5 reasons to watch CLASS, Patrick Ness’s DOCTOR WHO spinoff

In truth, there are so many more than just five reasons to watch CLASS.

Class logo

It’s beyond awesome. It’s extraordinary TV. It’s not just in the highest echelon of DOCTOR WHO storytelling, it’s in the highest echelon of TV storytelling… of ANY storytelling of any kind. The show is thrilling, exhilarating, hilarious, emotional, terrifying and utterly, utterly grounded in the authentic lives of five teenagers at the newly remodeled Coal Hill Academy… which just happens to have a rip in space-time that lets through all kinds of horrors.

Here are the five most pressing reasons for you to watch.

THE CAST

Class - Ep6

The cast of CLASS is a truly bad-ass collection of excellent actors. They all play wounded characters with complex lives and pasts, and they do it brilliantly, with everyone bringing just the right balance of humor and ALL THE EMOTIONS and copious amounts of badassery. That’s a tricky and delicate balance, but they all do it: Sophie Hopkins as April, the nice girl who’s anything but meek, Fady Elsayed as Ram, the tormented, anguished soccer star (football in the UK btw), Greg Austin as the uptight Charlie who’s carrying cosmic levels of baggage, Vivian Oprah as Tanya, grieving for the loss of her father and struggling with being a 14 year-old in a class of 17 year-olds, and Jordan Renzo as Matteusz, Charlie’s Polish boyfriend, and in some ways the moral center of the show. That’s the gang. But we can’t forget the sinister, spiky Miss Quill, played with delicious malevolence by the fantastic Katherine Kelly, who brings rage, nonchalance, and pathos to a powerhouse of a role. Quite possibly the best line-readings you’ll find anywhere on TV in 2017. In fact, without a doubt the best. An iconic performance that rivals any in the DOCTOR WHO universe.

Class Quill

THE STORYTELLING

It’s hard to talk about the storytelling on this show without (a) destroying my thesaurus in search of enough superlatives and (b) giving anything away. Suffice it to say, the level of storytelling in this show is amongst the best we’ve ever seen from DOCTOR WHO.

Class Ram

Awesome storytelling very much pictured.

There are individual episodes of CLASS that are top 5 of any in the Whoniverse. The overall arc shifts and evolves powerfully, driving all 8 episodes (each of which works so brilliantly alone but still form part of a stunning whole) to a jaw-dropping, head-spinning, gut-punching finale that BEGS FOR ANOTHER SEASON DO YOU HEAR ME BBC AND BBC AMERICA???? As writer and showrunner Patrick Ness himself put it on Twitter…

Speaking of Mr. Ness…

PATRICK NESS

The rhinoceros-loving, permanently blue polo-beshirted YA megastar author who brought us the stunning CHAOS WALKING trilogy—as well as the frankly traumatic A MONSTER CALLS (novel and screenplay), brilliant sci-fi/contemporary masterpieces MORE THAN THIS and THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE, and the forthcoming RELEASE—is the only writer who could have made CLASS what it is.

Ness

Not pictured: blue polo. Or rhinos.

His ability to weave thrilling tales about genuinely grounded and authentic teens, stories that are shot through with savagely cutting humor and heart-hurting sadness, is unparalleled (I mean, except maybe by J.K. Rowling and Joss Whedon… they all sit on a single throne of awesomeness. It’s a tight fit). His writing in CLASS is on a whole new level. His characters are compelling, complex, beautifully diverse in a way that just reflects the world, funny, fierce, and brave. As they deal with tests, detentions, and, yes, terrifying monsters from throughout the universe, they keep everything painfully grounded and real. The writing here is just a joy to behold. The jokes hit hard, the emotions even harder, and it’s genuinely horrifying and scary when it needs to be. It brings a thrilling edge to the Whoniverse that we’ve never seen before.

THE DIRECTING / CINEMATOGRAPHY / EDITING / EFFECTS / MUSIC

I snuck a few extras in there. Of course, the show couldn’t be great without Ness writing some seriously intense scripts and a series of wonderful performances to really bring them to life, but it could have gone horribly wrong elsewhere. Simple things like putting the camera in the wrong place, lighting shots too brightly, editing too loosely or clumsily, adding music that doesn’t feel quite right… You know when you’re watching a show, and something just feels off? Yeah… you won’t have that feeling here. Because this show never puts a foot wrong. It’s kind of incredible.

