CLASS: A Failed Spin-Off

Oh boy, 2016 was certainly a low year for Doctor Who fans because there wasn’t any content all year, to which we had to wait until Christmas Day to receive a new episode (and “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” wasn’t exactly the best narrative within the show’s 53 year-long history), followed by Series 10 the following Spring which left me (once again) confused and extremely dissatisfied. Not to mention the only thing filling in the void of absence was a shitty teen drama that acted as the latest spin-off.

Class, initially, sounded alright. I’m not saying that the idea of following teenagers around within the corridors of Coal Hill School sprung to mind when I considered the very next Doctor Who spin-off but at least it showed some essence of promise. But then the more that I heard the more it just sounded dumb and uninspiring, not to mention underserving of being associated with Doctor Who.

The idea of having a realistic teen drama, focused entirely on a teenage demographic, exploring teen problems such as sex, peer-pressure, and general growing-up, seemed completely alien to Doctor Who. Why would a Doctor Who fan want this as the core-theming of a show? But nevertheless we were getting just that and already I felt dread as to what I was going to expect. Of course the spin-off started to win me over by announcing that Peter Capaldi would be making an appearance as The Twelfth Doctor, thus giving the spin-off some real connection to the main-show and allowing us fans some Capaldi screen-time during Doctor Who‘s cruel 2016 hiatus.

This opened up so many possibilities, allowing the spin-off to feel more like The Sarah Jane Adventures rather than a tacky Waterloo Road wannabe with science-fiction elements thrown in for the sake of making it stand-out. Plus it could expand upon The Doctor’s consequences of travelling to Earth and attracting the presence of hostile aliens, to which these teenage characters have now got to deal with (amongst their other teenage problems), adding in some real dilemmas and story/character developments.

In fact, I was really looking forward to Capaldi popping up now-and-again to check-up on the teenagers and see how they’re doing, perhaps acting as a mentor to them, as well as adding in some genuine scenes of importance as the teenage characters begin to question his authority, constant absence, and lack of understanding his own consequences which has led to them facing mortal danger head-on whilst he’s away on his travels meddling elsewhere.

But sadly Capaldi would only feature in the opening story and it felt really forced (as well as feeling tonally awkward [The Twelfth Doctor stood next to a teenager covered head-to-toe in blood]), whilst at the same time being the best part because (as a Doctor Who fan) I really wanted to indulge on what little Doctor Who content we could get whilst we had no real content throughout 2016.

And this is where the problems really began to show their true colours as it became extremely clear that Class had nothing special to offer me, let alone any really well-developed, or better still, engaging characters.

The spin-off was stale, tonally all over the place, and simply lacked any real identity. And this made it suffer greatly. Class just didn’t know what to do with itself, and it wasn’t helped by giving one writer complete control as that made the show lack any form of diversity, with us being stuck with the same tiresome style throughout. And that’s another problem Class faced, it’s lack of structure and outstanding offerings.

It felt very generic with what it had to offer, with the characters feeling very stereotypical, and put into place for the sake of political correctness (although I will say that Charlie and Matteusz’s relationship was one of the spin-off’s few highlights [so I’m glad this daring element worked out as well as it did]). This is something that makes Class feel flat against past spin-offs, i.e. K9 and Company, Torchwood, and The Sarah Jane Adventures, because it hasn’t got an overwhelming hook to attract an audience. This is mostly because past spin-offs had an important element to offer to lure in Doctor Who fans, i.e. a recognisable character.

Class doesn’t have this. It’s only real connection to Doctor Who is Coal Hill School which isn’t exactly exciting as it’s just a location. Nobody wants to tune into a spin-off based on its location but rather its characters or events. It would’ve been better had the characters in question been already existing background characters from Doctor Who. After-all, Coal Hill School was featured heavily throughout Series 8, which could’ve easily been the seed to this very spin-off. Heck, even the Headmaster,¬†Francis Armitage, was plucked out of Series 8 (before randomly being killed off in Class in the most gruesome manner possible [adding to my distaste in the spin-off]).

But no, no such preparation was put into place and instead we are introduced to random new characters and none of them stand-out either because they’re bland, stereotypical, completely despicable, or simply lack any originality. I mean for Christ-sake Charlie’s surname is “Smith”, copying Luke Smith (the adopted son of Sarah Jane Smith from her own spin-off). And Charlie’s story-arc revolves around a war between his species and another (to which he is the sole-survivor) and is burdened with the possibility of genocide (ring any bells?)

