The death of the most likeable character in Class was necessary and shocking, the perfect way to announce that anything could now happen and that the threat to the kids was real. And when Matteusz told Charlie he’d become emotionally responsible for Miss Quill, it confirmed something we’d seen happening but probably weren’t factoring in – and allowed for Miss Quill’s action right at the death. Ness followed through on all of the things he’d foreshadowed, and – but for the prologue to a second series (as yet unconfirmed but surely inevitable at this point) – didn’t introduce anything that didn’t come logically out of what we’d seen. The Lost was inevitability meeting unpredictability.
The two major factors here were April and the Cabinet of Souls. To have a teenager sharing the heart of an alien as a metaphor for the unasked for physical changes and sense of isolation from the world that come with adolescence was a stroke of genius, warranting Ness telling a big alien sci-fi story that was as personal and, crucially, as subjective to his characters as he did. He’d told us from the beginning that for April there wasn’t going to be an easy way out, and yet we also knew that he couldn’t just kill off his principal of principals arbitrarily and begin a second series with a new lead for his regular cast – although admittedly there were moments when it looked like a second series might begin with an almost entirely new cast. There was only one way this story could possibly resolve, and Ness found it and put it up on the screen in the most startling and tense of fashions.
The Cabinet of Souls has also been an excellent metaphor throughout, for the way in which the approach of adulthood brings a sense of immortality and impotent omnipotence. It is, for some, the age when you rule the world, except the world doesn’t seem to notice. Charlie was the personification of confused and blunted power, basically the king of a domain that doesn’t exist. In The Lost, which did include a handful of unavoidable and thus forgivably hokey moments, Ness tied Charlie and April together in a manner that had hitherto been more or less unspoken; that April outranked Charlie at the end of Brave-ish Heart was treated on-screen as a joke but was in fact a subtle allusion to the shifting of the balance of power within the hierarchy of the characters, and in this final episode it was the threat to April that finally necessitated Charlie surrendering his cause and operating the Cabinet as the weapon we always knew we’d see it used as.
The divisions prefaced in Detained were not forgotten. Tanya teamed up with Miss Quill almost in opposition to the other characters, and Ram allowed his anger to tear him away from where he needed to be. They might not have been the most agreeable of the main characters, but these two have been the most believable. Ram’s emotional journey, in particular, has felt raw and real and very much in tune with what we might remember of our own teenage years, directionless bursts of anger without cause or target that Ness has managed to harness to his sci-fi plot; even Ram’s leg – and we had a little throwback to his now-defunct footballing prospects in the pre-titles – has been a part of Ness’ understanding of how puberty can sometimes make the things that seemed important in our youth much less so, no matter how much we might fight against that, as we develop into adults. Tanya is Ness’ pseudo-Mary Sue, not exactly the author solving things as a character within the fiction, but a little insight into what the other characters are feeling. Tanya’s envy of the older characters and unacknowledged ingenuousness is an exact mirror onto the unspoken concerns that they too will be suppressing. Like Skins before it, Class treats its adult characters as outsiders to the world in which it takes place, and that is perhaps part of the reason Miss Quill has been played almost as caricature prior to the last fortnight.
Last week, we saw what she’s like when unshackled by the kids, and by the end of The Metaphysical Engine she was a three-dimensional human being about to undergo a life change as big as anything those kids might be going through. It was also vital to rid her of the Arn prior to The Lost, so that any action she undertook must come out of her growth across the eight episodes we’ve seen rather than out of some imposed priority. Between the previous episode’s developments and Matteusz’ acknowledgement of the two characters’ changed priorities across the series, Miss Quill was logically the only one who could save Charlie and the manner in which this sequence happened was logically the only way in which April could be saved as an unintended consequence. There was a little bit of genius in the final few minutes of The Lost – and leaving things as they stand gives the characters a story to navigate in a prospective Series Two.
The other aspect of Series Two that was pre-empted here was the arrival of something manifest from the Doctor Who universe. If Class’ existence within that universe had felt somewhat arbitrary and the Doctor’s appearance in For Tonight We Might Die rather unnecessary, the twist ending here justified the ties between the two programmes. Ness could easily have created his own Big Bad for a follow-up run, but when Steven Moffat has already provided something that bears both the scrutiny and the expansion that will surely happen, it makes sense to use it. What will be most exciting will be seeing another writer’s perspective on something that thus far only Moffat has ever justified on screen himself.
Class may not have taken off in the way some Doctor Who fans think the BBC probably hoped it would, but a big part of Auntie’s remit is to understand and illustrate something of the lives of its viewers, and that doesn’t simply mean in a disposable Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps kind of sense. Class shares a place within the Corporation’s priorities with In the Flesh, another story of supernature and teen alienation, and more widely is a (thankfully politically contrary) cousin to the Twilight saga and the likes of The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game. If the parent series routinely averages viewing figures in the region of seven million, In the Flesh actually averaged significantly below half a million, was deemed a success and indeed won a BAFTA. The demise of broadcast BBC III has eliminated the playing field, so it’s impossible to tell how well Class has done. But the reception among its intended demographic seems extremely positive, and on the basis of the writing, performances and subjects covered in this first series, and especially in this final, thrilling episode, the programme’s return next year ought to be inevitable.