With BBC Three canceling Doctor Who’s teen-friendly spinoff – Screen Critics Raphael takes a look at why the show was doomed to failure.
On 7th September 2017, the BBC officially confirmed the cancellation of Doctor Who spin-off Class. Finally putting the nail in the coffin into a property that many assumed was dead for a long time. Speculation over the show’s cancellation had been bubbling after its dismal performance on both iPlayer and BBC 1. Failing to break the iPlayer Top 20 in its first seven weeks and embarrassingly didn’t break a million viewers at all on television. If that wasn’t bad enough, the show’s survival took an even bleaker turn when series creator, Patrick Ness, announced he wouldn’t return even if a series 2 was green lit. It’s fair to say that Class was a massive failure for the BBC, a spin-off to one of their biggest and iconic franchises fell into obscurity and was axed after a single series.
When looking at this situation with fresh eyes it seems almost astounding, what happened here? Why did Class fail?
The BBC’s scheduling choices were utterly baffling, even series creator Patrick Ness said as such. Originally Class aired exclusively on iPlayer – ridiculously siphoning off a large chunk of potential audience by limiting the show’s debut to citizens of the UK only. Considering that parent show Doctor Who is a global property and has now found a firm and growing audience in the United States – it almost beggars belief this was done. The explanation behind this confusing story is that the BBC wanted to promote their new digital-only BBC Three service. A short-sighted decision that was arguably punching above their weight. In my opinion, BBC Three on iPlayer is not a viable service to launch a new property on despite the modern shift to online streaming services. This proved to be so with the lack of viral impact Class wielded in the UK.
Following on from this, Class eventually made its way to television via BBC 1. This could have potentially been the shows second chance to leave a lasting impression but to no avail. Another baffling scheduling choice was made by airing Class as double bills and burying it near 11 pm. It was a move that seemed to show dwindling confidence and an attempt to hide it. Did BBC high-up’s believe they had a sub-par property on their hands, so they attempted to kill it off with little fanfare? It’s completely speculative of me to suggest so and I’m not privy to internal studio politics but something did feel amiss. As a result, the aforementioned audience figures were catastrophically bad.
Where was it? Beyond the original announcements and the associated PR that went along with it, where was the marketing? Astonishingly, there was next to none. It’s sobering to remind ourselves that this is a spin-off to Doctor Who. That’s something special. It’s a huge deal and it should have been heavily promoted to reflect that. On a personal, anecdotal level I can vouch for the fact that Class was simply not known of in the mainstream. Even people I know that enjoy Doctor Who hadn’t heard of Class whatsoever. Without attempting to be hyperbolic, that is genuinely tragic.
Furthermore, this was a new venture for the BBC, attempting to break into the Young Adult (YA) television market. A market that’s currently enormous. It was dubbed the “British Buffy” by the creative team when Class was announced. They also name-dropped ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and ‘Once Upon A Time’ within the show itself – two YA Titans that command huge and dedicated fan bases. What did the BBC do to grab that audience’s attention? Practically nothing. Many theorize there was a mixture of complacency and ignorance at the BBC, that merely being associated with the Doctor Who brand name would garner automatic success. I’m sympathetic to that notion and now in hindsight, it might have been the case.
Who Asked For It?
Ultimately, who among the Doctor Who fan base asked for or wanted this? The fundamental premise and concept were a flawed one from the very beginning. The fact that Class, to put it bluntly, was not largely wanted by the Who community dramatically cut-short it’s potential viral impact as passions for the project were largely low. Secondly, can it really be dubbed a proper spin-off? What exactly was it spinning-off from the parent show? Class was made up of entirely new characters. It was very much a separate show that existed within the Doctor Who universe rather than an authentic spin-off. In my view, so many other spin-off ideas would have been both more popular and more interesting – Paternoster Gang, UNIT, River Song, hell, even an 8th Doctor spin-off to name a few.
What was the connecting feature? Coal Hill School. An element that even vast amounts of Doctor Who fans wouldn’t know about. The school The Doctor’s granddaughter attended to and where former companion Clara Oswald taught at. Simply put, it wasn’t a strong enough plot element to draw even Doctor Who fans in, they were very weak foundations. ‘Torchwood’ was born out of the popularity of Captain Jack and ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’ was born out of the popularity of Sarah Jane Smith. From the start, those shows had a passion and drive behind them in a way Class didn’t and couldn’t replicate.
In conclusion, I would suggest a combination of those problems lead to Class going down the path of cancellation. Any fans of Class should now look to Doctor Who or Big Finish audios to complete that story. It’s a shame that things turned out the way they did but with Doctor Who now at the cusp of seismic changes, I’d wager that it’s not too unlikely that we’ll see another spin-off on the horizon. Hopefully this time it’ll be better and stay on air longer than Class did.