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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Class Audios: Volumes One & Two - General Spoiler-Free Review

Class Audios: Volumes One & Two - General Spoiler-Free Review

By Jamie H. C.

Clarification: This is an overall review of the volumes as a whole and is spoiler-free. As such, all critical comments will be accurate - but other certain details may be avoided or deliberately amended to avoid revealing plot. Individual in-depth reviews with potential spoilers will follow from other contributors to CoS in the near future.

The boxset covers [as they appear on the physical copies].

1.1 Gifted by Roy Gill
A wonderful story that is certainly a strong start to the boxset - with a superbly witty script by Roy Gill with lots of tension and turns in the mix. By far, the highlight of this story though has to be the guest cast - Deirdre Mullins gives a performance as Mab that seems pretty compassionate at first but is delightfully venomous and manipulative under the surface. Without saying too much, the inspiration for this story is definitely an intriguing mix of mythology and folklore - and I will have to look into it more now that my curiosity has been piqued.

Big Finish newcomer Rhys Isaac-Jones also gives a stellar turn, playing Thomas Langford in a very sympathetic and grounded way. The chemistry between his character and April is great. like, seriously, I was wishing for more scenes between the two by the end of the story. I can only hope that he returns for more audio adventures in the future! Likewise, the chemistry between Ram and April is brilliant. And, of course, it’s nice to see (or rather, hear) some calmer moments where the softer side of their relationship is explored more. 9/10

1.2 Life Experience by Jenny T Colgan
How can I describe this story? Gruesome. Very gruesome. But not overdone. Which is a real achievement on Jenny T Colgan's part. There is one particular moment - you’ll know it when you hear it - that make me squirm and grit the teeth with horror. Like with Nightvisiting (and the novels), this story takes place almost entirely away from the confines of Coal Hill Academy - allowing Fady and Vivian to shine as Ram and Tanya. It really shows, I feel. 
Credit has to go to everyone involved for being able to make the laboratory setting - normally a very visual experience in science fiction - feel real. 

From the guest cast to the writing to the sound mixing, it really does come across immensely well. On the topic of visuals, the two, shall we call them appearances... of the monster in this story were a notable treat to visualise interacting/encountering everyone else. However, it is worth noting that I felt the last quarter was not as good as the rest of the story - it’s hard to pin down exactly but it definitely feels like it’s lacking something. Although, I like the ambiguity of certain aspects, a lot of build-up of the story just melts away and the actual ending felt a bit too sudden. 7.5/10

1.3 Tell Me You Love Me by Scott Handcock
I've said that could be the standout story since the synopsises and trailers came out. and I wasn't wrong.

This story is amazing beyond words (and it's not just because Matteusz and Charlie are back in our lives - although it is worth saying that this is a fantastic three-hander between Greg, Jordan and Katherine, and the dynamics of their characters). The concept behind it is so different and original - and would be a challenge on a TV episode but for an audio, it's a whole level above and beyond technically. And it's done immensely well - kudos to Scott Handcock for writing and directing this masterpiece. And of course, also to Luke Pietnik for the sublime sound design, without which this story wouldn't have been quite so potent. I'm keeping tightlipped on the nature of this as I feel it really has to be experienced... - "spur of the moment"? ..."going in blind"?... I don't know quite how to phrase it - for full effect. Nevermind being best of the boxset, I think this is one of the best audio dramas that Big Finish has created! 10/10!

Extras:
There are some lovely little cast interviews for each episode but sadly no music suite (as a sizeable amount of it will be on the forthcoming soundtrack) and surprisingly no script PDFs. Which is a little bit disappointing - particularly in the case of Tell Me You Love Me.

Volume 1 Overall Review:
Fantastic first return to school (ahem, Academy) for Big Finish, expanding upon Class brilliantly. Undoubtedly a masterpiece of a boxset that I will go on and on and on and on enjoying! 

