Class – Series 1, Episode 3 – Nightvisiting
Tony gets a little touch of Lankin in the night.
If we’re absolutely honest with ourselves, if Class hadn’t been, and hadn’t been billed as, as Doctor Who spin-off, it’s doubtful whether many of us would have watched it – the channel of distribution, the time of broadcast, the promise of teen grit which makes many older viewers want to vomit, and the fundamental lack of freshness of the idea of a bunch of teenagers saving the world from monsters-of-the-week nearly supplied to them by what was charmingly described in Episode 2 as ‘the bung-hole of time and space.’ Many of us, without the Doctor Who tie-in, would have passed Class by as another CBBC offering that simply wasn’t for us.
Three episodes in, we’re ready to admit that would have been a mistake.
Nightvisiting, as is somewhat crowbarred into the exposition of the episode, is a folk music tradition along the lines of a dark fairy tale, where the souls of those we’ve lost come back to visit us by night – sometimes to be near us again, sometimes to take us away with them. Nightvisiting as far as Class is concerned is a creepy night-shot episode where deadly, sticky, half-animal, half-plant creepers shoot out across East London, ending in mucus-covered ends that become ‘people’ that we’ve loved, and try to persuade us to take their hand.
It’s an insidious notion, and, as with The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo, it combines three ideas in its main thread. We learned in Episode 2 that Tanya’s dad died suddenly a few years ago, and that she had to slowly process her grief in order to function again. Here we meet her Daddy, as one of the ‘Lankin’ (not for nothing, but this is vaguely lazy naming – the second alien in three episodes to follow the ‘-kin’ name-ending), the sticky, rope-like creepers with a purpose. But the Lankin have a curious restriction – they can’t simply snatch you, they can only reach out. You have to reach out to complete the bargain.
Bargain? Oh yes, these alien creepers are quite willing to tell you they’re not ‘actually’ your loved ones, but insist they can ‘harvest the souls’ of dead people. Reaching out to them means you’re bonded with the loved one they show you, so that when you eventually die, they can find you and you get to share an eternity with those loved ones.
See? Insidious. There are parallels to be drawn and sub-texts to be mined here. On the one hand, you could see the Lankin as an avatar of organised religion, promising relief from grief, promising an afterlife of connection with the ‘souls’ of your loved ones – whether the Lankin can actually deliver on their promise despite their unfortunate look is part of the drama of the episode, so we won’t spoil it for you, but the promise is the same as you can get in any church, any mosque, any temple on any street. There’s no doubt it can appeal to the young and angst-ridden, so it’s interesting to see how each of our Class teens deal with it – and indeed how Katherine Kelly’s Miss Quill deals with it when the same offer is made to her.
On the other hand, you could read this episode as a warning not to take sweeties from strangers, no matter how plausible they sound. Because of the uncertainty over whether they’re good or bad, truthful or liars, the Lankin stand in for every creep hanging round every school gateway, every uncle who can change the atmosphere in a heartbeat, every grown-up that carries their own shiver with them.
The element that links these two potential themes is the one that makes the Lankin special – the element of persuasion – as we’ve said, they can’t simply take what they want, they can’t simply give the gift they promise. They have to persuade us to trust them, to take their hand, and whether they are angels or demons we can only ever really find out when we do. That’s a great concept from writer Patrick Ness, because in a way it makes the Lankin universal – they have to do the same thing everyone has to, from politicians wanting your vote to everyone at a school disco trying to get laid or decide whether it’s worth it: they have to find out what you want, what you need; they have to charm, in spite of their obvious unattractive side (the Lankin are pretty clear that they’re slimy root-things, but they want you to believe in them anyway), they have to cajole, to promise, to intrigue you with the possibilities they offer.
That’s what makes the whole episode much more interesting, because our Classmates have to work things out, including their own emotional biases, before they can discover what the Lankin are truly offering. This is more or less Vivian Oparah’s episode, as the Lankin have a particular focus on Tanya, as it’s the second anniversary of her dad’s death, but there’s more for everybody to do here than there has been in some other episodes – Ram and April have some Meaningful Discussions, and a first snog, Charlie and Mateusz spend most of the episode in bed, discussing the complicated nature of love and having….rather more than a first snog, and of course, Katherine Kelly’s Miss Quill, faced with the idea of her lost loved one and the gamble of whether or not to take the Lankin’s hand is frankly magnificent, giving Oparah’s emotionally invested performance its comic counterpart and balancing the episode beautifully.
Three episodes in, Class stands up to the weight of being a Doctor Who spin-off, without any more than a token appearance from the Doctor in Episode 1. What’s more, it’s developing its characters and relationships in a way that allows them to stand on their own feet going forward.