The tone of this show is another appalling factor which really puts itself at odds with Doctor Who due to its darker content, which feels incredibly forced to make it seem edgy. I mean, I hated Torchwood for being a watershed programme which created a darker world within the universe of Doctor Who but it never felt entirely forced and fitted within its own context and rules. Class, on the other-hand, doesn’t know what it wants to do with itself and just simply does things for the sake of it, lacking any real voice or trajectory.

And as for the whole representation of teenagers, The Sarah Jane Adventures did this so much better and they didn’t have to get really gritty, overly sexualised, or add swearing, and violence, for the sake of it. They told genuine heartfelt tales about growing-up around having adventures fighting against alien invasion, proving to be the superior show. Class just couldn’t find that fine balance between teen-drama and science-fiction, with both genres acting against each other rather than coming together to tell a really good story.

Like I said earlier, a lot of the characters were terrible, making me a lot of the time not give a flying toss about them because I hated them or just found their story-arcs incredibly tedious, and often cringe-worthy, particularly when we came to the mid-point of the whole April sharing her heart with Corakinus, the King of the Shadow Kin. There was only a few stand-out moments, some of which were actually genuine and showed real promise of a greater spin-off trying to claw its way from all the shite that was clearly smothering it.

Another major problem was its fight between being reliant on Doctor Who, whilst trying to stand on its own two-feet. In all the publicity (or lack there of) it heavily connected itself with Doctor Who, showing us The Doctor, along with the caption “From the Universe of Doctor Who“, giving fans (such as myself) false anticipation. But then when Class got going it quickly tried to heavily pull itself away from Doctor Who and be its own thing, to which it no longer felt like a Doctor Who spin-off. Heck, I may have took it a little bit more seriously if I no longer had to compare it with the already established canon and mythology.

Having said that, it still wouldn’t have made me like it because the show was just written very poorly, and I guess I’m not the target audience (therefore I may not fully appreciate its intentions) but it certainly doesn’t fill me with much confidence when I can find more enjoyment, and understanding, in a spin-off targeted for CBBC than one targeted for an audience just below my own age range. In other words Class royally fucked-up!

It’s original content wasn’t particularly engaging and left the spin-off feeling really flat because it didn’t offer anything exciting and this was what ultimately killed it dead. There wasn’t much indication that Class could offer anything worthwhile and it probably made BBC executives wonder why they should infest money into another series. Heck, even the show’s creator and lead-writer, Patrick Ness, left the project after only one series (which doesn’t exactly deliver much confidence in the overall product).

And ultimately Class was inevitably cancelled, which didn’t leave me very surprised, and only left me wondering more as to why it was even conceived in the first place. It never really delivered much voice, or confidence, to which I’m not even sure whether the BBC were ever particularly fond of the idea, shoving it on BBC Three (which is now an online service) before granting it the grave-yard shift on BBC One some time later. With its lack-luster deliverance, and lack of care from the superiors, I think Class was always doomed to fail, and I can’t even say it’s a shame because it just wasn’t very good, thus deserved its fate.

This shows greatly in how it held no impact on Doctor Who. It’s never referenced in Series 10 and feels completely devoid from the show in general. Sure, you could say it still has relevance through Capaldi’s cameo but that’s all Class had, and without any real association from Doctor Who itself, and the spin-off itself now being cancelled, it’s not that hard to just sweep Class under the rug and forget it ever existed, and the simple truth is it wouldn’t make a difference.

Class left no impact, no addition to the greater Doctor Who universe, and generally felt devoid of any real ideas. Despite K9 and Company being in the same boat as Class, i.e. cancelled fairly early on in its development, it still holds relevance to Doctor Who, with the spin-off being referenced in “The Five Doctors” (Doctor Who‘s twentieth anniversary special) and later on in the revived series episode “School Reunion”. It says a lot when a full series of eight episodes can’t match-up to the legacy of a single “pilot” episode.

The biggest tragedy with Class‘s cancellation was we’ll never get to see what Ness had in store for us with the mysterious “Arrival”, which by-and-large was simply down to the fact that it involved The Weeping Angels, once again demonstrating that it’s original content couldn’t grasp any firm hold on me and it’s only form of interest was solely based on elements plunked out of Doctor Who itself. Again, it doesn’t really deliver any sense of confidence, adding to the reasons why Class failed miserably.

Heck, to add more insult to injury you only have to look over at Big Finish Productions and see the neat New Who spin-offs they’ve produced in order to realise how Class‘s presence is completely inferior (and redundant) and how Steven Moffat and the team could’ve conceived a better idea if they had just tried harder (but I guess with the current quality of Doctor Who expecting a decent spin-off is like pissing into the wind).

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