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15 November 2016 @ 08:07 pm
For Tonight we Might Die  
Class has been eagerly anticipated in our household since Patrick Ness is one of the Teenager's favourite authors. This episode certainly appeared to hit its target demographic pretty squarely (judging by an n of 1 + reported views of friends). I liked it, but less than the Teenager herself, who I think engaged very strongly with a vision of what might be like for herself in a couple of years' time.

The episode itself struggled to give us a strong well-structured story. The Doctor's appearance was, pretty much, a Deus ex Machina that rather undermined the focus on the core ensemble that the story was working on before. But a good opening story can be difficult to pull off. For Tonight we Might Die had a lot of ground to cover. It worked hard to disguise its info-dumps about Charlie and Miss Quill's backstory by framing them as April's imagination (down to incongruous school uniforms - which presumably served a double purpose of saving on depicting yet more aliens), but they still acted as a drag on events and one wonders how wise it was to front-load quite so much background.

Similarly the characters struggled to distinguish themselves in an already crowded story. Miss Quill shone, but then Katherine Kelly has been handed a part which is nicely distinctive and which can be conveyed easily in a few broad strokes. As the Verity Podcast team have pointed out, this is an Avon character and in the right hands, which these appear to be, they are always a lot of fun to watch and can start out big and brash and fill in nuance later. The teenager still occasionally repeats the phrase "Leave us! We are decorating!".

The teenage characters required more subtlety which made them less distinctive. They are all nice (even if April rejects that description) and driven with a variety of personal issues. I was worried, when Tanya was introduced with lines about the Bechdel test and non-white spaces, that the show was about to be overly earnest about social justice, but I think instead it is supposed to indicate that Tanya can be a bit over earnest, and to highlight her awkwardness in trying to negotiate social relationships with people who are two years older than she is. You can see how all these people have the potential to turn into engaging individual characters but at the end of For Tonight we Might Die they haven't quite got there.

There are a lot worse pilot episodes out there in the history of genre television, and indeed within the history of Doctor Who spinoffery. For all I felt For Tonight we Might Die struggled to fit everything that was needed into its 50 minutes, it did manage to establish a clear and distinct tone for the show: something clearly post-watershed in its use of violence and horror while at the same time focused around the viewpoint and concerns of modern teenagers. Something, in fact, distinctly YA which is unsurprising given the showrunner. While I did not feel entirely engaged by it, I wasn't irritated in the manner I often am by YA novels. I certainly have liked what I've seen so far better than both Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/220613.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on November 15th, 2016 10:22 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen Class yet (I don't have a TV in my flat and therefore no TV licence and I don't do illegal downloads). From the reviews I've read, it sounds to me like I won't appreciate it much - gory, postmodern and likely to press a lot of buttons about my own unhappy adolescence (when a lot of my current problems started, or at least shifted up a gear). Thanks for reviewing it, so I can get some kind of impression of what it's like to decide whether to watch or not.
Mrs Darcy: Classelisi on November 15th, 2016 10:34 pm (UTC)

I wrote a non-spoilery thing here if you want another POV.

I don't know what you are looking for in a show, so it might not be to your taste. But I'd say that if I had to choose a simple description, I'd say 'character-driven' and 'quite a bit like Buffy'.

/sorry to butt in, I'll go away now, please ignore me.

Edited at 2016-11-15 10:35 pm (UTC)
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on November 15th, 2016 10:58 pm (UTC)
I don't mind you butting in! Thanks for your point of view.

I never watched Buffy. I generally don't like school-set fiction, probably reminds me too much of the tough time I had at school. I read your review and to be honest (and please don't take this the wrong way) it probably reinforced my feeling that this isn't for me. I like classic Doctor Who as escapism; I'm really struggling with some difficult mental health issues right now so watching other people with emotional issues is a bit of a struggle. Plus I always feel that no matter how diverse the cast, there is rarely anyone like me on screen, but that's another story.
louisedennis: Classlouisedennis on November 16th, 2016 12:41 pm (UTC)
It is very reminiscent of Buffy, though without the "chosen one" narrative, not that that really helps :/

I think you are correct that you wouldn't find an identification figure here, either in terms of background or in terms of social circumstance within the school - although these are the bright geeky kids, they are at least insulated from the potential for bullying by each other (much as some of them are wary of identifying as friends) and by other details of their backgrounds that wouldn't make them obvious targets.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on November 16th, 2016 07:28 pm (UTC)
Re: identification figures, it's nice that there are more positive presentations of geeks, but I feel it would be nice if popular culture had more positive presentations of (a) religious people, (b) people with mental illness and (c) asexual and celibate people. I think one of the reasons I like In the Forest of the Night more than most people was the positive presentation of mental illness (Maebh), although that was still problematic on some levels.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on November 17th, 2016 04:44 pm (UTC)
Aside: I think In the Forest of the Night has great atmosphere and G was captivated by it, but its approach to science rubs me up the wrong way in a fashion that science in Doctor Who normally doesn't (which I suspect is because it seems to think it has good science whereas most Doctor Who science knows it is made up) and I thought the co-option of the phrase "Gifted and Talented" to refer instead to problem kids was irresponsible.

