Something of a holding pattern episode, executing a bog standard premise whose primary virtue is clearly that it’s cheap and depends primarily on interior shots in which two people talk or street scenes in which static monster tendrils are strung about. This is, of course, not something to complain about – “the cheap one” is a thing Doctor Who has always had to grapple with. Sure, it ends up being the downside to the decision to drop the first two episodes together, in that you don’t really want your cheap holding pattern episode to come on your second week, but that’s a pretty minor complaint. And on the bright side, Class is intelligent enough to burn off “people are mysteriously visited in the night by their dead relatives” as the cheap midseason episode, which is more than can be said for Babylon 5, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or, the most obvious comparison, Torchwood.
On top of that, “Nightvisiting” has what can increasingly just be described as Class’s usual instinct to avoid genre defaults in favor of more interesting routes. For one thing, at no point are any of the main characters particularly tempted by the Lankin, so that at no point does the drama hinge on the fact that the audience knows genre tropes and the characters don’t. Particularly satisfying, after two episodes focusing pretty hard on his trauma, is Ram’s reaction to Rachel showing up at his window, which is basically to go “nope” and run like hell. But Tanya’s consistent and intelligent interrogation of the situation and eventual self-rescue is good stuff as well.
There are certainly some ways in which the script is sloppy. The idea that Tanya’s family constitutes the biggest reserve of grief in London on the two year anniversary of Tanya’s father’s death is… sloppy, though wisely buried in the denouement when things are happening quickly enough that you don’t notice. On the other hand, the sequestering of Charlie and Matteusz in the bedroom, lampshaded explicitly by Ms. Quill when they finally make it down to involve themselves in the plot, is hard to treat as anything other than a particularly clumsy bit of storytelling that serves to keep Matteusz at an odd remove from the main characters, dropping out of the story for an episode and then popping up having been thrown out of his house, as opposed to us getting to see him get thrown out. It’s odd, because there’s no obvious reason for him not to be given roughly the same weight that Tanya, Ram, April, and Charlie get, and yet he very clearly isn’t. It’s also a bit puzzling to do this as your third episode, such that your ghosts are all characters we’ve never seen before, which ends up being somewhat underwhelming. Tanya’s father is at least well-set up by the previous episode and the intro montage, but Mrs. Quill’s sister is an utterly damp squib.
But for everything that’s clumsy there are bits that are deft and intelligent. The obvious thing to talk about is April and Ram’s conversation, in which April gives something like a full account of herself (at once re-expositing and expanding on her previous description of her mother’s accident) followed by some charmingly ill-advised (and against the run of tropes, which would have had Ram and Tanya hooking up) smooching. It’s not some extraordinary piece of television, but it’s a good character bit, and let’s face it, the dodgy bits aren’t searingly awful either.
So at the end of the day we have a very standard setup for a show like this that’s played close to textbook, but with enough differences to seem thoughtful and not rote. It’s not extraordinary, and is probably (spoilers) the weakest episode of Class so far, but if this is the show on an off-day, well, we’re on pretty good ground. I’ve remarked before that a spin-off tends to both be not as good and not as bad as the original, and certainly this comes nowhere near to Under the Lake/Before the Flood in its inanities and gaps of logic. (It goes without saying that we’ve not come anywhere close to Kill the Moon or Hell Bent in brilliance.) For a show that’s obviously grappling with the need to do a very cheap episode while also still figuring out what it wants to be, “not bad and occasionally pretty good” is a result that’s hard to complain about.
- There was some pushback regarding Rachel’s death last week and some surprise that I didn’t discuss it in terms of fridging. Let it never be said I don’t give the people what they want. Yeah, sure, it’s a textbook fridging. There’s no getting around that. Rachel is unequivocally killed for no reason other than to give Ram some angst. The two things that I think significantly mitigate the harm of it. First, there’s no headfake to it. Rachel isn’t ever established as a character – she shows up as Ram’s date and dies quickly. There’s not the sense of an interesting character being tossed aside so that a male character can be moody for a bit. Rather, and this gets to number two, she’s there to establish Ram’s baseline. Which is to say, unlike most fridgings this isn’t a second/third act twist to provide a painfully limited vision of “maximum drama” to an already established character – it’s a decision made to start what looks set to be a long arc about Ram’s reaction to major trauma. That doesn’t make it “not a fridging,” but it at least strikes me as a good faith effort to avoid harm and tell an interesting story.