Class Quill Charlie

Ed Bazalgette directs 3 of the 8 episodes, while the rest are beautifully shot by Phillipa Langdale, Wayne Yip, and Julian Holmes. They do a phenomenal job. This is fantastic-looking sci-fi that’s slick, has depth, looks gritty and ferocious, and really foregrounds the performances. One episode takes place pretty much entirely in one classroom—and it’s one of the most visually fascinating and kinetic episodes of all of them. The special effects are amazing, easily on a par with the flagship show, and in some cases, far more convincing. Every element of this show comes together to form one hilarious, emotionally devastating joyride through space and time.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW DEPENDS ON IT

At the time of writing, the show hasn’t been picked up for a second season… but it hasn’t been canceled either. It aired in the UK last year on an online-only channel, and reading between the lines, it seems like the powers that be are waiting to see how it performs on BBC America. So, my geeks, my nerds, my Doctor Who fans, my fans of sci-fi, of great TV, of great storytelling: Deploy! PLEASE WATCH THIS SHOW. We need joyously great TV shows like this. It’s genuinely up there with monster hits like STRANGER THINGS and GAME OF THRONES, it hits you in the feels like THIS IS US (OK, maybe it doesn’t reduce you to a quivering pile of sadness every single week, but it’s not far off), it’s at least as witty as BUFFY ever was, and sometimes more so, it introduces some truly scary and iconic new monsters and threats, and it’s got a visceral edge that you won’t be expecting.

So watch this damn thing. You’ll be glad you did.

For more info on the show, head on over to the BBC America CLASS site.

CLASS starts its 8 episode run on BBC America at 10.10pm Saturday April 15, following the premiere episode of Peter Capaldi’s final season as DOCTOR WHO.

2015 in review

2015 was a great year for pop culture — even aside from the multi-platform global pop culture-consuming behemoth that was Star Wars, this year was inspiringly full of rich, exciting and immersive books, TV shows, music and movies. And awesome droids.

So let’s get to it.

MOVIES:

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens. Could the movie of the year have been anything else? Spoiler: no. It was beautiful, full of wonderful old and new characters, and so many emotions. And no, Rey wasn’t a Mary Sue — she was a complex, capable woman whose entire life had prepared her to be ready when the call to action came (if you don’t believe me, read Greg Rucka’s excellent Before The Awakening, which gives you backstories for Finn, Rey and Poe. Rey’s is particularly engrossing — she really is one of the great characters of the Star Wars universe. (Here’s my full spoiler-free Star Wars review)

Kingsman: The Secret Service. This was fresh, inventive, stylish, witty, engaging, with rich characters and a propulsive story, and a genuinely and gloriously bonkers sense of fun and glee. It also showed us how devastatingly great a Matthew Vaughn-directed Bond movie would be… but if he had made one of those (he came close to making Casino Royale), we wouldn’t have this. And we needed this. Colin Firth kicked ass entirely convincingly, and newcomer Taron Egerton delivered a swaggering, young Han Solo-like breakout performance. Genius all round.

The Martian. Yes. Yes yes yes! Ridley Scott scienced the shit out of this, giving us one of the great space movies of all time, taking Drew Goddard’s sharply funny script and giving it the bad-ass disco soundtrack we never knew it needed. Expertly shot, brilliantly acted by Matt Damon (the majority of whose scenes were alone and direct to camera), and the best Lord of the Rings reference you’ll ever see.

Inside Out. This was Pixar to the power of infinity. This was heart-achingly emotional, which you’d expect since it’s a movie about emotions, from the company who brought you the most emotionally devastating opening to a movie EVER (Up). What you might not expect was how heartfelt, humorous and bitter-sweet it all was, plus how the mesmerizing story managed to be utterly profound as well as relentless entertaining. Warning: contains achingly funny moments, and some that are utterly gut-wrenching. You will cry.

