Class S01E02 “The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- Following the trauma of seeing girlfriend Rachel killed in front of his eyes and his leg being sliced off and replaced with a cybernetic prosthetic, Ram’s footballing talents go down the tubes.
- Coach Dawson is far from sympathetic, but then he’s a little distracted by a living tattoo of a dragon on his body, and it appears to killing students.
- Ram sees a skinned body in the changing rooms and hides in a toilet cubicle. When he emerges, there is no sign of the body… or, indeed, blood. He puts it down to PTSD.
- But then he witnesses a cleaner being skinned by a dragon (well, cleaners at this school are clearly expendable because coach Dawson is a whizz with a mop).
- Miss Quill, meanwhile, becomes obsessed with finding out the real identity of the decidedly odd school inspector who’s sitting in on her her classes – because he’s certainly not from Ofsted.
- Ram tells Tanya about the dragon. They investigate but find nothing apart from coach Dawson being suspicious and spectacularly rude.
- Ram opens up a little bit to Tanya, who reveals that she lost her dad to a stroke two years before, and she, too, found it hard to talk about at first.
- Ram still doesn’t want to be part of Quill’s “Happy Super Best Sparkle Team” (great turn of phrase there, Ram) but Tanya tells Charlie and April about what Ram’s told her anyway.
- They decide to ask the headteacher if any cleaners have gone mysteriously missing. He says yes… then is eaten by a dragon in front of the kids’ eyes.
- When they fetch Quill to show her the massacre, it appears coach Dawson has been putting his Marigolds to good use again: there’s no sign of any blood or damage. Quill is more concerned with the inspector, anyway.
- When Tanya tells Ram about the dead head, Ram sort of, reluctantly joins “Happy Super Best Sparkle Team”. He recognises that a drawing Charlie’s made of the dragon is similar to the coach’s tattoo. They set off to challenge him.
- Meanwhile, Quill snogs the inspector in a school corridor late one night, after she asks him what he wants and he writes a note saying, “YOU”. We’re pretty certain she’s got the wrong end of the stick.
- As she kisses him, a dragon attacks.
- She uses the inspector as a human shield.
- One problem: he isn’t human.
- He’s a robot.
- The dragon destroys him, then goes after Quill, who runs off…
- …And gatecrashes Exposition Party, where coach Dawson is telling “Happy Super Best Sparkle Team” that the dragon tattoo is a female alien who somehow bonded with him after coming through the membrane/chasm/fracture/bunghole/to-be-determined. The real dragon is her male mate. The male kills so that the female can feed, while coach Dawson controls the male by threatening harm to the female.
- Ram points out to the male dragon that he can let this situation go on forever – because the female is never going to be freed – or he can do something to change the balance of power. Hey, why not kill Dawson, skin him and turn the female into a leather chair? It might not be perfect but it’s better than the current situation, surely?
- Male dragon agrees and drags Dawson into the… bunghole? Are we going for bunghole? (Tune in next week.)
- April is upset that part of the team’s remit is killing people. The others don’t seem too concerned.
- We also learn that April plays violin, mostly folk music, and that she has a dad whom she ignores when he calls her on her mobile.
- Ram tells his dad what’s been happening, and his amazingly cool-about-it dad encourages him to keep practicing his football. Ram does and montages his way to kicking straight again.
- Quill studies the remains of School Inspector Gadget and finds a label saying, “The Governors”. Who be they?
Although far from perfect (the dragon was more Puff than Smaug) this second episode of Class is tighter, more streamlined and more tonally focussed (well, Puff aside). This feels more like a mission statement for the show rather than the sprawling pilot, helped by a simpler story with less infodumping which allow the main characters develop a bit more. The chat on the stairs about what to call the bunghole shows a new Scooby Gang in the making, though it looks like the fag-smoking, intense, reluctant Ram is going to make sure Class isn’t just a Buffy xerox. Plus, Miss Quill would eat Rupert Giles for breakfast with a side order of Wesley Wyndham-Pryce.
It’s not just the snappy dialogue, pop culture references and folk music jibes that help grow the characters, though. From long scenes of Ram bonding with his dad to throwaway shots of April ignoring a call from her dad, we’re getting to learn more about show’s central foursome. It’s still a little clunky in places (Tanya’s revelation about her dad dying feels slightly contrived) but the real improvements over episode one is very promising. “Happy Super Best Sparkle Team” (they need a new name more desperately than the bunghole does) could become sci-fi A-listers at this rate.
The main plot spins off from the fact that everyone knows that a venn diagram showing the relationship between PE teachers and sadistic bastards has a huge crossover zone. Coach Dawson is meaner than most but then he does have dragon blood and an awesome tattoo thanks to one of those space time convergences that handily make any plot contrivance possible.
