Spin Doctor: Should There Be More Doctor Who Spin Off Shows?
Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures proved popular and Big Finish have a plethora of box sets and adjacent series. However, after Class failed to spark wide spread excitement and love among fans, the question has to be asked if we will ever see another Doctor Who spin off show again?
This will be a question for BBC executives, obviously, so we can only talk in generalities here about what we feel makes a good spin off.
What Torchwood and Sarah Jane had in common was a pre-established audience hook. Both were based on people and ideas already given space within the show and now allowed to expand and become their own thing. While Class tried to be something much more stand alone (despite a cameo from the Doctor).
K-9 and Company, alas, probably doesn’t count as it only lasted one episode. Despite its objectively brilliant theme music.
How Did Torchwood Do It?
Back in the day, we had already been introduced to the charming Captain Jack Harkness, and we had also seen Torchwood rear its head. We knew what it was, and we knew what we were getting. Pitched as a program for the older demographic of Doctor Who viewers, Torchwood was at liberty to delve into more adult themes and language as well as tackling more complex ideas.
Throughout most of the run, references to events from the main show – Doctor Who – would pop up. It gave the viewers a sense of when things were happening, but also gave those events wider significance. These weren’t just isolated disasters or encounters, but had long lasting echoes and effects. The Doctor’s adventure didn’t stop when the credits rolled by, other people often had to pick up the pieces.
Torchwood also occasionally dipped into how society would change in a world where people knew that aliens were real and sometimes hostile. People’s attitudes were examined now and again, it took less time to convince by standers that something was of alien origins, and so forth.
While the stories could be somewhat hit and miss at times, the public reaction was fairly strong. What’s more, it helped build up the united universe feel of the Doctor Who franchise. Indeed, this was somewhat before the idea of ‘cinematic universes’ had really caught on as it has in the comic book world.
Sarah Jane’s Legacy
Similarly, The Sarah Jane Adventures did very much the same sort of thing but for the younger demographic. While on the surface a fun series of romps, it contained a much more direct version of the Russell T Davies ethos. Tackling the dangers of adventure, but also the wonder, and asking children to contemplate whether it is all worth the risks.
It was, again, well received. Doctor Who was at the height of its popularity and Sarah Jane’s appearance in series two alongside David Tennant allowed many to connect with the show immediately. While it remained very much its own thing, it still kept a lot of references and nods to the main series as Torchwood did.
The characters were remarkably well defined for a children’s show and it took pains not to patronise its audience. The show came to an untimely end with the sad passing of Elisabeth Sladen, which was a shame as we may never know the ultimate fate of these characters we fell in love with.
Where Class Stumbled
I did enjoy many parts of Class, and appreciated what Patrick Ness was trying to do with it. Where it stumbled and failed to garner wider attention or appeal (beyond a somewhat lacklustre marketing campaign) is a difficult question to really parse.
The acting is generally good, the characters have a lot for us to invest in, there are some good story twists and ideas. But something failed to bring it all together. The plot was unfocused at times, and the direction downright bizarre at others. I gave a fuller account of my feelings on it here.
So, why did people not connect with Class as they did with Torchwood and Sarah Jane?
I think ‘connection’ is the right word here. There was so little to connect it to the main series. Other than a brief cameo from the Twelfth Doctor in the first episode, the series felt very disconnected from the main show. It didn’t feel like a spin off, but more like a whole different show that the Doctor stumbled into and then flew away.
None of the characters or concepts were from the show itself. Even Coal Hill School isn’t THE Coal Hill School; it’s a different one. Had it been set in Clara’s school with some of her students, perhaps there would have been a tad more of a connection.
As it was, it felt like too much of an other show to really feel part of the Doctor Who universe. Which made the ending (spoiler) all the more jarring. It didn’t feel like a world in which these particular monsters would really be. In many ways, Class simply didn’t feel like a spin off, because it wasn’t drawing on or informing the source material in any meaningful way.
Will Chris Chibnall bring a new spin off series with his version of Doctor Who? It’s hard to say at this point – obviously. It will probably be at least a couple of years before such a question will even be broached at the BBC.
If he has plans for a spin off, my hope will be that it will come naturally from elements within the show. A character, concept, or scenario we see there but given more time and space to mature and explore.
Will there be demand for more Doctor Who shows? Let’s hope so!