Straight Outta Compton. Director  F. Gary Gray delivered a breathlessly gritty and fiercely kinetic look at the birth, rise and fall of Compton’s NWA, from their loose beginnings to the evolution of their personal empires (Dre’s Beats, Cube’s movie career). The heart of the movie was Jason Mitchell’s cherubic, charismatic and ultimately heartbreaking performance as Eric “Easy E” Wright; his story is the true center of the movie, with the others woven tightly around it. It gives you the thrill and danger of the music, the harsh realities that made it necessary, and the often uncontrollable dynamics within the band. A great script kept tight control over the sprawl of events, and excellent performances from the actors playing the band (including Ice Cube’s son playing Cube) made this utterly gripping.

Honorable mentions:

Avengers Age Of Ultron / Ant-Man. Marvel’s two movies this year both came with some serious baggage. Ultron had to follow up the massive success juggernaut that was Avengers, but do it even bigger this time, while Ant-Man had a hugely troubled production with the removal of Edgar Wright weeks before filming was due to start. Both films were mandated by the studio to fit the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe: oddly, Ant-Man fared better with this, given extra resonance and benefiting from being bolted into the MCU, while Ultron seemed to suffer from one extra layer too many in a movie that was jam-packed with too much greatness — it’s a long movie that actually would have been better with an even longer four hour extended cut. There’s just so much Joss Whedon genius-level awesomeness to love and not enough time to truly love it. Ant-Man, on the other hand, was short, sweet, quick on its feet, and full of Edgar Wright DNA (no one handles exposition like him. No one!). Both movies were fun; Ant-Man was just a little more so. But Ultron was still a wonderful Whedon-fest, and a towering achievement of screenwriting and direction.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. The best of the MI bunch. Written and directed by Chris McQuarrie, this was tight, entertaining, and it barreled along through plot points and set pieces without ever releasing its grip on us. A huge amount of fun, with crowd-pleasing performances, hair-raising stunts, and the type of twisty-turny plotting you’d expect from the man behind The Usual Suspects.

BOOKS:

Book of the year: Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. This was one of those books that make you realize all the many beautiful possibilities of what books can be. Composed of emails, security logs, and many other things that I won’t spoil, this was an utterly engrossing sci-fi story, rich with complex characters you immediately care about, viscerally thrilling space stuff, and fiendish plotting. Totally unputdownable. Full review here.

Close competition: Patrick Ness’s The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, and Robert Galbraith’s Career Of Evil (Galbraith is actually J.K. Rowling). Two perfect five star novels here. Ness delivered his usual blend of thrills and compassion, while Rowling gave us her most exciting Cormoran Strike novel yet, with an absolute kicker of a throw-the-book-across-the-room ending. *shakes fist at J.K. Rowling!!*

Honorable mentions:

Lost Stars, by Claudia Gray; The Weapon Of A Jedi, by Jason Fry; Smuggler’s Run, by Greg Rucka; Moving Target, by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry; Before The Awakening, by Greg Rucka. AKA, the Star Wars novels. Lost Stars (reviewed here) was stellar, Jedi, Run and Target were beautifully written standalone adventures featuring Han, Luke and Leia during the Original Trilogy, and Before The Awakening focused on key Finn, Rey and Poe backstories. Fascinating, entertaining stuff.

MUSIC:

Two artists dominated: Adele with her insanely anticipated beautiful powerhouse of an album, 25, and Carly Rae Jepsen with her EMOTION album, which was light years ahead of her previous effort. While Adele did exactly what you’d expect her to (albeit brilliantly, beautifully and flawlessly, of course — with I Miss You and The River Lea as particular standouts ), it was Jepsen who delivered the year’s biggest surprise: an extraordinary, gorgeously 80s, mesmerizingly hook-y set that didn’t have one filler — full of massive choruses drenched with bittersweet melancholy and honesty, all delivered with gloriously soaring vocals. Why this wasn’t on more year-end best-of lists is a mystery. It’s brilliant.

TV:

Special mention for Downton Abbey‘s magnificent final season and majestic final ever episode, which was this year’s Christmas special (for those who have seen it… it airs in the US in January). The perfect send-off, full of warmth, wit, and, yes, feels.

Supergirl. This show is bright, beautiful, full of verve, grit and hope — all about finding your truest self and being it. Melissa Benoist embodies all of that in a vulnerable, complex, utterly engaging performance. She brings Supergirl to life in a way that makes perfect sense.