- What I am a little more irked by is the extent to which Tanya is sidelined within her focus episode, especially in comparison with Ram last week. It’s not just that she’s closed off into her own bubble essentially spinning her wheels and waiting for the rest of the plot to get to her, as opposed to Ram who got to be the major engine of the plot, but the way in which she simply disappears for a seven minute chunk slap bang in the middle of the episode, mainly so the big Ram/April scene can happen. It’s not so much that I suspect she got shortchanged for being a black girl so much as that I think it’s terribly annoying that the black girl is the one who got shortchanged.
- Not, of course, that the white boy has had a single interesting thing happen to him outside of flashbacks yet. One hopes this will happen in the next story, which based on titles and descriptions is set to be a two-parter and thus a digression from the “focus episode” structure of episodes two and three. Which is clever, actually – I like doing a two-parter in the middle of the season as a structure.
- I’ve not read any of Ness’s books yet (I figure I’ll get to them when I write Class up for the volume of Eruditorum that was previously just going to be Torchwood, Sarah Jane Adventures, and Sherlock so that gets to have something more enticing than just the Sherlock S4 essays as new content), but I am finding myself wondering… is dialogue one of his strong suits? Because it’s not especially here. He’s not bad at it, but there’s a certain… stiffness to it.
- Speaking of stiffness, after being the best thing out of the first two episodes I find myself looking at Ms. Quill and fretting that she’s becoming a bit one-note. The confrontation with her sister was, as I said, flat, but worse are just the ways in which she’s feeling like a one-note joke. The “no one disgraces the memory of my sister by making her nice” line is probably the worst offender here, but it’s not great to watch her bounce off the rest of the characters celebrating at the end of the episode for the second time in a row. She’s starting to feel like she’s in a different show from everybody, not least because she’s yet to have a meaningful scene with anyone who isn’t Charlie.
- Oh, and speaking of awkward, having April actually in the midst of writing a piece called “Nightvisiting” is rather excessively on the nose.
- Also, as is probably obvious, these aren’t always going to be high-priority same day reviews. In fact, let’s go ahead and assume they’re going up for Monday from here on out, with Monday’s usual content taking up either the Tuesday or Friday slot depending on whether Jane or Daniel/Shana have something that week.
- Right. Rankings.
- The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo
- For Tonight We Might Die
October 31, 2016 @ 1:39 am
Uh, who the hell is Lisa? Ram’s girlfriend’s name was Rachel?
October 31, 2016 @ 4:33 am
So far as I can tell, I confused her with Ianto’s half-converted Cybergirlfriend from Torchwood, whose name was fresh in my mind from having double checked which episode Torchwood did “the dead come back” in.
October 31, 2016 @ 4:15 am
Definitely the weakest episode so far, but not by a lot. I am interested to see how far they push the divide from Ms. Quill and the rest of the Class, as she seems to find them insufferable but I also got the vibe of her not being happy about being left out of their celebrations at the end of the episode. This seemed like an obvious eventual direction because Tanya’s “where did you get a bus?” line is directed at Charlie and not Ms. Quill.
I found one particular editing trick very clever. Introducing the lag of the Skype conversations (where a frame will occasionally freeze for a second before resuming to real time) as a normal part of communication in the three episodes so far and then using it for a fairly effective jump scare impressed me quite a bit.
I am very curious: how do the viewing numbers of these posts fare against the rest of the site’s content?
October 31, 2016 @ 8:21 am
Well, surprisingly, I loved that. After two episodes which really didn’t grab me at all, this one just worked, in a way that made me think “Yep, I could watch more of this even if it wasn’t a Doctor Who spin-off”.
It wasn’t perfect, granted, but it’s one of those rare times when the flaws just don’t jump out at me. On a few occasions now I’ve called this Class’s In the Forest of the Night, in that it’s more about capturing a particular mood – a meditation in the night, if you like – than it is about telling any kind of coherent story.
Miss Quill is great, as someone who loves saving the world but kind of isn’t all that struck on the people she’s saving.
And for all they feel kind of irrelevant, I think Charlie and Matteusz work quite well here, playing on the themes trust and unity that are going on between Tanya and her Dad; Tanya asks “Is this a real relationship?”, and I think maybe the same thing is going on in Matteusz’s mind, as someone whose parents would probably answer “No”. That building up of trust between them is sweet, even if I’m not Charlie’s biggest fan.
