Utopia 2018: Class Resits

Class.jpg

Image Credit: James Ashworth – All Rights Reserved

Image Description: Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins, and Greg Austin

Fantom Events have run the Utopia Doctor Who convention in Oxfordshire for several years now. James Ashworth went to Eynsham Hall this June and found himself on Traken, at Coal Hill School, under the sea and at the dawn of Doctor Who itself. Here is the second of his articles from Tides #42:

Another great Utopia panel was that of the cast of Class, the latest Doctor Who spin off to hit our screens, only then to be cancelled.  Only a week before the convention, Class had just received a reprieve of sorts in that Big Finish had announced they would be releasing Class audio dramas. As Greg Austin (Charlie), Sophie Hopkins (April) and Fady Elsayed (Ram) entered the room, I settled back for a look into the birth, life, death and rebirth of Class.

One of the most surprising things revealed during the panel was how unlikely it was that the actors even got their parts. Sophie nearly didn’t attend the audition at all, as her fiancé was being deported to Australia on the same day (it’s all sorted now, she reassured us). Fady, meanwhile, was asked to prepare for the wrong scene, but Patrick Ness allowed him a few hours to practice the other (where he loses his leg, if I remember correctly). Greg upped the stakes, when, having auditioned but not heard anything back from the producers, he had decided to fly out to Los Angeles for pilot season, 6-8 weeks of auditioning for the latest shows being produced across the pond. However, on only the third day of auditions, Greg received a call from his agent, telling him he’d been invited back for another audition. Tired, he initially said no, but his agent managed to talk him around, and so he arrived back in the UK and did the audition, all while extremely jetlagged! Fady managed to top everyone else’s story, though admittedly not for Class. For his first film, My Brother the Devil, he went on holiday to Egypt post audition, and lost his passport. Shouldn’t be an issue, only a trip to the embassy away, right? Not in this case. The Egyptian Revolution had broken out, leaving Fady unable to leave until he could get a new passport and so attend his audition. After a lot of calling around, his mum managed to find someone in the embassy willing to provide a passport in a few days. Coming back, however, the passport office was closed, though the building was open. Getting past a crowd of protesters, they found their way to the office where the passport official had left Fady his documents, allowing him to get back home.

Looking back on the production, which they initially didn’t know was Doctor Who-related, they all clearly enjoyed their time working together. One of the key parts of this was the team around them. Katherine Kelly in particular and, more briefly but no less notably, Peter Capaldi were both great to work with, and taught them more about acting in the process. Capaldi’s playfulness was something that Sophie remembered in particular, and they remember trying to act casually around him (it didn’t work)! Patrick Ness also looms large in their minds. Greg remembers discussing Charlie and Matteus’s bedroom scene with Ness, who emphasised how important it would’ve been to see for himself during his teenage years, showing that being LGBT is completely normal. Ness also set up a WhatsApp group for the cast and himself, which was apparently still active by Utopia.

One question from the audience asked the cast which was their most difficult scene to film. For Fady, it was losing his leg, as he had no experience to draw on. How do you act when you lose a limb? For Greg, it was opening the cabinet in the finale. He had always found it difficult to cry on cue, and to convey the intense emotion of the scene, he knew that he really needed to open the floodgates. For Sophie, it was a much more practical issue. Being in the Brecon Beacons for Brave-ish Heart, they were met with horrendous weather, including heavy downpours, thunderstorms and an ever present mist. To top this, she had to have further stunt training before filming the climatic fight with Coriokinus; an exhausting day in all. The filming of Detained also cropped up, as despite it being their favourite episode, spending two and a half weeks in one small set is a sure way to make everyone a bit stir-crazy, though this may have contributed to their performance in the episode itself. A further difficult moment was learning of Class‘s cancellation, something they were all very disappointed in, especially for the lack of opportunity to continue with their characters, which only increased after they learned Ness’s plans for the future.

As for the future of Class, we initially explored an alternative reality. Something that changed from Ness’s original script was the amount of gore. Class, it seems, was originally to have taken a darker path-darker than killing most of the character’s parents, that is. The attack at the prom in the first episode would have seen much more blood and chaos, especially when Ram loses his leg. Fady is still impressed by the make-up artists’ work on his leg. Coming back to the future, all are happy with their new digs at Big Finish. The ability to act for audio leads to a much more relaxed atmosphere, and now knowing their characters more intimately, this gives them the chance to offer a stronger performance than before. Sophie also noted, with the high profile pickups of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Lucifer by Netflix, it may not be out of the question for Class to return to screens in the future, in the vein of Netflix/BBC co-productions like Troy: Fall of a City, or an upcoming adaptation of Watership Down.

With Big Finish’s first set of Class stories including Ace and the Daleks, the future for the concept looks much brighter than it did only a few months ago. While we may never see with our own eyes the planet of the Weeping Angels, as promised by Ness(though as Sophie said, keep those fingers crossed!), we may still hear those quantum-locked antagonists zip towards a staring group of students from Coal Hill School. Stranger things have happened, so as always, Who knows.

Tides 42 is, at time of publication, available to buy through this link

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