Jessica Jones. Epically gritty, dark and messed up, but sweetened with some killer sarcastic putdowns, a damaged and soulful performance from Krysten Ritter, and a horrifyingly charming villain in David Tennant’s brilliantly played Kilgrave. Thrilling TV throughout, perfectly paced, full of heart and rage and loss and becoming the person you’re meant to be.

Supernatural. 11 seasons in, it’s still slaying. Here’s my breakdown of why this show STILL kicks ass.

Honorable mentions:

The Walking Dead. This half of the current season delivered three monster, high octane, real-time  episodes that were likely the greatest consecutive episodes in the show’s run… then pulled out of that very suddenly and slowed things way down for the standalone Morgan flashback episode, before reconnecting with the current storyline again. Although Here Is Not Here contained great writing, beautiful character work, and killer acting, it really did stop the momentum in its tracks at a particularly tense moment, and consequently the show took a while to pick up speed again. But by the mid-season finale, it was BACK. It’s the best it’s ever been, and that’s saying something.

Quantico. One of the greatest new network shows in a long time, this is gripping, unstoppable, incredibly tense, and twist and turns and twists and turns, and then does that some more. The cast gives deeply accessible and charismatic performances, and the story just does not quit. Very, very addictive, very tightly written (the show has two ongoing strands, past and present, which interweave and comment on each other and keep the story flowing), and very addictive.

But, if I had to pick the ultimate “things of the year”….

  • Star Wars
  • Illuminae
  • Jessica Jones
  • Carly Rae Jepsen’s EMOTION

And, if I could only pick one thing overall… It’s pretty clear… this little guy won 2015!

BB-8

The breakout star of Star Wars (with fierce competition from the fresh and energetically  great performances of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver), BB-8 owned 2015. The little droid was the heart and soul of Episode VII, and we loved him. Let’s be honest, we would all happily sit there and watch a  two hour movie that was JUST BB-8 AND NOTHING ELSE. Search your feelings… you know it to be true.

So, hope you enjoyed 2015… Have an awesome 2016!!!

LOST STARS by Claudia Gray: Journey to Stars Wars The Force Awakens

LOST STARS is Claudia Gray’s latest novel, and her first in the Star Wars universe, part of a raft of novels published to bridge the gaps between the original movies and The Force Awakens. It’s YA, focusing on two teenagers, Thane and Ciena, both growing up on the forsaken Outer Rim planet Jelucan, both dreaming of flying across the stars for the glorious Empire.

Lost Stars

The novel follows them as they grow up, go through training, and discover that the Empire is not all that it seems. The story weaves deftly through the original trilogy timeline, giving us glimpses at many moments from Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Return Of The Jedi, but all from angles and perspectives we’ve never seen before. This is one of the novel’s many strengths: if you’re a fan of the movies, you’ll get a kick out of seeing all-new Darth Vader scenes (what happened after he went spinning off into space at the end of Star Wars? You’ll find out!), deep dives into the Empire and the Rebellion from the inside at key moments including the blowing up of the Death Star, and a hugely thrilling take on the final space battle around Endor, to name just a few. But even if you’re not a huge fan, it’s ok, because Gray makes all of this make sense in a genuinely affecting and involving love story between two passionate, driven individuals who ultimately have to choose between wildly different paths.

Gray is great at making you FEEL the angst, the love, the passion, the hope, the despair, the excitement that Thane and Ciena feel as their story brings them together and throws them apart. Gray keeps the action and characters moving and developing, and brings the whole thing to an epic conclusion, before zigging off in a direction you wouldn’t expect, but which works really well.

It feels like a Star Wars novel, in all the right ways. It captures that sense of wonder at the distant stars, the thrill of space, the terror of the Empire, the fierce idealism of the Rebellion. It also has like, cool aliens and robots and shit. The only critique is that Gray doesn’t put you in their heads enough at the start of the novel — Thane’s burning desire is to fly a TIE fighter, but we never get to see or feel his first time at the controls of one, which is a shame, because any reader who is a Star Wars fan would love to see what that feels like. Yes we all know the Empire is bad but damn it flying a TIE fighter would be bad-ass! While she doesn’t give us that, by the midpoint on, we do get the visceral nature of Thane and Ciena’s experiences, and she dives into the Endor battle with gusto and force.

