As Class begins filming today for an autumn 2016 broadcast, we will be marking the occasion by doing our homework: to study all there is to know so far about the Doctor Who spin-off!
For nearly fifty-three years on television, The Doctor has occasionally materialised on British soil and warded off thousands of villains from the cosmos, and then disappeared just as quickly as he came. The Doctor cheekily began neglecting the paperwork of his adventures, leaving only evidence of his victories sporadically scattered across the planet. Then, gradually, spin-off shows from Russell T Davies aimed to chronicle the adventures The Doctor swerved around entirely. In 2006, when BBC Three was still a televised channel, we got Torchwood, a series aimed for an adult audience that exclusively explored more mature themes in the Who universe. 2007 gave us CBBC’s The Sarah Jane Adventures, and whilst featuring a teenage cast the show was mostly aimed toward children.
A whopping nine years later, 2016 will give us Class, a fresh Doctor Who spin-off written by Patrick Ness and Executive Produced by Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin. Aversely to Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, the show will not solely cater to adults or children, but land somewhere smack bang in the middle for teenagers. It would be safe to speculate that a thematic hybrid of these two established shows are what Class might identify itself as, exploring mature themes in a way that does not exclude younger viewers. “This is growing up in modern Britain – but with monsters,” Moffat himself teasingly stated at the time of the shows announcement. The teenage years are not a time for galactic explorations after all, but self-discovery, and it is certain Class will assimilate these ideas.
As mentioned above, Patrick Ness will be assuming both writing and showrunner responsibilities for the spin-off. Ness is a well-established contemporary of YA fiction, famed for writing critically acclaimed novels such as More Than This, A Monster Calls and The Chaos Walking Trilogy. “I want to show the world new stuff,” explained Ness in an interview with EW. “I want to have new things that maybe we haven’t seen before. That’s my goal. That’s what I am aiming for – to shock you with something new.” It is refreshing to hear a commitment to creativity over rigorous recycling of old ideas, and Class will benefit from new directions by occupying a space no other show currently holds. New characters, plots, and aliens are to be expected and with it, new and exciting opportunities for great storytelling. The show is clearly trying to transcend boundaries and creative restrictions, something which is very much in keeping with the spirit of Doctor Who.
The show will be set within a school that historically reaches right back to the beginning of the Doctor Who legacy: Coal Hill School. Featured in the first ever episode of Doctor Who in 1963’s An Unearthly Child and occasionally reintroduced in 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks, 2013’s The Day of the Doctor, and throughout 2014’s Series 8, it is safe to say that this spinoff is planting itself firmly within the very roots of Doctor Who. Whilst there are no familiar faces confirmed to appear as of yet, the school has been used as a means of celebrating the anniversary milestones of Doctor Who in the past. Not only this, but six members of the school have taken trips in The Doctor’s TARDIS before: Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright, Susan Foreman, Courtney Woods, Danny Pink and Clara Oswald. The school has arguably generated some of the most iconic and memorable characters in Doctor Who lore, and is likely set to do so again when Class begins its run. Production duties will be shared between BBC Cymru Wales and BBC America, as the popularity of Doctor Who expands ever more across the pond. Filming will also take place predominantly in Cardiff, which as any Doctor Who fan would know is the powerhouse of the show since its 2005 revival. All the signs so far indicate a very strong arrival for Class, expanding on working relationships and building on what has come before.
So far, Class is without any confirmed, established lead within the Doctor Who universe – or is it? Whilst Torchwood and The Sarah Jane adventures were championed by fan favourites Captain Jack Harkness and Sarah Jane Smith, neither show could resist throwing The Doctor or his TARDIS into the mix on at least one occasion to add the icing to their respective cakes. “To be honest, I haven’t seen any of the scripts, but yes, obviously as a spin off it’d be nice if The Doctor did show up from time to time,” said the man with the keys to the TARDIS, Peter Capaldi, when probed in a December interview from Digital Spy.
But if The Doctor ever did show up, who might he be saving? Thanks to a recent casting announcement, it turns out we might not need The Doctor so urgently after all. “We searched far and wide for this amazing cast, fantastic actors who understand what we’re aiming for with this show,” said Ness alongside BBC Three’s casting announcement today. It is now confirmed that Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins, Vivian Oparah and Katherine Kelly will be walking the perilous corridors of Coal Hill School. Kelly herself is certainly proven in drama, having performed in acclaimed dramas: Happy Valley, The Night Manager and some of Coronation Street’s darkest storylines. Whilst the other young actors are relatively unknown to the Doctor Who fandom, they are likewise tasked with presenting high-stakes drama that will no doubt put them on course for huge stardom. “There’s nothing more exciting than meeting stars that nobody’s heard of yet”, said Moffat. “We had the read through for of the first few episodes last week, and there was a whole row of them.” If the man who put Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi in the TARDIS is praising the talent of Class himself, no doubt we should all have very high expectations for what these actors will do. After all, the emphasis of the show is on reality intersecting with the Whoniverse. The turbulences of student life, relationships and anxieties will no doubt be added to the mix, and our actors seem more than capable of portraying it.
Class will be a series of eight 45 minute episodes and will debut on BBC Three in its contemporary online format.
What would you like to see in Class? Should The Doctor appear, or would his appearance distract from the newer aspects of the show? Are you intrigued that Coal Hill School could be a playground for extra-terrestrial shenanigans?
Incredible dangers are breaking through the walls of time and space, and with darkness coming London is unprotected. With all the action, heart and adrenalin of the best YA fiction (Buffy, Hunger Games.), this is Coal Hill School and Doctor Who like you’ve never seen it before.