Class recap: 'The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo'
Ram can't get his leg or his grief to cooperate
Welcome, Class-mates! Take your seats for the latest Doctor Who spin-off, which trades all of time and space for the halls of Coal Hill Academy. It may have gotten a slight redesign, but it’s still the same Coal Hill School that’s brushed paths with the TARDIS so many times since 1963, and that makes it a magnet for timey-wimey trouble. Having a couple of aliens in its ranks doesn’t hurt, either. Every week, Nivea Serrao and Kelly Connolly will be issuing report-card recaps to break down the latest happenings at the Academy. This week, a tattoo wreaks havoc. And we’re late for Ram’s practice.
Soccer star Ram — whose sport we’ll call football from here on out, because if you can take on a dragon, you can handle the differences between U.K. and American English — takes center stage (field!) in this episode. It’s been a week since the prom, and Ram’s leg still isn’t cooperating. His coach, like everyone, figures this has something to do with the fact that Ram watched his girlfriend die horribly right in front of his face, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to cut him any slack. There’s no crying in football.
Coach Dawson (played by Ben Peel, The Fall’s James Olson, so… do not trust) is hiding a secret. The dragon tattoo that takes up much of his back and bicep seems to have a mind of its own, and we see what it’s capable of when the assistant coach is torn limb from limb in the locker room. Ram sees the gory results, and he’s hiding in a stall having flashbacks while Dawson cleans up the mess. By the time Ram reemerges, the whole place looks good as new, and the boy wonders if he’s losing it.
The next day, Ram poses that question to a cleaning lady having a smoke outside — and gets his answer when a dragon stares them both right in the face. It snatches the cleaning lady and skins her alive. Ram’s been ignoring the other members of the Doctor’s self-appointed Coal Hill defense squad lately, but he can’t ignore this, and he finally tells Tanya everything over video chat.
Tanya, of course, tells Charlie and April, and the three of them go to the headmaster, Mr. Armitage, to verify Ram’s story. Armitage confirms that a cleaning lady didn’t show up for work, but before the trio can decide how much more they’re ready to say, a dragon comes through a rift in the office and crushes their teacher to death. This school officially has a dragon problem.
It takes Ram a while to put the pieces together, but when Charlie sketches the dragon — send this alien boy to art school — Ram recognizes Dawson’s ink. He, Charlie, Tanya, and April meet up at Coal Hill to confront the coach. Plans from there TBD.
So where’s Quill in all of this? The teacher has been shirking her duties as protector mainly because she has no interest in those duties, but also because she’s distracted by the school inspector. The guy sits in the back of her classroom every day, unblinking and silent, taking frantic notes, and Quill is convinced he’s up to no good — even more than the average inspector. His pants are out of date by 40 years, his glasses are fake, and he doesn’t have any writing calluses on his hand. Plus his name is Paul Smith, an alias if she’s ever heard one. (The Doctor would agree; it’s not too far off from his.) Is Quill paranoid, or is she Sherlock?
She’s Sherlock. Late at night, while her students are gathering outside the school to find Dawson, Quill runs into the inspector in the hall. What does he want? “YOU,” he writes in his notebook. Quill shrugs and slams him up against the lockers to make out. Probably not the kind of “want” he was referring to.
The unlikely pair is interrupted by — what else? — a dragon, which nabs the inspector. But it can’t exactly skin him; he’s a robot. Quill takes off and, probably with the help of her link to Charlie, finds the students outside by the dumpsters, where they’re halfway through a poorly thought out chat with Dawson.
The kids, logically, assume the coach’s tattoo is to blame for all of these deaths, but it’s been on his arm while the dragon has been off hunting Quill. The real, live, doing-all-the-killing dragon turns out to be the mate of the one on Dawson’s skin, which crashed into him after tumbling through the rift and became trapped on his body. Dawson liked the power, so he let her stay, even if it meant letting her mate kill people so the tattoo dragon could feed.
Ram steps up and speaks directly to the dragon, reminding him there’s more than one way for ink to live on skin. (Hasn’t he heard of leather?) Just because this is the new reality for the two dragon mates, that doesn’t mean they have to face it on Dawson’s terms. Ram ends his speech by inviting the dragon to kill him, but the dragon grabs Dawson and drags him through the rift — To kill? To keep as a human pet? To use as furniture? — instead.
Back home, Ram finally tells his dad what’s been going on with him, dragons and all, and with his father’s support, he gets back to trying to make his new leg work for him. Meanwhile, Quill studies what’s left of the inspector. He’s branded, “Property of the Governors.” That doesn’t sound good.
KELLY: Two hours in, and we’re already raising the average body count. And the gore. And the “not unhandsome buttocks.” In keeping with this show’s slightly edgier take on Doctor Who’s themes, this episode ended with a mixed kind of resolution, and I’d like to start with April’s question: Is this who they are now? They kill people?
What did you think of the way Coach Dawson met his (probable) end? Was it satisfying, or was it too cold? Are these acceptable sacrifices to make when the stakes are this high? To be clear, I don’t have answers for those questions, and I don’t think the show is proposing easy answers, either. But I like that it’s encouraging us to ask.