This book truly evokes the spirit of the Original Trilogy, magically weaving itself into the narrative tapestry of the OT.

It’s fascinating to see the psychology of the Empire (and the Rebellion to a lesser extent) laid bare. We really see how so many decent, intelligent people could be led to think that the Empire was a force for good, even as it begins to take ever-darker actions. Speaking of the force, the book also does a  great job showing how little impact the force has on the everyday folk. Luke really is the last Jedi, and not many people even believe that to be true.

LOST STARS also contains clues about The Force Awakens. If you’ve seen the second trailer, you’ll enjoy one of the revelations in particular (although the book cover does kind of give it away…)

All in all, this is an engrossing, engaging, exciting read, a thrilling look at the universe we know and love from a genuinely fresh angle we’ve never seen before.

Rating:

Four out of five Original Trilogy references

New writing alert! Altered Sequence book two published!

Hello. Just wanted to drop an update: book two of my YA sci-fi series ALTERED SEQUENCE is now available! It’s called CORRUPTED, and picks up right where ALTERED left off… As of right now, ALTERED is $0.99, and CORRUPTED is $2.99. Details of both books below!

 

CORRUPTED is available for Kindle at Amazon US and nook at Barnes & Noble.

Also: Buy For Kindle UK

Get CORRUPTED in paperback!

Altered Sequence Book One: ALTERED

ALTERED is available for Kindle at Amazon and nook at Barnes & Noble.

Also: Buy For Kindle UK

Get ALTERED in paperback!

Grasshopper Jungle

In the very best of ways, Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith is one of the more unusual novels you’ll ever read. Smith has delivered a genuinely unique experience: spikily soulful and inventively propulsive YA sci-fi in a contemporary setting, with an escalating horrific and hilarious R-rated apocalypse; in short, it’s about the end of the world as experienced by Austin, a confused teen in a very, very small town in Iowa.

GrasshopperJungle

Everything about this book is twisted in just the right kind of way to feel completely fresh and new: its evocation of the endless feeling of teenage summers, the intense hormonal confusion and heightened emotions, the torture of high school and parents who just don’t get it…. Oh yeah, and the unstoppable horror that is set into motion by a series of mundane, by-chance accidents.

Basically, they unleash a bunch of 9 foot tall armor-plated bugs that just want to eat and f**k.

The extreme day-to-day reality of the setting, as well as the obsessive limitations of the narrator, create a very grounded environment, which makes the sci-fi all the more terrifying and visceral.

Austin is not necessarily the most likeable of narrators, but there’s still something very engaging about his honesty and loyalty. He’s also very funny. He’s a skewed perspective through which to see a bunch of giant horror bugs tearing apart life as we know it, but that’s just what this story needs. Side note: talking of skewed perspectives, the fact that Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead, The World’s End, formerly of Ant-Man…sadface) is directing the movie adaptation is cause for massive geek rejoicing and celebration – his quick-witted, hyper-stylish visual and emotional genius is beyond perfect for this story.

All in all, this is an insane, gripping, unputdownable, novel. It’s an Unstoppable Read.

Rating: five out of five Unstoppable Soldiers

Patrick Ness — “The Crane Wife”

Patrick Ness, best known for his stunning YA sci-fi trilogy Chaos Walking, and more recently the award-winning and devastating A Monster Calls, returns to bookshelves and electronic devices with the beautiful, hauntingly drawn contemporary fable The Crane Wife.

The Crane Wife

Full of eerie resonances, elegantly poetic precision and a whole other world shimmering just beyond our view (a world we’ll never be able to fully comprehend, a lack of comprehension that is both blissful and upsetting), Ness has conjured up a story that is epic, moving, an ocean of emotion whose mostly calm surface hides a roiling current deep, deep beneath.

It wouldn’t do the book justice, and it would detract from the reading experience, to fully detail what does or does not happen. Suffice it to say, The Crane Wife begins with an ordinary man who discovers a crane with an arrow through its wing in his garden late one moonlit night. This event (or dream) is the catalyst for a series of events that ripple powerfully through the lives of George, his daughter Amanda, and Kumiko, a mysterious woman who seems to be the source of all hope and despair.