Class's only overtly religious character is Ram's father (a Sikh), it was suggested in the last episode that Ram takes his own Sikhism more seriously than he lets on, but that was a bit lost in everything else that was going on. Ram also has PTSD (at least in the second episode - not mentioned since) but that's not quite the same as an ongoing non-alien-inflicted mental illness. Raging hormones is pretty much the order of the day, as well. All of which goes to say, no, there is no one there who I think you would particularly identify with.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on November 17th, 2016 08:10 pm (UTC)
I guess I should say I don't need characters exactly like me in something I read or watch, but when a group has been put together deliberately to be inclusive and I'm not included, it's off-putting. I suspect I read characters I like as being metaphorically like me e.g. the Doctor, who I am not like as a person, but who is an outsider, which is how I feel as a Jew and someone with mental health issues (somewhere I have an article from the academic journal European Judaism about the presentation of Jews on British TV since the 60s, which argues that the Doctor is the most successful presentation of a Jewish character ever on British TV, but I found that piece overly reliant on the idea of Sydney Newman as the onlie begetter of the programme). Also, the Doctor used to be asexual/celibate; unfortunately that's no longer the case - see also Spock in the new Star Trek films and Sherlock (I'm not asexual but my relationship to my sexuality is not straightforward, but doesn't fit the catagories of LGBTQ discourse at all. I basically am heterosexual, but celibate, but no one wants to talk about that at all).

I agree about the "gifted and talented", I also got annoyed that the episode advised against psychiatric medication. But it's heart was in the right place for me.
Pollyjane_somebody on November 27th, 2016 09:25 pm (UTC)
I take your point about the use of "gifted and talented" in that episode, which was used as rather a silly thoughtless joke, but feel obliged to point out that doubtless there are many children like El who are *both* the 'problem kids' (I think they were the special needs kids really) *and* also on the G&T register.

As an aside, reminded of by the subject of G&T, I recently got to take El out of school early to go to a lecture on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which I assume came under the OU's public understanding remit, and at the end the chap briefly mentioned autonomous agents (in regards to the Schiapirelli Lander's mistakes in, well, landing), and I thought of you :-)
louisedennislouisedennis on November 27th, 2016 09:32 pm (UTC)
I take your point about the use of "gifted and talented" in that episode, which was used as rather a silly thoughtless joke, but feel obliged to point out that doubtless there are many children like El who are *both* the 'problem kids' (I think they were the special needs kids really) *and* also on the G&T register.

That was actually one of the reasons I thought it particularly irresponsible. G has a cousin who is both identified as "Gifted and Talented" and also has OCD. It made me quite angry that her friends, seeing the episode, might infer that the G&T label applied not to her abilities and aptitudes, but was in fact some kind of euphemism for her other issues.
louisedennis: Classlouisedennis on November 16th, 2016 12:34 pm (UTC)
Yes, I don't think it is really your sort of thing. I'm not sure its particularly post-modern, but it's definitely playing to the popularity of horror among teenagers and a lot of its themes are about developing independence and learning that having an adult in the room doesn't always solve the problem (even though none of the regularly appearing parents are particularly terrible (though April's father - one guest appearance - clearly is) none of them are particularly suited for fighting monsters and aliens either).
Mrs Darcy: Classelisi on November 15th, 2016 10:31 pm (UTC)
It is so good! I have even written a lengthy non-spoilery review type thing to get people to watch...

Yes, episode 1 is very much about setting up the overall story (and does so very competently) and episode 2 is solid, but still set-up. And then it just began blowing me away.

It may not work for you like it does me, but honestly they could keep S10 of Doctor Who and give me another season of this. And I am absolutely serious about that.
louisedennis: Classlouisedennis on November 16th, 2016 12:45 pm (UTC)
I keep wondering if I would feel differently about it were I even 15-20 years younger, because I was a big Buffy fan back in the day but I was already past university at that point. The Teenager and her friends adore it so it's clearly performing exactly as its makers intended. I don't think it is as clever as early Buffy was, nor does it have the same lightness of touch (though, to be fair, I thinking it is deliberately aiming for a darker tone) and it was early Buffy that pulled me into that show. In some ways I think it is to Buffy as Blakes' 7 was to Doctor Who when I was growing up - though that may just be the Avon/Miss Quill comparison skewing my viewpoint.
Mrs Darcy: Classelisi on November 16th, 2016 01:13 pm (UTC)
Hmm. Well personally I liked Buffy but it wasn't until the later seasons that I became properly fannish. The High School years were fun, but my heart belongs to S6 & 7.

But then, my education was very far removed from something like an American high school.

Whereas now a) I have daughters age 15 & 17 and b) I work in a Further Education college, so the show feels very 'real' to me in that respect, far more so than any American show.

Also it gets far more interesting/complex far more quickly than Buffy did.... Get back to me when you've watched episode 3. :)

(I have not seen Blakes' 7, but I'll take it!)
louisedennislouisedennis on November 16th, 2016 01:18 pm (UTC)
I've seen up to episode 5, but interesting/complex isn't the same as good. Maybe its just that I'm not a big fan of either grimdark or YA fiction, so while I like the show there's not enough sense of fun and too much angst to make me really love it.
Mrs Darcy: Classelisi on November 16th, 2016 01:22 pm (UTC)
Fair enough. If it's not your cup of tea, that's a shame.

Don't get me wrong, I love Buffy, but S1 was far more simplistic - I mentioned Nightvisiting because the nearest thing I could think of was Buffy's S7 'Conversations With Dead People'.

But different strokes. :)
fififolle: Clyde/Lukefififolle on November 17th, 2016 07:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I was staying away as for some reason I thought this would be a review of a more recent episode, and I am 2 behind :)

The teenager still occasionally repeats the phrase "Leave us! We are decorating!".
LOL! So does mine!!! She loved that bit best, I think.

I feel a great deal of fondness for SJA, but I never saw earlier series of it. Will be interesting to see how much Class I can keep up with.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on November 18th, 2016 04:08 pm (UTC)
I quite liked SJA but sort of petered out from watching it. I don't think I saw much, if any, of the third series. I keep meaning to catch up but time is short.

I think I like Class better, though it definitely helps that the Teenager is so keen on it.