Starring Katherine Kelly, Sophie Hopkins, Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Vivian Oparah, Jordan Renzo and Pooky Quesnel
Writer and Creator: Patrick Ness
Director: Julian Holmes, Producer: Derek Ritchie
Executive Producers: Brian Minchin, Patrick Ness and Steven Moffat
Released Online (BBC Three) - Saturday 3rd December 2016
This review contains spoilers.
From its pre-credits sequence to its closing twist, this is an episode punctuated by moments of shock and character trauma. And by focusing once again on the Shadow Kin and the Cabinet, as well as revealing more about the Governors of Coal Hill Academy, it feels very much as if series one of Class has really been a single coherent story, a fantastic school serial, rather than a set of distinct adventures loosely connected by running threads. The story arc muscles its way to a kind of resolution, making me wonder whether any possible series two would need to focus on a largely different group of lead characters, somewhat in the spirit of Skins or other 'anthology' shows.
To begin with, though, what to make of that ending? I can't help but feel it'll prove contentious in some quarters, if not divisive. For me, it was reminiscent of the last-gasp development in Torchwood: Miracle Day, where a central character is similarly, and just as suddenly, gifted with a whole new way of being, and the show's format is irrevocably and instantaneously reconfigured. Could April feature as a lead character in her new guise? Perhaps so, but Class would never be quite the same. This concluding development feels like a gimmick of sorts: a provocation to get audiences talking and thinking about the connections between heroes and their shadows. In its world-changing potency, however, it also feels like a sign-off of sorts, as if April's new incarnation is being handed over to fan fiction writers, fresh for new extrapolations and re-imaginings.
Class has featured many excellent actors, and the cameo appearance from Cyril Nri as the Chair of Governors is excellent. Urbane and creepy in equal measure, it left me wishing that we'd seen a lot more of his character. And the slogan 'Ever Upward Reach' has a crazed zeal that partly implies striving for academic excellence but also satirises the entire Academy system. It's just one note in the composition of Class, but it rings out nevertheless. The Governors' reveal contains another of this episode's shock moments, of course, as we witness the "benefactors" who have been spurring on their calcuations and activities. In another day and age this might have featured the Daleks, but their involvement calls for negotiations over rights, whereas the Doctor Who monsters featured here have a far more convenient ownership. Cementing Class as part of the Steven Moffat era, to find that the Weeping Angels have been at the heart of this tale all along is intriguing to say the least. And the "Arrival", which seems to gesture at a gigantic Angel towering over London's skyline of Shard and Gherkin, would certainly make for a strong series two story arc. Class has never felt overly reliant on Who for its identity, and book-ending series one with strong call-backs to the 'parent' show both feels right, in terms of making episodes one and eight 'event' instalments, and not at all excessive.
Patrick Ness certainly likes to put his characters through the emotional wringer, and 'The Lost' is of a piece with 'Detained' in that respect. What seems like a peaceful character moment kicking off the story with Ram and Varun rapidly takes a devastating turn, with Tanya likewise suffering at the hands of the Shadow Kin. Fady Elsayed perhaps pitches his character's reaction at a higher emotional temperature than others, but it's an understandable response (for both the actor and the character), and helps to drive the key question of the story: will the Cabinet be used? Although my favourite character, Quill, has a little less to do than usual - hardly surprising given that this follows a Quill-focused episode - she does contribute to a gloriously eccentric sequence that encapsulates the Whoniverse's mash-up of prosaic and heightened realities, as the Cabinet, a genocidal weapon of massive destruction, is wheeled into school in a less-than-stylish shopping trolley. Pure class. And Quill experiences a moment of uneasy maternal tenderness as she unsuccessfully resists comforting Tanya. It's a character beat that Katherine Kelly has some fun with.
Credit should also go to Blair Mowat for some outstanding synth tones swirling amid this episode's impressive incidental music. It helps sell the drama, and resonates with the importance that Class has given to music through April's hobby which, as with 'Nightvisiting', is again punched up in the mix by linking into the episode title. It's fortunate that April always alights on such thematically useful songs, but it's also an economical way of fusing character, show, and soundtrack into one coherent entity.
Class has whizzed by: surely the mark of a highly successful series. On the whole, its characters have gelled well, and its multi-generational focus has felt organic rather than forced, with its inclusive ethos carrying a passionate energy. Having said that, mocking media studies in episode one didn't seem at all in keeping with the character of the Doctor (who would surely want the media to be studied and criticised), nor with the show's overall tone, and there have been occasional weaknesses (for me, the Shadow Kin's realisation). But 'The Lost' shows off Class for all its strengths, conveying an emotional intensity and a continual questioning of whether self and other - antagonist and protagonist - can be neatly separated out. And in this sense, the final plot twist is perhaps less of a gimmick than it may at first seem. It is, after all, the logical culmination of April's connection with Corakinus, and it illustrates in one attention-grabbing incongruity what lies at the heart of Patrick Ness's vision. Heroes and villains, humans and monsters, don't belong in two distinct categories or classes, despite the fact that this is often the default setting for popular storytelling. Ambivalent, self-divided, for good and ill, may be we are all in one class.