Doctor Who: Class and Other Weird Spin-Offs. - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Class and Other Weird Spin-Offs.

Moo gets an education in Doctor Who spin offs.

Much of the (admittedly minimal) discussion surrounding Doctor Who’s most recent TV spin off Class is focussed on the biggest question many were asking upon its initial release in 2016: Who asked for this?

Speaking as one of its fans who will defend it as a good show struck down before it got to prove itself, I must admit this question is not unwarranted. I’m not going to say the biggest alternative proposal from the fandom of “bring back Torchwood instead” was a fair thing to be saying – that’s up to series six now thanks to a Big Finish revival – but I’m still mystified about who thought making Class was a good idea.

Coal Hill School is a setting that was only really used in three Doctor Who stories, if we exclude the odd cameo, and the main characters featured in Class are all people we don’t have any connection to. It’s a really strange choice, but far from the only one. In fact, when compared to some recent offerings (mostly from Big Finish) it seems relatively trivial.


Take for example Big Finish’s The Churchill Years. I still have no idea why this exists to be honest, but they got two box sets out of it. The basic setup is using Doctors nine through eleven in stories alongside two-time UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill at a number of moments during his life. We have him as a youth in Young Winston, we have him retired in The Chartwell Metamorphosis, and we have him on the eve of losing power the first time in Churchill Victorious. All the others are various war stories with added aliens. I Was Churchill’s Double, featuring the Ninth Doctor, spins the usual “what if the Nazis won WWII” cliche by asking what if the Kaiser had won WWI instead, and is probably the highlight.

But that’s not the most obscure spin off though. Churchill's a well known figure, and he’s played by Ian McNeice who portrayed him in four Matt Smith episodes. What about something more complicated with deeper lore required to access? Something like The Robots. This is set during the Eighth Doctor’s Ravenous series, so we’re already pretty deep by the time we get to it.


This series is set during a gap between two stories in that run, when the Doctor leaves companion Liv Chenka behind on Kaldor (from Tom Baker serial The Robots of Death) and returns to collect her a year later. The Robots explores her life there and delves into her backstory some more, but again there’s less of a deep knowledge required to access. Big Finish fandom has followed the Eighth Doctor and his companions for years and it’s all built on a popular Tom Baker story. While the “why does this exist?” question remains, it’s not as valid here as in something more random and out there. 


Something like Tales From New Earth. This 2018 set tells the story of one of the New Humans (from the New Earth / Gridlock story arc) and an adventure he has with the Tenth Doctor, with actor Keiron Hodgson doing double-duty in both roles. I personally really enjoyed this set, but a lingering question I had was “who asked for this?” Luckily there’s a point where the Doctor is accompanied by a polar bear with a jetpack, at which stage the question is rendered null and void, but still.

I could keep going – I haven’t even mentioned such series as Graceless or Vienna, both of which require below-par trilogies of relatively obscure monthly range stories as entry level requirements. Even more obscure would be The Lucy Wilson Mysteries series of children’s novels from Candy Jar Books, based on a pair of supporting characters from their ongoing stories about the Brigadier (but who look suspiciously similar to Bill and Nardole if you ask me). Don’t even start trying to explain what Faction Paradox is. Did you know that The Ghost from Doctor Mysterio has a whole comic strip series?


So what’s the key thing that makes Class stand out from the crowd of obscure and inexplicable Doctor Who spin-offs? The difference is probably that all these others mentioned are from the expanded universe rather than stuff that happened on screen. All of these others are niche, but tie-in novels, comics, and audios can afford to do this. If you’re invested enough to engage in expanded media then you’re not gonna have an issue with any of this – even if it’s not for you, there’s a significant group of fans who will check it out and enjoy it, and something more your speed is usually just around the corner.

Class isn’t in that category. It’s a TV show, so it needed to be successful for the BBC to justify making more of it. What’s telling about the Big Finish box sets of Class is that they've required recasting for half the characters and haven’t done a continuation. There are at least three major plot points at the end of the TV season that set up a second run that never came. As someone who loved it, I’m still waiting for the resolution. I have had to make peace with the fact that I will probably never get it.


I think perhaps the reason why Class failed is that nobody was asking for it and so nobody bothered to watch it. Had it been made for the expanded media then it would probably have done okay, but putting this on-screen it simply didn’t have an audience. The title implies it’s child-orientated, reinforced by the Doctor’s presence in the first episode, but the realisation that it’s intended for a teenage audience while dealing with very adult themes quickly dispelled that illusion. So we end up with a weird show that simply didn’t have an audience.

And such will remain the legacy of Class. Though demonstrably far from the weirdest or most niche Doctor Who spin-off, it is by far the strangest offering in that world to go out on TV. As a result it will always be the whipping boy of the franchise, but as a fan of the show I’m still glad to have it. The reason for its existence remains a mystery, but I’m not going to complain.

The universe of Doctor Who is so big and has no limits. Perhaps asking why something in it exists is the wrong question. Stop asking “Why does this exist?”, let’s try asking “Why not?” instead. Who knows what exciting new projects can be born out of that philosophy in the future? I don’t know, but I’m excited to think about what possibilities Class could one day lead to.

“Moo” is the pseudonym used by this Doctor Who fan. He can usually be found procrastinating by thinking about Doctor Who. Follow him on Twitter @z_p_moo for more of his unusual takes, but do so at your own risk.

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