Saturday, October 22, 2016

Class Quota

For years, fans have wanted a Doctor Who spin-off set in London about a gay couple, a human and a non-human. But instead of the Madame Vastra and Jenny series everyone wanted, to-day we got the première of Class, a spin-off series based on the unpopular Coal Hill School subplots from the Twelfth Doctor's first season. It might not be fair to judge from just the first episode but, judging by the fact that the first two episodes were shown to-day and I couldn't work up the energy to watch the second, it's not very good.

Is that too glib? I don't think anything's too glib for this show which had one character mention in conversation with another that they'd just failed the Bechdel test by mentioning a boy. This is a conversation between Tanya (Vivian Oparah) and April (Sophie Hopkins) and although April doesn't seem to understand at first what Tanya's talking about she says Tanya's funny. This is more comprehension than most characters seem to have when one of the primary characters says something really obviously smug and insulting or flirtatious, as when Tanya rambles a bit about how normal it is for her to be talking to a boy on Skype and he doesn't seem to notice her intensely transparent awkwardness. And the characters can't seem to speak without uttering grating Chandler Bing-isms.

This is an intensely self-conscious show, which I suppose directly mentioning the Bechdel Test demonstrates. There's also the fact that the cast looks like they could summon Captain Planet if they combined their power rings.

We've come full circle. In the atmosphere of late 1980s "We are the World" optimism, putting together a group of improbably diverse friends seemed like a great way to promote empathy and recognise our common humanity. But by the late 90s, this looked like painfully awkward pandering that required the writers ignore many of the realities about cultural assimilation for an artificial Happy Land. Now the demand for representation is so great that those who demand it may full well know how artificial it is but consider the benefits of equal representation greater than any artificiality it might entail. I realised, though, the show harkens back to an older hopeful representation of diversity than Captain Planet--all the characters actually work out as pretty solid analogues of the original Star Trek bridge crew.

April (Sophie Hopkins) the Captain Kirk of Class

The leader of the bunch, this is the only white heterosexual apart from possibly Miss Quill. Like Kirk, April does things which would in real life be counterproductive and anti-social but which in the context of the show somehow makes her really endearing, like when she's trying to warn everyone at prom about their impending doom but takes a moment to snap at them about how they'd pay attention to her if she was a commentator on Instagram telling them they looked fat.

Charlie (Greg Austin), the Spock of Class

An alien who finds he has trouble understanding the emotional responses of humans sometimes, frequently leading to adorable misunderstandings. He and April quickly establish a close bond but, since he's gay, like Kirk and Spock they'll probably never hook up romantically. Or will they . . . ? In the 1960s, audiences would have been offended by the idea of Kirk and Spock getting together, and to-day's audiences would be offended by April and Charlie getting together. And yet, such fertile grounds for slash fiction.

Matteusz (Jordan Renzo), the Chekov of Class

Where Chekov idolised Spock, Class takes it further by actually making them a couple. We don't learn much about Matteusz in the first episode--I'm not entirely sure he's Russian. His accent sounds Russian to me but Matteusz comes up as a Scandinavian name in Google.

Tanya (Vivian Oparah), the Uhura of Class

A beautiful young black woman with impressive technical skills. Her mother seems to be Jamaican and very conservative; we don't learn much else about her.

Miss Quill (Katherine Kelly), the Doctor McCoy of Class

The only character I liked, she's older than the other characters and poses as their teacher. Irascible and unafraid to insult them for acting like the morons they are. I'm still not sure if she's supposed to be able to hear them when they talk in their normal voices in the classroom or not.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), the Scotty of Class

Well, I like this guy, too, on his own show. He's a deus ex machina here and doesn't do much but wave his screwdriver around, mostly just serving to remind me how much I'd rather have a season of Doctor Who this year than this spin-off.

Ram Singh (Fady Elsayed), the Sulu of Class

In the U.S., people who are called Oriental in Britain are called Asian and in Britain, Ram Singh, apparently from Pakistan or India, would be called Asian. Like most stock Indian British characters, he's really good at football. His girlfriend is also Indian, I think, which is probably why she's killed off so quickly. She fails to make an impression, so much so that when Ram Singh later says he'll never get over what happened this night it took me a moment to remember what he was talking about.

So, wait, you're saying, there's no Oriental character? No-one with ancestry from Japan or China or Korea? Ha! When was the last time we had such character on Doctor Who? The Talons of Weng-Chiang? Tsk. Class! You're so regressive! Muahahahaa! Better luck next time. Why not try something really crazy, like include a character from . . . Ireland?!

I will say this, it's the torquoisest show I've seen in years.

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