Some brilliant tense direction, a healthy amount of full-on gore and a magnetically intense performance from Ben Peel as Dawson (possibly screen scariest PE teacher since Brian Glover in Kes) keep the dragon storyline gripping and entertaining. Even the dragon, in glimpses, is impressive, but the full reveal…? The poor things seem to have wandered in from Once Upon A Time.
It’s a shame, because the twist – that there are two dragons, one real, one in ink form – is a good one and Ram’s final showdown with the beast is inspired scripting. Watching the dragon ruminate on the concept of turning his mate into something less troublesome than this recalcitrant coach (“Leather? Hmmmm…”) is both funny and clever. At the risk of mentioning the “Doctor Who scene that must never be mentioned”, the resolution has a similar vibe to the fate of Elton and Ursula in “Love And Monsters” when she’s turned into a paving stone. “It’s a relationship, of sorts, but we manage. We’ve even got a bit of a love life,” says Elton in that episode. “Maybe you could find a way to make the new reality work?” suggests Ram here.
It’s also good to hear April voice concerns about killing; let’s hope this is an angle the show continues to explore, and not by turning her into a killer but by making the others realise that killing is not a trifling matter, no matter how much they might feel someone deserves it.
Through it all, Miss Quill is, once again, magnificent, for all the reasons listed below and more. Watch this show for her alone and you won’t be disappointed.
- Miss Quill is just drop-dead brilliant again. Her entire subplot with the fake inspector is one of the episode’s highlights, especially the “spaghetti western” face-off scene (love the music) and when she casually uses him as a “human” shield. Oh, and her line, “Have you seen what this species puts about themselves online? So much genitalia.”
- The revelation that the inspector was a robot – and the way it was revealed – was a great twist (and the effects were really freaky).
- Even if Quill’s “Sherlock” moment wasn’t a deliberate in-joke, it still worked amusingly well in context.
- Some of the gore was pleasingly hardcore.
- “Membrane of time?”
- “The school is being inspected Miss Quill, and your class is part of the school, though your continued surprise at that fact is troubling.”
- “At first I thought he was an evil designer of casual coats and gifts.”
- “He’s from Offed. Or course he’s evil.”
- “‘We’re just little arses of smart who don’t even know what evil looks like…’”
- “Why do they all dance in a circle?”
- The lead teen actors have all improved since the pilot, and already the relationships between them feel more natural and unforced. The way they keep rushing into action with no plan is amusing too (“As it happens there was a cleaner that didn’t turn up today. Why?” Kids look shiftily at each other. “I didn’t thing this through…”
- Ram’s dad seems a nice chap.
- For some reason we find the fact that Charlie is texting Ram about socks (presumably to cover up his cybernetic leg) really sweet.
- The CG for the dragon is fine but the design is laughably silly. With the kind of gore this show is willing to show the dragon needs to look mean and lean; instead it’s cuddly and over-accessorised.
- How the hell does coach Dawson manage to clean up those murder sites so quickly and so effectively?
- Why didn’t Ram make the connection between the dragon and the tattoo when he saw the real dragon, rather than when the saw Charlie’s drawing? Just not paying attention to details during a bloody skinning, presumably.
- There’s no real explanation for how the dragon and the coach merged. On the one hand, it’s good to be spared some cringey technobabble but let’s hope that there isn’t going to be one-line, magic sci-fi explanations every week on the show.
And The Trivia:
- “They choose not to see. Fascinating power,” says Charlie about the school’s laissez faire attitude to student death. Is this just a throwaway line (and a subtle allusion to shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and The Vampire Diaries that also feature schools that turn a blind eye to student mortality) or will there be some sci-fi explanation down the line?
- Another parallel to Buffy is the show’s original headmaster getting killed off fairly quickly. In the US show, Principal Flutie, played by Ken Lerner, was killed off in episode six and replaced by Principal Snyder, who was played Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Armin Shimmerman.
- Yet another Buffy parallel that we didn’t mention in the first review is the use of a punky pop song for a theme tune. It’s “Up All Night” by Alex Clare, the first time a pre-existing song has been used as the theme to a Who-related show (not the first to use lyrics, though if you include K-9 repetitively droning “K-9” for K-9 & Company. It’s an okay song in itself but it doesn’t seem to suit the visuals of the opening sequence. As we mentioned in the previous review, the images reminded us more of The Tomorrow People. And so, hey presto…
- Mr Armitage makes a pointed reference to, “The governors wouldn’t like it.” Later in the episode we learn that the robot was constructed (or, at least, owned by) the “governors”. Are we going to learn something significant about the governors at Coal Hill? After all, Mr Armitage seems to be on the verge of revealing that he might know more about what’s been going on than people might realise. Was he appointed by the “governors”?
- What’s with the chess motif? Miss Quill picks up a chess piece with what looks like the intention of using it as a weapon, while when Charlie is in the headmaster’s office he appears to sniffing a chess piece at one point.
Review by Dave Golder