NIVEA: I think it’s definitely a valid question, and it circles back to what Tanya brought up earlier in the episode. They are a bunch of teens without a lot of resources. They don’t even have (illegal) access to UNIT yet! In a way, this makes me a little more forgiving of their decision to sacrifice Dawson. (Though I’m not going to lie, I was hoping to see him and Quill interact a little just to see what pithy burns they might deliver against each other.) But while what happens is a much darker resolution than something we’d see on Doctor Who, the Doctor is a Time Lord with access to the TARDIS and a sonic screwdriver. Even Buffy had those super Slayer powers — not to mention Giles was a more forthcoming font of information. Quill isn’t really serving that role yet…
The other part of this “sacrifice” has to do with Ram, who has just been dealt the roughest hand in the deck. (Honestly, does the kid have any bloodstain-free clothing at this point?) I thought it was an interesting choice to have him reason with the dragon (an actual Doctor Who move) as a way to cope with his grief and pain. That’s something I’m appreciating about Class. It’s willing to delve into the trauma of what’s happening to its teens. Though I’m definitely hoping it takes a bit of a step back next week because I’d like to see Ram have a chance to get his bearings before having yet another person’s blood splattered on his face.
KELLY: I want all of these kids to get the therapy they need, but Ram most of all. I loved that he talked it out with the dragon; that was the Doctor through and through. The Doctor told Quill last week that knowledge could be her weapon, and in this franchise, knowledge tends to go along with conversation — not even necessarily monologuing, which the Doctor does a lot of, but just talking. Opening a dialogue and maybe learning in return. Even when Ram was giving a speech, it was full of questions. He didn’t seem to have all of the answers, either.
Which brings us to the big motif of this episode: grief. It was Ram’s grief (for Rachel, for his leg) that drove the connections he made with both the dragon and Tanya, and conversation played a big part in that, too. Sure, there was an active component — what are you going to do to make your new normal work for you? — but a lot of what it came down to for Ram and Tanya was that when you lose someone, everyone wants you to talk about it. And I liked that this episode held the tension between the fact that it helps to talk about it and the fact that you don’t have to talk about it right away. I thought the framing of the way we inch our way into those conversations was very real.
NIVEA: Oh, definitely. And I think we’re seeing this new normal with each of the characters, which is effectively displayed in that scene on the staircase. Charlie and Ms. Quill’s entire planet was destroyed; April shares a heart with an alien king; Tanya’s father died a couple of years ago — even Matteusz recently came out to his parents. Unfortunately for Ram, he’s just the latest one to deal with this kind of life-changing event. As for all the questions, I appreciate the show not attempting to answer all — or even most — of them. Life is full of quandaries like that, and it’s refreshing to see a show acknowledge that while not offering solutions. After all, we don’t usually either. It’s up to us to figure it out. Just like our main characters.
That’s what made Quill’s story line so much fun. It was lighter and funnier while still setting up a mystery for the show to delve into. As much as Governors pique my interest, I thought it was hilarious that Quill was kind of on her own with this one in terms of her suspicions and dealing with the robot — and her attraction to it. It underscored that for once, it’s the younger characters who are dealing with something so much bigger and more urgent that they can’t really be worried about what’s going on with their teacher. I am a little bummed that we lost the headmaster, especially as we saw that Quill considered him a friend. And he genuinely wanted to help the students. For that, he will be missed. Though Coal Hill is now down three staff members as a result of this week’s outing.
KELLY: At this rate, wayward alien teachers are the only ones they’ll be able to hire.
Top of the Class
Taking home top honors this episode is none other Tanya. Not only was the plucky teen proactive about investigating a lot of the mysterious dragon occurrences — even hacking UNIT for answers — but she also proved to be an invaluable friend to Ram, knowing not to push him to discuss the pain he must be feeling. Vivian Oparah is great at balancing the character’s quieter moments while still channeling some serious teenage attitude. Not going to lie: I am a little sad Dawson’s gone because I would have liked to see Tanya verbally spar with him some more.
Sure, Ram’s dad was the only parent featured in the episode, but boy did Mr. Singh make his presence count. As with the premiere, he was a fixture at Ram’s football practices. And while he noticed his son’s very obvious drop in form, he knew not to push him and tried to give him space to grieve his missing girlfriend. But he really took it up a notch in the parenting department when Ram eventually did tell him the truth (aliens, time-and-space rifts, and all) by fully supporting (if not completely believing) his son’s story, as well as reminding him that he wasn’t always this good at football. So he can always practice his way back. Give this man “Father of the Year”!
“In my country, I was an accountant. I’ve already lost it.”
“Pooped out through the bunghole of Time.”
“I’m 14. I’m not an actual therapist.”
“Is a coach really a teacher?”
“If I never see you again, my life will improve 30 to 35 percent.”
“At first I thought he was an evil designer of casual coats and gifts. But I guess that’s someone else.”
“I haven’t seen every alien. The universe is unimaginably big.”
“I am afraid. I just realized that. But I’m gonna kick your ass anyway”
“My mum would punish God if he snuck out.”
“So no one cares I kissed a robot?”
Class (BBC America)