Gifted

Posted in Audio by - September 11, 2018
Gifted

Released August 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Created by acclaimed young adult author Patrick Ness, Class attempted to find that hallowed middle ground of an audience somewhere between the more adult-skewing Torchwood and the younger-skewing The Sarah Jane Adventures. Though this character-based drama centred around engaging and dynamic young leads garnered critical acclaim in short order, its initial trouble mixing teen-oriented drama with adult themes paired with a digital and later double-bill late-night televised release structure at least partially factored into it being unable to find a consistent and widespread audience, meaning that a story that quite quickly found its voice and tone despite a central alien menace that proved to the weakest aspect of the show’s brief run never had the chance to organically grow within the television medium. Although Big Finish’s Class revival in the audio medium does not pick up with the monumental cliffhanger of that first series, having the entire core cast back for more intimate and focused stories is sure to further develop the characters and relationships already glimpsed in new and exciting ways.

The first volume opens with ‘Gifted’ by Roy Gill which begins intriguingly with the mysterious Mab offering to help and comfort the young Thomas Laneford who has just been in an accident, a man who is shocked to find that he suddenly has the musical talents he has always dreamed of after accompanying this beguiling figure to her home. Shifting focus to Coal Hill, Thomas quickly befriends April with a bond over poetry and music, though he quickly raises questions from both Ram and April when he does not understand playlists on phones and uses language and mannerisms that seem far too old-fashioned to be real. After inviting April back to his home, Thomas reveals that Mab is his guardian and ominously implores April not to accept anything that Mab offers her. It soon becomes clear that Thomas has a more grandiose plan than simply looking at books in his impressive library, however, and April soon finds herself chosen as his champion in a real-life iteration of the many versions of the stories he claims to be about Mab that she keeps in her library ostensibly to appeal to her vanity.

Indeed, much of ‘Gifted’ plays out as a fairy tale to mirror the ballads of remembrance that Thomas hopes can become a means of resistance. With Ram set up to be Mab’s next target and anchor to this world when she offers to make him a generational football talent, the two friends are unknowingly pitted against each other as strength versus loyalty. Unfortunately, this aspect of the story doesn’t quite work as effectively as it might otherwise, and although the prospect of perceptions being altered provides plenty of intriguing dramatic potential, this alteration is undone almost instantly as connections to recent events and even the school’s remembrance list drive the two right back to the locale that the stories warn them against. While it is understandable that Ram would be so keen to amplify his football talents given the physical and emotional turmoil he has been through prior to this story, it nonetheless seems quite out of character for him to so brashly push aside April for potential personal gain even this early in their relationship. Still, although the resolution is a bit too easy given the threat that the fairy queen imposes, this sequence does serve to further develop the burgeoning relationship that would become so integral to the series.

‘Gifted’ obviously ushers in a different type of storytelling than the vast ensemble pieces that often focused on television, and though there are understandably some growing pains as the series works to finds its voice and tone in the audio medium, it nonetheless recaptures the franchise’s spirit expertly with complex relationships so prominent while making expert use of its small cast, an engaging villainous presence, and April’s intelligence that was developed early in the series but later sidelined. Meshing the real-life fairy tale with the familiar dynamics of Coal Hill allows both Fady Elsayed and Sophie Hopkins to shine even if the story tries to incorporate a bit too many narrative swerves for each to fully develop, and a functional foundation has been formed for the continuing adventures of this oft-overlooked corner of the Doctor Who universe.

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