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Reviewed: Big Finish’s Class – The Audio Adventures Volumes 3 & 4

Admission: I really enjoyed the first series of Class when it was on air way back in 2016, and felt the same about the first Big Finish release from the franchise two years later.

The jointly released third and fourth audio volumes are set within the timeline of the television series, and range from the very beginning of the character relationships through to where they were, ahem, abandoned at the end of the eighth and final on-screen episode. 

One key feature of the latest six-episode run is the recasting of two members of the main cast: Joanna McGibbon as Tanya and Miss Hartigan actor Dervla Kirwan as Miss Quill. I thought the original castings were top picks, who also worked well on audio, so these two had a lot to live up to.

The Soers’ Ditch starts off The Audio Adventures Volume 3 with an interesting premise about the origins of Shoreditch, and is the first Class story to really utilise its London setting in the same way that Torchwood did so effectively with its Cardiff home. The story works well by focusing on relationships, but does miss a small trick with its alien involvement that would make its Shoreditch setting all the more immersive.

McGibbon’s portrayal of Tanya is introduced in Catfish, and from her very first lines she nails the character to a tee. She does sound a little older than Vivian Oparah’s portrayal for the first minute or so, but really there are no faults you can find in McGibbon’s performance through this Tanya-centric episode and the rest of these two boxsets.

Jacob Daniels also does a great job as Paul Sanchez, the love interest for Tanya in Catfish, and while the foreshadowing that this romance isn’t what it seems appears early on, this Kate Thorman-penned story puts its twists in at the exact right moments for them to land with impact. This is about as Class-y story as you can get, with hints of previous audio adventure Gifted. The music and sound design are on as top form as the actors. What’s more, the behind-the-scenes interviews for Catfish are mega too.

After cameoing in Catfish, Kirwan’s Quill gets a proper introduction in Sweet Nothings and plays it for laughs. Comedy pitched at the BBC Three adolescent audience is a tricky one to master, and the writing is key to making it work; watch out for brilliant jokes about Fleming’s rule and Springwatch presenter Chris Packham.

While Kirwan succeeds at the humour, and has a believable relationship with The Man she spends so much of this story with, she doesn’t have the angry snappiness that Katherine Kelly brings to the role. Such sharpness isn’t really required in this story though, with Quill out of the loop of what is happening to her but not entirely irritated by that fact for once. She also becomes a changed character over the duration of the tale, being exposed (not for the first time) for being the big softie she hides behind her hard exterior.

As the story gets into its business end it throws in some huge twists, and some much needed snogging, before ending on an interesting ethical point. Once again the sound design is a standout feature, and altogether makes for a must-buy boxset. The interviews after this episode tease ever so slightly that there could be a Class series two on audio, but the following boxset is another set of three stories set during the TV era.

Class composer Blair Mowat starts The Audio Adventures Volume 4 in style, but music isn’t really allowed in the opening episode Mock, as it’s set entirely in an exam! Being left with a paper to complete and a lack of knowledge is normally drama enough for students, but this is a school drama with aliens so the stakes are raised even higher.

But then Alfie Shaw’s story does the unthinkable and sidelines the student anguish to explore the identity crises that exam invigilators may undergo when they have to sit or stand in total silence for hours. Quill is the subject of distress here, and is really thrown through the wringer in what is a nice warm-up for seeing her second identity crisis/unplanned pregnancy on TV.

Rhodian mythology is explored through the trope of using villains from childhood tales, making this story notable as a character-driven drama exploring Quill’s reactions and Charlie having to confront his personal and race’s history. While there are also some really interesting ideas raised while Charlie and Quill are detached from the rest of the main cast, including the role reversal of Charlie being the terrorist and Quill the all-powerful protector with the weight of a species on her shoulders, it is a story that misses the other regulars – especially when it contains a message about online trolls.

The Hallowe’en setting of The Creeper means the second episode of the boxset is definitely earlier in the characters’ development, and also means we get to see the cast in sexy outfits for a themed party. It may be audio, but costume choices mean business and April’s choice says a lot given the point in time this is set.

Matteusz and Quill (still at her best with Kirwan when written humorously) combine at first for some haunted house spooks with headless ghosts, and, as the cliches pile up, even the characters notice it. But, as they say, curiosity killed the headless hat.

Charlie’s claustrophobia plays a part here (which muddles the continuity somewhat with the TV episode Detained), and the two distinct facets of his character come under scrutiny once again from both the alien threat and his friends. The episode suffers from the absence of Ram and especially McGibbon’s Tanya, but gives plenty for its cast to do in turns and also shares out the emotional turmoil.

After listening to these five stories, I swiftly came to the conclusion that the highlight of these two boxsets was the portrayals of Tanya and Quill, and that the stories lacked when they weren’t there. So it was with great joy that the final episode, Queen of Rhodia, turned out to be heavily focused on the pair, and written by none other than series composer Mowat.

The Scot’s writing is definitely up to scratch, and he begins his story with a very interesting scene that sets up the rest of the plot. Without giving away the direction the narrative goes in, Mowat wanted to write something that occurred later in the characters’ arcs in the series, and he does it very cleverly and, more importantly, in a very believable way.

There’s still legs in each of the main characters to fit in a fifth and even sixth volume of audio adventures that add to their personas without bypassing the growth they ended the television series with, but an audio-based second series would definitely be the natural next step if Big Finish could get the license for it…

Class: Volumes 3 and 4 are available now from Big Finish.

Elliot Wood

Reviewed: Big Finish’s Class – The Audio Adventures Volumes 3 & 4

by Elliot Wood time to read: 5 min
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