October 31, 2016 @ 10:57 am
I agree – I think it was easily the best of the three.
October 31, 2016 @ 10:31 am
What’s encouraging is that we have an episode that, were it in one of Torchwood’s first two seasons (or, for that matter, a later RTD DW season or an early Moffatt season), would have been an absolute highlight, and here it feels a bit wet. I love that a cheap, character-driven episode like this (catnip for this site’s fanbase) is already not a highlight- it shows how much more we’ve come to expect of our Who-Related TV.
It’s mostly Pretty Good. Elsayed’s performance, though, is a bit… shite. I don’t put this down to the actor as he has previously been really fucking good. A lot of his scenes felt like first readings, like they had no time to work things out and he was reverting to the current trend of question-intonation acting that has infested UK teen-young adult drama since Inbetweeners. Too often, a scene feels pretty much derailed by misplaced emphasis. No disrespect to Elsayed as an actor- he more than proved himself in episode 2.
So far, while I wouldn’t recommend this show to anyone I know IRL, I think we’re going to have a must-watch season 2.
October 31, 2016 @ 1:24 pm
Going off at a tangent, I’m not sure about “late RTD” and “early Moffat” as low points – I mean, in terms of personal taste, which is very much a so-what, but also in terms of consensus in these parts. Having previously done some anoraky number-crunching on Phil’s poll results for new series seasons (and acknowledging their limited suitability for such a comparison), their ranking order in terms of the mean episode ranking was:-
9, 5, 1, 8, 4, 7, 3, 6, 2
And in terms of the median:-
5, 9, 8, 1, 4, 7, 6, 3, 2
So, if anything, it’s the middle of both eras which is least highly regarded “down our way”.
October 31, 2016 @ 8:56 pm
It’s less that these are low points, more that these are the eras where this sort of writing wasn’t really happening
November 1, 2016 @ 10:31 am
Oh, I see. Well, that makes my already over-engineered response entirely pointless.Thanks for the clarification.
October 31, 2016 @ 10:57 am
Oh. So no Sherlock coverage on the blog then?
November 1, 2016 @ 11:15 am
No Sherlock TARDIS Eruditorum essays on the blog, which I don’t think is the same thing. This review, for instance, isn’t a TARDIS Eruditorum entry – it might contain elements that could be included in one, but it’s a review, and the Eruditorum was always clear that it wasn’t. And it lacks historical context, as a review of something that was broadcast (or released, or whatever things appearing on BBC Three is called) last week pretty much has to.
Phil’s reviewed all the Capaldi episodes so far, but only written four Eruditorum entries (and only one that is actually about an episode).
November 1, 2016 @ 12:21 pm
Ah, good point. [Cheers up momentarily, before reverting to Brexit-gloom and Trump-dread]
November 1, 2016 @ 10:34 pm
Yes, I expect I’ll review Sherlock. Probably I’ll just keep the $300 Patreon tier as what’s necessary to get Doctor Mysterio and Sherlock S4, and then see how greedy I feel for Moffat’s final season. But when I write those books any entries would be rewritten. (Whether they’ll be book exclusive I don’t know. I’ve gone back and forth on how I want to do the Capaldi era.)
October 31, 2016 @ 11:29 am
I’m with Janine, this was the best of the three so far (though definitely not an outright classic). I definitely thought this was Miss Quill’s best episode so far, and liked her remove from the other main characters at the end.
I also appreciated the dodging of several stereotypes from the “dead come calling” stories – they find out about the Lankin early on, the tension comes from the Lankin trying to convince Tanya it’s also her father, not from Tanya thinking this is her father’s ghost when we know it’s an alien. And I like that she doesn’t take the Lankin’s hand due to her grief-fuelled conviction this is her father, but because it was threatening April and Ram. I also appreciated the twist on the “Rings of Akhaten” resolution – Tanya’s grief isn’t too much for the Lankin, she just weakens it with her anger (it’s nice that a female character’s anger is treated as legitimate, and is part of the episode’s resolution), and then Miss Quill destroys it in a reprise of both “Countrycide” and the “I’ve commandeered a vehicle” bit from “The Eleventh Hour”.
