bedroom and reveal a little more of the alien prince too. Elsewhere, Ram and April bond over being the only ones who aren’t housebound by, or oblivious to, the Triffid-like invasion going on.
But it’s Tanya’s show this week, and Vivian Oparah makes a big impression with her character’s grief and quiet intelligence. The episode’s opening flashback to her parents’ relationship builds a lot of pathos from the beginning and Oparah shoulders it magnificently from the moment it fades to her alone in her bedroom.
Nightvisiting boasts a much better monster of the week than Episode 2, but the episode confidently outgrows a typical format to deliver a moving vignette based around Tanya. It’s emotional and cathartic viewing and while Ness and Bazalgette don’t let up on the scares and the creep factor, its character is never overwhelmed by a larger, John Wyndham-esque horror story.
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Extra-curricular activity (spoilers)
– For those of you playing with the homage-o-meter, this one starts out feeling reminiscent of Buffy Season 7’s Conversations With Dead People and a little of the Futurama TV movie The Beast With A Billion Backs, but it quickly evolves into its own thing and pulls off something that both of those shows took several seasons to get to. Class wears its influences on its sleeve, because that’s not all it’s got up there.
– You wouldn’t like Tanya when she’s angry. It’s a very Who-ish solution to give a parasite that feeds on catharsis a dose of a more negative emotion, but if that’s not how you like your sci-fi fantasy shows, you can always write off the Lichen on account of the double decker bus that piled through it instead.
– With regard to the horror elements, the jump scare on April’s laptop as the Lichen-Rachel lumbers over is a goody and the eeriness of corpses consumed and posed by the plants in shops and at the postbox are especially chilling. This episode does the scary part so well that even the sudden yanking of people as they offer their hands to the Lichen isn’t as goofy as it sounds written down.
– “That’s very convenient,” Quill snarks at the end of the episode, when she realises that none of the bewildered public remember the Lichen’s attack, again commenting on how people seem to forget about the massive events in Doctor Who’s contemporary episodes in between. Convenient as it is, it was sort of explained away in Matt Smith’s first series, in which cracks in time leeched memories of big bits of history from those in close proximity, as well as events themselves.
– April gets closer to Ram at a bus stop in the middle of a Lichen-infested London, revealing that her mum’s debilitating injuries came when her hard-drinking dad made a suicide attempt with his wife and young daughter in the car. We’ll meet April’s dad, played by Con O’Neill, in next week’s episode.
What else is good on BBC Three? Click here for our fortnightly column reviewing all the new releases – or for more on what’s coming soon to the channel, click here.
Photo: BBC/Simon Ridgeway