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'Class': New 'Doctor Who' Spinoff Brings Gay Alien to the Small Screen

Actor Greg Austin talks to NBC Out about playing the lead character in BBC America's new "Doctor Who" spinoff, "Class."
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Greg Austin as Charlie on BBC America drama "Class."Simon Ridgeway / BBC

“When can you ever say you’ve played a gay alien prince? That’s a dream role for any actor I think, to be able to play a role that complex,” said Greg Austin, who plays Charlie in BBC America's new "Doctor Who" spinoff, "Class."

Greg Austin as Charlie on BBC America drama "Class."Simon Ridgeway / BBC

The new series, which premiered April 15, centers on a group of students who are faced with deadly challenges and a myriad of creatures from across the universe. The unlikely bunch is comprised of Austin’s Charlie, goodie-two-shoes April, jock Ram and nerd Tanya. When the series begins, they're just a collection of kids who only see each other in the school's hallways, but they eventually realize they have to work together to literally make it out of high school alive.

“Having all of us be our own stereotypes, but then come together and break down those stereotypes is a core theme for us," Austin told NBC Out. "Developing on those stereotypes, seeing where they come from and whether they are true or not is very interesting. It's what makes the characters so good."

Tanya Adeola (Vivian Oparah), April MacLean (Sophie Hopkins), Charlie Smith (Greg Austin) and Ram Singh (Fady Elsayed) in BBC America's "Class."Ray Burmiston / BBC

For his character, Charlie, that means learning how to function on Earth among humans. When “Class” begins, Charlie finds himself on Earth after fleeing a vicious attack on his planet.

“He has no idea what is acceptable socially or culturally, so my thought going into it was that I had to look at every single aspect as being normal and see what makes it normal and why I see it as normal,” Austin explained.

While his new friends are a big part of his education in humanity, Charlie also has his male love interest, Matteusz, to help him along the way. According to Austin, viewers will see their romance unfold over the course of the season, and, he said, “a lot of the series hinges around their relationship.”

Their inter-species relationship may be the more notable aspect of their love story but underneath is a powerful LGBTQ-positive message. Charlie is part of the Rhodian species, which completely accepts Charlie's sexuality.

Charlie Smith (Greg Austin) and Matteusz Andrzejewski (Jordan Renzo) on "Class."Simon Ridgway / BBC

“Even though he would have been expected as a prince to continue the family bloodline, that does not necessarily conflict for a Rhodian. That doesn’t mean he still can’t be gay. That’s just how it is,” Austin explained.

“Charlie happens to love a human male. That does not bother Charlie slightly, whereas it does seem to a big deal for the humans, which has been slightly weird for him, so we wanted to sure that was really clear,” he added.

The most complex relationship in the series, however, may be the platonic one between Charlie and fellow alien Andrea Quill. Andrea was a freedom fighter who was punished for her crimes against Charlie’s people, and now he controls her on Earth.

Katherine Kelly as Andrea Quill on "Class."Simon Ridgeway / BBC

Through the use of alien technology, considered a force of punishment on Charlie’s planet, Andrea is forced to do as Charlie says. He looks at her as his prisoner, but she interprets his punishment as slavery. They’re both right in their own ways,” Austin explained. While their relationship is combative and tense at best, the two still bond over having a shared homeland.

When it comes to Andrea and Charlie, there is no designated hero and villain.

“That was a relationship we had to handle very delicately ... because I think that’s one of the most morally grey dynamics you can have,” Austin said. “To play that without making either character come off as unlikeable or as too bigoted was really challenging, because they both need to be likable in their own respect.”

All of the complexities and science fiction make Charlie a very appealing character for Austin. “As soon as I saw the role, I thought that Charlie was a real interesting and meaty role to try and portray,” he explained, “Also, the fact that in a lot of ways he’s very similar to me.” Among the similarities is Charlie being socially awkward, according to Austin.

In the end, the most exciting part of the new series for the young actor is joining the world of “Doctor Who.” The longtime series has built an immense fanbase over the years, and “Class” is an experiment in adding something new to the beloved franchise.

“I can’t quite put into words how wonderful its been to be given the opportunity to come into this hugely established universe with such a huge fanbase. There’s such a legacy and history behind it,” he concluded.

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