After an explosive two-parter, Class shifts gears yet again. This week goes small in scale but high in concept, with fascinating results.
The episode is quick to get going, and it’s hard to deny that the premise is a little flimsy. For a fairly non-descript reason, Miss Quill throws all of our protagonists into detention. It’s a convenient, if a little forced way of getting them all together in the same room. Upon trying to leave, an asteroid collides with a tear in time and space, trapping them in a dark world of nothingness. Completely removed from the rest of the universe, they’ve got to work together to find a way back.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. The entire episode takes place within the confines of Quill’s classroom. It’s claustrophobic and it’s not long before the team start having panic attacks. There are no obvious solutions and their only clue is a glowing, mysterious rock. Realising that it might be emitting deadly radiation, their fear only escalates further. But that’s not all. When someone touches the rock, their innermost truths are laid bare for all to hear. In the words of a wise old Time Lord, it’s not just truth it wants: it’s confession.
There are unmistakable parallels between Detained and some recent Doctor Who stories. Specifically, it’s a mixture (or, dare we say it, a hybrid) of Midnight and Heaven Sent. Trapped and alone? Check. Minimal cast and locations? Check. A creepy monster stalking in the shadows? Check. The theme of confession is also integral to the plot. Like the Confession Dial, it’s a trade-off. For everything they confess, the characters gain more information on their whereabouts. As such, every character is forced to reveal some deep, dark secrets across the 45 minute run time. The difference between this and The Doctor’s ordeal though is that you actually get to see the consequences. There may be a greater force at work, but the heroes’ biggest enemy is themselves. It’s not long before tensions run high and the cracks between the group begin to show.
The set-up works well to give everyone an equal chance to shine. After a few weeks of very individually focused character stories, it’s good to see the whole gang back together properly. There’s a lot of welcome development in their relationships, even if some of it is a little sudden and unexpected. The cast all act brilliantly and Tanya, who has been overlooked in previous weeks, gets her best character performance so far. However, the episode’s central mechanic also works against them in this regard. As the characters get angrier, they all become more and more unlikable. Tanya, unfortunately, comes across particularly badly at points thanks to some surprisingly shocking and insulting outbursts. It’s key to the plot, but it doesn’t do them any favours in terms of audience warmth and acceptance.
With everyone mentally battered and bruised, the episode crescendos into a raw and graphic climax. It’s not the most elegant resolution, but it works, and it’s easy to forgive its shortcomings. The explanations for getting in and out of the main plot may be little wobbly, but everything in the middle is highly captivating viewing. Much like Doctor Who, sometimes the best episodes are the ones that are the least ambitious. It was smart to follow up the epic-sized two-parter with this small, isolated tale – and for our money, this is probably the best story that the series has offered up so far. It sounds insignificant, but it’s also nice that the whole thing is just set in a classroom. Backdrop aside, much of the show hasn’t actually centred on Coal Hill or felt much like a school drama. It’s good to have the class back in Class.
And, while a very standalone outing, Detained is also a necessary event in the series arc. The end leaves our characters in dramatically different places, totally torn and twisted from the experience. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how things pan out going into the final two episodes. We’re also left with a hugely enticing cliffhanger that promises great things for next week’s outing. Oh boy.
It’s hard to say, but Class’ ever-changing format may mean that this episode could divide opinion. If you’re not keen on watching a slow and psychological adventure, it might not necessarily be for you. But sometimes less is more. While arguably not quite reaching the same heights as its Who inspirations, Detained at least displays the same merits as Midnight or Heaven Sent. It’s chilling, compelling, and complex from start to finish. Even if it’s not to your taste, it’s a story that deserves your attention.