“Did you REALLY mean The Grand Tour was 2016’s best TV show?” asked a colleague the other day. I have to confess that I had indeed gotten carried away with the headline – as the article itself says, the show is “one of” the year’s hits but it’s not the only new show which has impressed.
Yes, of course, Planet Earth has been outstanding and breath taking but we always knew it would be. Sir David Attenborough was never going to deliver less than perfection and his latest series deserves every single plaudit it’s won.
But when I wrote my piece I was thinking of shows with bigger ‘barriers to entry’ – The Grand Tour could have flopped. Without the Top Gear name, without that show’s format, studio, BBC Two slot and yes, even without the Stig, it could have failed as badly as Top Gear did when the BBC mistakenly hired Chris Evans to front it. In the end it seems to have exceeded all expectations.
Another show which has impressed is Doctor Who spin-off Class, a top-notch drama that has been relegated to the new online-only BBC Three, rather than showcased in the prime time BBC One slot it deserves.
Set in Coal Hill Academy – an updated version of the school attended by the Doctor’s Granddaughter in Doctor Who’s very first episode – the series focuses on a group of 6th formers, one of whom is an alien prince, who have to fight off various invaders drawn by a weakness in the walls of space and time.
Apart from a excellent cameo by Peter Capaldi’s Doctor in the opening instalment, the show stands alone from the parent series, just as Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures largely did.
I’ve never warmed to Steven Moffat’s take on Doctor Who – it’s too broad, too inconsequential, too smug and too poorly executed to impress me. It seems to have got worse with every season and Moffat’s departure can’t come soon enough.
So I tuned into Class with some apprehension, only to find myself confronted with a show which is better directed, better lit, better acted and better written than Who – and that includes Capaldi’s Doctor. Class is funny, poignant and at times pretty tense. Its everything Who could be with a better lead writer. And was when it had one.
In a single, opening series, Class creator Patrick Ness has delivered a stronger run of stories set in the Who universe than Moffat ever managed in his five years in charge of Who.
No stunt casting (Matt Lucas, really?), no daft gimmicks such as the Doctor being married to his companions’ daughter, no cartoon-like direction, just solid plotting, sensible, character-led story arcs and a cast that can actually act – a qualification Moffat might have thought about insisting on when casting his show.
Tragically Class has been hidden away on the iPlayer-only BBC Three where it’s reportedly had disappointing viewing figures. What it deserved was a proper prime-time slot on broadcast TV so that it could find the larger audience which would undoubtably flock to it were it easier to find.
Instead the Corporation’s bosses are reportedly planning to shove the series even further into irrelevance by giving it “a late night slot” when it finally airs on BBC One next year.
Class is a genuinely good British sci-fi series which should be at the forefront of the BBC’s efforts to prove how it invests in programme types commercial rivals won’t.
There really is no point making top-quality programming unless you’re willing to shout about it. Yet BBC bosses seem unable to acknowledge the show’s quality or to lavish on it just a fraction of the love and on-air promotion that Moffat’s Who or by the book costume dramas such as Poldark are gifted.
Ness and his cast deserve a lot better – as do the licence fee payers who have funded this insanely hidden gem of a show.
Image show’s Greg Austin as Charlie in BBC Three’s Class. Image: BBC/Simon Ridgeway