Re. Ness’s dialogue, I tend to think it’s solid, though he does like his “theme in dialogue” moments a lot, which could definitely be described as “on the nose” at times (as much as I hate that phrase. I think his main problem is adjusting from prose – there have been moments where characters talk to themselves in a way that makes me realise Ness misses getting to do first person narration (it’s a bit like the moments in Big Finish where characters describe what is happening because the audience can’t see it).
November 1, 2016 @ 5:16 pm
I also thought it was a fascinating episode, though I’m ambiguous about where they’d all rank in my mind. The story’s (and the whole season’s, really) exploration of grief, trauma, and mourning is a beautiful theme for what’s essentially a teen melodrama / scifi-action mashup to explore. Although every episode has dealt with it, this is probably the most intense look at the subject – and the most detailed. “Nightvisiting” and the Lankin’s nature makes clear that what tortures humanity most about grieving is the lack of closure, the lack of a clear resolution. Jasper’s death was a perfect example – if he’d died in the line of duty, it would have been horrible, but Tanya was almost prepared for the possibility. Dying of a sudden stroke in the bathroom is just fucking absurd, and that’s what messes her up the most.
Piggybacking as usual on Eruditorum’s audience, I go into more detail at my own review.
November 2, 2016 @ 12:26 pm
Just caught up with those in the last couple of days, excellent stuff as usual!
December 6, 2016 @ 9:38 am
Yes thanks Adam, I am reading through your write-ups and enjoying them as ever.
October 31, 2016 @ 11:35 am
My ratings are basically the reverse of the broadcast order at this point:
The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo
For Tonight We Might Die
October 31, 2016 @ 11:59 am
This episode was almost interesting. It was an extremely tedious exploration of extremely tedious characters’ relationship with dead people as well as living but it was a step in the right direction for me.
November 1, 2016 @ 8:09 am
A correction: April is playing a piece by Jim Moray called “Nightvisiting”, not writing it, which is why it’s foremost in her mind enough that she can tell Ram about it. And OK, yes, it’s a bit on the nose, but the song was there first.
November 1, 2016 @ 9:14 am
Regarding your post on Lisa, I mean Rachel and defence of fridging. Wait what? Haven’t feminist critics like I think you are complain about female characters being reduced to shallow accessories for the male ones?
I don’t believe character wasting was ever really relevant to anti-fridging arguments.
November 1, 2016 @ 9:53 pm
It’s not “not a fridging” as Phil already said, but it’s clearly not an egregious fridging and a damning mark of irredeemable shame either, judged in the context of the show’s other elements (e.g. it’s clearly not lacking in thoughtfully drawn female characters to the point where the deliberate shallowness of Ram’s girlfriend fits into a pattern of poor representation.)
It’s almost like these things have nuance!
November 2, 2016 @ 10:31 am
The justification is “At least they didn’t waste someone important”. But isn’t criticism against fridging being that it turn a female character into something unimportant enough to waste?
November 1, 2016 @ 11:04 am
there’s no obvious reason for him not to be given roughly the same wait that Tanya, Ram, April, and Charlie get,
I don’t normally make a thing out of spelling errors, but it took me three goes to work out you meant “weight”, since I kept thinking “I thought the problem was he had too much of a wait?”
against the run of tropes, which would have had Ram and Tanya hooking up
I think you’re giving the show too much credit for subversiveness if you think the reason they aren’t doing a relationship between a 14 year old and a 17 year old is because it’s obvious…
November 2, 2016 @ 11:13 pm
This episode was a clear improvement. I think the problem with Ness’s writing isn’t just his tin ear for naturalistic dialogue but the fact that there’s just so much of it. I don’t think there was one scene where anyone just said nothing. Even the action scenes had characters delivering breathless limp one liners at each other. It’s all so much like Moffatt but without the stylistic innovation he often manages to elicit from his directors. There’s also a tendency to assume the audience is gasping at the same thing. The dead sister who’s never been mentioned before and the double decker bus for example. I’m still not sure that bus wasn’t there just to provide a tourist visual for the foreign market. It certainly didn’t warrant the amazement shown by the characters in that very old fashioned denouement scene. I half expected them to do an end of story group laugh thing.
November 3, 2016 @ 9:24 am
By the way, as far as Ness’s books go, try The Knife of Never Letting Go.