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.
“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”
Throughout the first season of Class, we’ve had at least one eye on Miss Andrea Quill, or Andra’ath, as she was known on her home world. Branded a terrorist and forced into servitude to the hated prince of her people’s enemies, she hasn’t had an easy time of it. After inadvertently engineering last week’s crisis for Charlie and friends, Quill’s got a plan to change her fortune in The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did, the most vivid and ambitious episode of Class to date.
While her detained students are bickering over meteors and asteroids and spilling their deepest secrets, Quill is off on a mission with Dorothea, who has been authorised by The Governors to help her extract the Arn from her brain. Using a highly temperamental metaphysical engine, the ladies are joined on their mission by Ballon (Chiké Okonkwo), a surgeon with a particular set of skills, on a quest into strange, intangible worlds of myth and legend. Quill is determined that before the day is done, she will either live free or die.
If you wondered why a relatively short series like Class had to have last week’s “cheap one”, then look no further than Episode 7, which features more special effects than any other two episodes of the season put together. The concept of the metaphysical engine feels like a TARDIS add-on that never was and although writer/creator Patrick Ness still leans more towards fantasy than sci-fi, it shows off more visually creative range than the series has yet had chance to exhibit in Coal Hill and the surrounding areas.
It’s still early enough that we can characterise this series as “Doctor Who meets Buffy”, which would make Miss Quill a gleeful hybrid of Giles, the teacher who mentors the Scooby gang, and the latter-day Spike, who wants to maim the Scooby gang but is impeded by a chip in his head. But Buffy never had an episode quite like this, in which Katherine Kelly takes centre stage and takes the whole show on an intergalactic field trip.
She’s been great in her supporting role all season, and as the protagonist of this episode, she’s reliably stunning. Under all of the violent cynicism and exasperation that she exudes, Quill is brimming with hurt and Kelly’s nuanced portrayal continues to turn from comic to tragic in a dime. Quill is an anti-hero at best, but even when she’s following an expressly nefarious path, you understand and root for her completely.
Given a whole metaphysical universe in which to stretch herself, she’s nothing short of fascinating and if you weren’t already wondering what Kelly would be like as the 13th Doctor, this is the point where you’ll start hoping that Chris Chibnall will figure out how to make that happen.
We’ve known Quill for the whole series, but from the moment he’s introduced here, Ballon contains multitudes as well. Okonkwo gives a sturdy, haunted performance, as someone with more in common with Quill than it initially appears. Unfortunately, this fascinating pair had to bring a crank like Dorothea along with them. Although Pookie Quesnel is great in the funnier moments, this character has been annoyingly obtuse in previous episodes and so she is again, when she undercuts the chapter’s emotional conclusion.
Mind you, the episode is bookended with the same scenes as we’ve seen in Episode 6, so we already know how successful Quill’s quest is going in. But the episode is rightly more concerned with What Quill Did to get there, offering great performances, imaginative world-building and character development, and even an unexpected item in the bagging area in the final reprisal, which asks even more questions to be answered in next week’s finale.
Class: Season 1 is available on BBC iPlayer until 11th February 2019. It is also available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription.
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Extra-curricular activity (spoilers)
– The Earth poem that Quill references is Home by Warsan Shire. It fits both Quill and Ballon’s tragic backstories nicely and at least shows that she’s been reading around a bit more than when she was questioning the veracity of The Hunger Games back in Episode 3.
– Ballon gave us a nice reference to the Zygon-human treaty, as we find out he’s a shapeshifter, who pretended to be a Zygon and was caught out by the shadier Governors and imprisoned. Only a shapeshifter can effectively get at the Arn in Quill’s head and over the course of the episode, the two develop a more intimate relationship than expected. Unexpectedly, Quill’s nasty looking scar across her eye comes from surgery rather than battle, in a gruesome diversion into body horror during the tricky removal of the Arn.
– The metaphysical travel in this episode was really terrific, spanning from Ballon’s Hell to the nest of the first Quill, finally ending up inside the Cabinet of Souls. We didn’t see this excursion into the Rhodian afterlife coming, even with all of the build-up, and the visual of Quill clambering out of the Cabinet is a memorable one. It reminded us a little of last year’s Doctor Who episode Heaven Sent, and almost measures up to that as a character study, albeit one in which the protagonist has companions off whom she can bounce quips and insults.
– Following her dire machinations in Episode 5, Dorothea gives us yet another X-Factor elimination scenario when she forces Ballon and Quill to fight to the death for a seat back to Earth in the metaphysical engine, only to reverse the polarity of the plot device so that Ballon kills himself with the Quill gun. Despite the repeatedly unearned knobbery of Dorothea, the fight itself is very effectively done, inter-cutting Quill’s last heartbreaking attempt to talk Ballon out of it with the violence that immediately follows.
– So, Quill is back, with her gun and without an Arn… and for this week, she also has a bun in the oven. Given what we learn of how Quill treat their mothers after being born, this pregnancy could spell even more trouble for poor Andra’ath next week, when it already looks as if the Shadow Kin are coming back with a vengeance.
Photo: BBC/Simon Ridgeway