This is a spoiler-free review. Read on at the bottom for spoilers. Not caught up with Class? Check out our reviews of the show so far here.
“Ruthless alien warlord seeks nice but troubled girl and wretched planet for ultimate destruction” is the personal ad that would best describe Co-Owner Of A Lonely Heart, the opening of Class’ first two-parter. We hadn’t expected to see Corakinus, King of the Shadow Kin (Paul Marc Davies), again so soon, but the Big Bads are back at the midpoint of BBC Three’s series.
Stymied by his connection to April, the Shadow King is desperately seeking a way to break the link, when a botched operation, intended to anchor his half from hers, actually strengthens it instead. April now has some of the Shadow Kin’s nifty powers and knowledge at her disposal, while Corakinus gets more of an insight into her life than he would like. However, April’s new powers have a nasty effect on her usually lovely temperament, which is already being sorely tested by the recent release of her dad, Huw (Con O’Neill), from prison.
The young cast of Class are billed alphabetically in the opening credits, but Sophie Hopkins has essentially taken the lead and this is the first properly April-centric episode. Having part of her heart stolen away by Corakinus to replace his own made her part of a stalemate in the first episode, but here, the link actually has an effect on April, and Hopkins ably navigates her character’s leaps from nice to nasty to violent, while Fady Elsayed’s Ram is left trailing after her.
Con O’Neill is great too, as Huw – we’ve heard about what he did to April and her mother Jackie (Shannon Murray) in previous episodes and when he shows up, he’s every bit as pitiful and wheedling as you’d expect. He’s the kind of character who probably suspects he’s beyond forgiveness, but imposes himself upon his estranged daughter anyway, little realising she’s got a whole bunch of alien rage stirring up inside.
On Corakinus’ side of things, the episode falters. We get to see the Shadow Kin’s planet a lot in this one, and it’s literally thousands of light years away from Coal Hill School. However, if you had any problems with the visual effects on the aliens in Episode 1, they’ll be magnified a hundredfold here. It doesn’t help that these scenes are all staged like the cuts to Lord Zedd in the Moon Palace from Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.
Ness’ focus throughout this series has been to subvert expectations and call out tropes where he sees them, but these scenes just aren’t very convincing. So, when Corakinus delivers the funniest line of the episode, your mileage may vary on whether you’re actually laughing with or at the show.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Charlie’s treatment of his prisoner-cum-protector Miss Quill comes up again as Tanya and Mateusz question whether his sense of justice might be on the wrong side of monstrous. But Quill has her hands full with Coal Hill’s new headteacher, Dorothea (Pookie Quesnel), who says the board of governors are unusually concerned about aliens, and about the number of petals that have started building up in the streets around the school.
But it’s April’s private battle that makes up the most of this first part, and, all shonky monster scenes aside, that’s where Class continues to thrive. Despite any protests to the contrary, Doctor Who has always erred more on the side of fantasy than science fiction, and by starting with April’s heart being stolen by a monster, Ness has gone even further with that, in a show that’s also aimed at an older audience. Even if the mature content and the fairytale concepts don’t always mesh, as is sometimes the case here, it’s still interesting to watch it play out.
Co-Owner Of A Lonely Heart takes its feet off the ground early on and finds itself grasping for the narrative grounding that came so naturally in the previous instalments. This episode marks the halfway point of the season, but it hurls the show’s arc forward in a big, bad way with admirable ambition on the way to a barnstorming cliffhanger.
Class: Season 1 is available on BBC iPlayer until 11th February 2019. It is also available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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Extra-curricular activity (spoilers)
– So, April tears open time and space to pay Corakinus and company a visit and Ram goes tumbling after – Class’ first cliffhanger is a belter, but it means that, for better or worse, we’re probably going to get a bit more of that Moon Palace next week…
– It’s a big episode for Jackie too. As if she hasn’t got enough to worry about with Huw getting out of prison, April is bringing boys home (we enjoyed how sheepish and sweet Ram is in that kitchen table scene) and manifesting swords with her mind. Then, by the end of the episode, April appears to have reversed her mum’s paralysis with some Shadow Kin voodoo. Where Buffy kept the parents out of their kids’ battles against evil as much as possible, Class is certainly giving them a lot to take in very quickly.
– As mentioned, your mileage may vary on Corakinus’ line “I don’t suppose we could have a moment of cuddling?” We laughed, but it’s a fairly cheap joke at the expense of April’s emotions and it makes it hard to take the Shadow King seriously thereafter too.
– Miss Quill has another brush with the governors via Dorothea, but finds them willing to help her out of her punishment in exchange for good behaviour. We’ve been uncomfortable with Charlie’s self-justifying behaviour from the get-go, so we won’t be surprised to see Quill turn on the prince, if she’s given half the chance.
– What do the Governors need help with? A plague of carnivorous petals that could cause global extinction, marking Class’ second botanical threat after Nightvisiting’s Lankin. Someone, somewhere has a greenhouse that’s badly in need of a visit from the Doctor, but we’ll see how this B-plot continues to plague our heroes back in London next week.
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