Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Doctor Who: Future Tension

Last week saw the announcement that a Doctor Who spin-off had been commissioned, a series called Class.  Set at Coal Hill School, it will likely feature various students and maybe teachers taking on alien and temporal threats. Think Sarah Jane Adventures crossed with Glee. But without Sarah Jane. And no singing. Forget that comparison. That comparison is rubbish. 

The series will be headed up by Patrick Ness, a writer with a strong following in the area of Young Adult (YA) fiction, as well as Doctor Who producers Stephen Moffat and Brian Menchin.  For more insight and speculation regarding this new Doctor Who spin off, click here for a link to the Radio Times and their take on it.  

My purpose today is to throw some cold water on this announcement. No, I'm not going to deride the concept of this spin-off since there is a lot we don't know about it. And I'm not going to knock the very idea of a spin off. Doctor Who only produces enough episode to fill out a quarter of the year. A chance to have another source for stuff going on in the Whoniverse is hard to discount. 

But my concern is that Class is not necessarily going to be extra Doctor Who content. At least not in the sense of having cake (new episodes of Doctor Who) and eating it as well (having a spin-off).  

By the third year of Doctor Who's revival, the success of the show was reflected in the attendant spin-offs of Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures. The Doctor Who enterprise was a full on factory producing new televised adventures set in the Whoniverse beyond the main series. But Sarah Jane came to a sad end with the untimely death of the beloved and still terribly missed Elisabeth Sladen. And Torchwood, after hitting a high point with the 3rd season's Children of Earth storyline, fell apart into irrelevance with the misguided American co-production of the 4th series.  

Since then, suggestions have been made for spin-off series. The most popular suggestion centers around the Paternoster Gang (Vastra, Jenny and Strax). Another Jenny, the Doctor's clone daughter from Series 4, is a frequently proposed character ready for a spin-off. Other ideas I would be happy to see developed outside of Doctor Who has a series, limited series or special:
  • Capt. Avery and his space pirates (Curse of the Black Spot
  • Prof. Bracewell and Winston Churchill (Victory of the Daleks
  • Liz 10 (The Beast Below)
  • Craig and Sophie (The Lodger, Closing Time)
  • Canton Everett Delaware III (The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon)
  • The Teselecta crew (Let's Kill Hitler)
  • Emperor Porridge (Nightmare in Silver)
Even Michelle Gomez has gotten into the act, angling for a Missy spin-off project. 

The prior spin-offs were of a popular demand sort of thing. I don't think anyone was asking for a Coal Hill series. Still, it might be pretty good. Besides, extra Doctor Who is a good thing, right? 

Except, as I noted earlier, I have a feeling Class is not going to be extra Doctor Who. I think it's going to be instead of Doctor Who.  

My thinking on this was sparked by a rumor I read a few weeks back about Doctor Who Series 10 being delayed. I never saw more about it. But I feel like I'm seeing some pieces come together with the announcement of the Class series. 

First of all, it has been confirmed that the BBC is committed to Doctor Who through the year 2020 (which sounds so science fiction-ish but it's only 5 years away). But there is nothing to say that Doctor Who has to be in continuous production for a full series year after year through that time. Over the 11 years since the show's rebirth, Doctor Who has made 9 series. The 5th year of the show was the time of the specials marking the end of the run for David Tennant and Russell T Davies. Then the 7th series was spread out over the 8th and 9th years of the show. So there is precedent for Doctor Who to not produce a full series for a year or so.  

Also consider this. With Series 9 airing now, Steven Moffat has been the Executive Producer and Head Writer for Doctor Who for six years. Moffat has said that he is closer to the end of his time in this role than at the beginning. But as of right now, there's no time table for that ending nor is there a named successor.  

But consider precedent: 
  • In May 2008, the BBC named Moffat as Davies' successor to take over the show as of 2010. If Series 10 were split over 2 years or postponed entirely until 2017, this would give Moffat's still undesignated successor a 2 year run up to taking over the show. 
  • Davies oversaw the launch of a new Doctor (Eccleston) and his immediate replacement (Tennant). Moffat had a clean break to launch a new Doctor (Smith) and his follow up (Capaldi). Moffat might think sticking around long enough for a 3rd Doctor under his tenure might be too long, especially if he follows Davies as a guide. 
  • And another Doctor will be coming, probably sooner than later. Again, using the recent history of the show as a guide, Tennant and Smith both did 3 series over 4 years of the show. Peter Capaldi may think, hey, I've waited all my life for this, I'm not cutting out now. But he might think, hey, it's been fun but rushing around fighting monsters in space and time is a younger man's game. Or he might just follow the path of previous Doctors as a guide. That would mean 3 series over 4 years. That would mean 2017 would be Capaldi's exit. And Moffat could see that as his cue to leave as well. 

All these elements would make a breather for Doctor Who over the next year or two a likely occurrence. But would the BBC want to be without any new Doctor Who related stuff on the air for an extended period? No. A spin-off would be in order. 

Other considerations: 
  • Doctor Who's production schedule keeps advancing each year. 2014 saw the debut of new Who in August. 2015 did not see the debut of the new series until a month later. Series 9 will not end until December 5th, 3 weeks before the Christmas special. If that pattern holds, production of Series 10 might push the first air date to October. Something's got to give. 
  • Sherlock's 4th series goes into production for 2016, another source of pressure on Moffat's time. 

And consider the nature of the spin-off, Class. While Moffat and Menchin are attached as producers, this is mainly the baby of Patrick Ness, something not requiring as much of Moffat's time as a new series of Doctor Who would.  

Of course, this is all just speculation on my part. I really hope Class does well and I hope we don't have to do without Doctor Who as I have postulated above. But I do think that greeting the news of this spin-off should be treated with caution. After all, you may not be getting everything you think you're going to get. 

Be good to one another. I'll have another post up tomorrow. 

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You

Carl Kasell

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