2.1 Everybody Loves Reagan by Tim Foley
April really takes centre-stage here - although there is some interaction with Ram and Tanya, this episode is pretty squarely focused in on her. I love the idea of April trying to start a support group, and of course, it not working out quite as expected. Sophie is able to forge ahead with a performance that fights against Taj Atwell’s character of Reagan but in more of a defiant way than an all-out strength way. However, despite a strong set of performances, I felt that the alien in this story drifts a little too close to Nightvisiting (and Gifted, as well) and it feels rather thin plot-wise with everything happening at what felt like quite a stretched out slow pace. And it’s a shame because I’ve been hoping for a Class story where the sci-fi elements would be dialed back. But this just doesn’t quite fit the bill for me, I’m afraid. 5.5/10


2.2 Now You Know... by Tim Leng

A Tanya & Matteusz team-up story was on my wish-list of stories for future Class stories after the first series and this story lives up to it pretty well. The separation that the two characters feel from the rest of their peers is explored in a rather cunning way - as is their friendship. The well-crafted story will leave you with a lot to think about, taking a look more towards the... well, class aspect of Class but with a nice little sci-fi twist. We get some other students, which really does help to form more of the “background” of the world Tanya and Matteusz are in, and what they have to go through on a daily basis.

There is an immensely humorous moment (again, you’ll know when) that had me laughing heartily - which also made me realise that, and I hope other people notice this, the superb performance of Jordan Renzo. Matteusz was a very physical character in the TV show, there was a lot of physicality and facial expressions to it - really, go back and watch the episodes. And here, Renzo, is able to give a vocal performance that manages to perfectly fill in that gap, so to speak, that has been made by changing mediums. With every line, I am able to picture Matteusz’s facial expressions and even the way he is holding himself. It’s a sparkling accomplishment on his part. And, of course, Vivian gets to step up as well as Tanya - determined to solve a mystery in Coal Hill Academy *without* having to get the rest of the gang involved and to prove to the others (and perhaps, herself) that she deserves the position in life that she has. 8.5/10.

2.3 In Remembrance by Guy Adams
Right, okay, I know what you’re thinking, why have I not mentioned the music thus far? Well, that’s because I was saving it for this story. Having spent the previous five audios playing more subtly with the audio landscape, Blair Mowat kicks into high-gear here - creating a wonderfully emotional, dramatic and heart-thumping atmosphere, that also of course, acts as a joyous nostalgia trip for those who are familiar with Remembrance of the Daleks. Sophie Aldred is on top-form as Ace and her not-at-all-getting-along relationship with Quill is a fascinating thing. It sort of pulls you in, making you wonder about the pair, making you worry, and even making you laugh. And she gets to take on a Dalek again, which, okay, yes, it is incredibly for the fans’ joy. But the script and Sophie’s performance do a great job of being surprisingly accessible for someone new to that era of Doctor Who. Quill, played by the wonderful Katherine Kelly, also has a wonderful time playing off of the Dalek - saying very little other than this there (but there is a lot that I could say!).

Dodging around saying anything of the plot, it’s fantastic to see Quill and Charlie get separated in such a dangerous situation and interacting with the characters around them in events as individuals. A lot of their dynamic on-screen was together so having them get some breathing space to show who they are without the other being overly involved was a welcome change. And Guy Adams really has done a grand job at creating a story that ties into Remembrance, but additionally works well as a standalone episode of Class. He’s also dealt with somewhat justifing a character point about Ace that I was never keen on. It’s a lovely end to this run of stories! 9.5/10!


Extras:

Again, only interviews but as well as the cast of each episode, there is also a bonus interview with Blair Mowat - which showcases a few snippets of his music for Class and gives some interesting little insights.



Volume 2 Overall Review:
Although it doesn’t open as strong as the first time boxset, Volume 2 pulls together so well across the board that it becomes an immense audio experience - and another noteworthy addition to both the Class timeline and to the Whoniverse in general.

Class: Volumes One and Two are available now at £20 each on CD (whilst stocks last, as it is a limited physical release) or £15 each as downloads from the Big Finish website. 

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