Been meaning to write this post since the news was announced a couple of weeks ago but haven’t got round to it until now as I’ve been busy and am also commuting to work now which adds extra hours onto my day.
The Doctor Who team have announced a new spin-off series called Class. My brother first brought my attention to it the day before the news was released. The Doctor Who twitter account was hinting at massive surprise and huge announcement. I didn’t even think of a spin-off series – I thought they may be announcing the new companions as it was not long after Jenna Coleman confirmed her departure would take place this series so she can take the lead role of an ITV drama about Queen Victoria’s life.
I did think it may be a bit premature to announce the companions as I would like more of an in-episode introduction rather than hear it from the the BBC’s publicity machine. I was disappointed by the earlier announcement that River Song would return for the Christmas episode – it is making me hesitant about the Christmas episode as I feel her character has been overused and doesn’t have anything more to offer really. I wouldn’t have minded a surprise cameo in the episode but her announcement dampens my excitement. Speaking of the BBC’s publicity, I wouldn’t be surprised if Maisie Williams’ character becomes a recurring character or companion the way that the Doctor Who team and BBC press department are gushing over her.
So the big news was that a spin off series called Class (not a very imaginative or gripping title I feel) will run for 8 episodes for its first series at least. The series will be for young adults, made for BBC Three and be set in Coal Hill. It will be filmed in Spring next year and broadcast sometime next year. I’m guessing in conjunction with the Doctor Who autumn schedule/start of the school year. This is a big step for Doctor Who under Moffat’s role as showrunner but it also raises a few issues for me.
Audience & Expectation
With regards to New Who, there have been two spin-off series during Russell T Davies’ tenure: Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. Both these series had clear target audiences due to their content and the channels they were broadcast on. Torchwood began on BBC Three but moved pretty quickly to BBC Two and BBC One. The series had links to Doctor Who through it’s name which was a common recurring theme during David Tennant’s first series and via the recurring character Captain Jack Harkness. The series still battled aliens and monsters but had a more adult tone and raunchy content. On the flip side, The Sarah Jane Adventures ran for five series on the CBBC channel as a show aimed mostly at children – I say mostly as I think a small percentage of the audience would also have been parents who remember Sarah Jane in Classic Who. Sarah Jane was featured in an episode of New Who so she was familiar to the family audience. Her spin-off was very much aimed at children with slightly comic aliens (the Slitheen returned!), K9 and her trio of child companions.
The BBC have stated that Class will be targeted at young adults and broadcast on BBC Three. I feel that the tone may be a bit unstable as they need to try and balance content for an audience slightly older than children whilst still set in a school. I think some of BBC Three’s general audience (16-30ish) may be alienated by the series as they wouldn’t be able to relate to the series due to their age and view it as a bit childish. The decision to broadcast it on BBC Three is not only risky because of the audience situation but also the instability of the channel as its content may end up online and not exist on television anymore. This could be quite good as it meets the new ways of viewing television like catch-up services and Netflix but it could also have just been planned as a web-series anyway and come into production a lot earlier than now.
The only link it has to the series is that it will be set in Coal Hill yet there is no discernible character to relate it to the main series. Mr Pink has died and Clara, who it has been confirmed will definitely not be starring in it, seems to be spending as much of series 9 (the current series) away from the school. It will also have to distinguish itself as a school based drama for its young adult audience as The Sarah Jane Adventures featured a comprehensive school with alien invasions etc too.
Filming & Location
This probably only bugs me due to the work I did on media in Wales for my degree. It was confirmed in the press release that “the series will film in and around Wales” and that it is a BBC Cymru Wales production in association with BBC Worldwide and BBC Three. This is as expected as since 2005 New Who has been filmed mostly in Wales and produced by BBC Wales as part of the BBC’s plan to increase its regional production and make it seem less London/South East-centric.
Coal Hill is a school set in contemporary London and therefore will need to represent landmarks of London as this quote from the press release suggests, ” Incredible dangers are breaking through the walls of time and space, and with darkness coming, London is unprotected.” I understand Coal Hill’s importance to Doctor Who as a link to the original series and that it is definitely set in London – you cannot dispute that. However, I am annoyed that whilst the majority of production takes place in Wales, this spin-off and indeed most episodes of New Who, are set in London. It means that the representation of anywhere else in the UK, especially Wales and Scotland, remains minimal and this can affect audiences identification within the media. I definitely appreciate Coal Hill’s significance to the series and it wouldn’t be right to suddenly uproot the series to another city – it would make less sense. I guess I am just annoyed generally about the BBC’s lack of regional representation across its programming.