To reveal any more would be invidious. Ness weaves extraordinary fables into the most rainy-day, quotidian mundanities, as his characters’ lives are gradually illuminated from without and within. In the best possible way, this novel explodes with symbolism – but come back, because it’s the very best kind – poetic, subtle, capable of shaping and reshaping your emotions. Ness’s careful, elegant style ensures that every word means something. This is a pared-back experience that fills you with longing. In this novel, the quietest of symbols can cause your emotions to roar.

chaos walking trilogy

Literary fiction, generally, has not been as lively or truthful as YA fiction of late, a situation vastly exacerbated by Ness’s own contributions to YA (The Knife Of Never Letting Go, The Ask And The Answer, and Monsters Of Men are three of the most extraordinary novels ever written in any genre or category). The list of extraordinary literary novels in the last few years is sadly short: Hilary Mantel’s revelatory Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, and Haruki Murakami’s hypnotic and brilliant work of absolute genius 1Q84 (possibly the greatest example of literary fiction of all time, and itself a contemporary fable shuddering with immense hidden power and unseen forces) are the pinnacles.

They are now joined by The Crane Wife.

This is a novel that will transport you in all kinds of ways; whether you read it in bed, at the breakfast table, on the tube or the subway, or surreptitiously while at work, it will work its patient magic on you, and it will linger in your mind and heart long after you’ve put it down.

 

5 out of 5 tiles (it’ll make sense when you read it)

Days Of Blood And Starlight: Unstoppable Momentum & Atmospheric Power AKA THIS BOOK WILL OWN YOU

This is that rarest of creatures: a sequel that bests the original. Just to put that in context, Daughter Of Smoke And Bone was one of the greatest YA novels ever written, a burningly brilliant and resonant story that seared the senses with its gorgeous intensity.

Days Of Blood And Starlight is better.

Yep, I said it.

Days Of Blood And Starlight

Days Of Blood And Starlight

Laini Taylor proves herself to be an extraordinary resurrectionist. Creating a new literary creature more powerful than any before it. She has upped the emotional intensity, sharpened the sarcasm and brutal wit, exponentially increased the sheer B-movie monster awesomeness of it all, supercharged the zingers and snark, and, somehow, impossibly, she has taken her incredible gift of subtle, moving and fearsome character work to a whole new level. And of all this is presented in a glittering, hypnotic and sensual style that steals into the senses and makes you something other than what you were.

What the hell, Laini Taylor? How did you get so much more awesome than you were before? How did you take your huge canvas from Smoke And Bone and then make us realize that it was just a tiny corner of the vast universe you were actually working on? How did you trick us into believing Smoke And Bone was a deluxe, widescreen theater experience (which was so much bigger than anything else we were reading), when really it was like an YouTube video on an iPhone 3 compared to the IMAX scale of Blood And Starlight?

How did you change the way I looked at YA, and at books and writing in general… And then change it AGAIN with this?

Days Of Blood And Starlight (UK Cover)

Days Of Blood And Starlight (UK Cover)

The expansion from book one to book two is even more impressive when you consider that the story is much more focused, in time, in place, in intensity. And yet Taylor spins magical realms from the smallest of details. Those realms are not merely other worlds, but also emotional truths, physical realities. Her writing is heady, stunning, and mesmeric. These are characters and worlds that once you inhabit them, inhabit you. Putting this book down is an impossibility; your heart and soul just will not allow it.

Plot is all in Blood And Starlight, so I shall give none of it away here. All you need to know is that the stakes are radically higher, the emotions are turbo-charged and relentless, the atmospheric power of the novel is off the charts, and Taylor keeps everything tight, controlled and focused with extreme screenplay skill. Not a single word is wasted; everything charges forward, in the manner of an exhilarating but terrifying rollercoaster. It’s almost too much to take in because you power through it so quickly. The incredible views flash past because there’s no stopping the momentum.

Just read it. Love it. And then wait, helplessly, for the next one, your mind and body singing, reeling, resonating. And good luck starting any books after this; because after this, nothing is quite the same.

Rating: Five out of five chimeras