It is no strange concept for a popular show like the BBC’s Doctor Who to expand its rich and complex universe through the creation of various different materials that are simultaneously both separate and entirely connected to the original programme. In the just over 50 years since the show’s initial release, Doctor Who has been providing its loyal fanbase with a whole number of books, video games and spinoff programmes in which they can explore further the wonderful world of the Doctor and his whole plethora of associates. Now, another spinoff programme has been announced called Class and it is to centre on the fictional Coal Hill School, the scene of the first ever Doctor Who broadcast in 1963 and most recently the workplace of the Doctor’s latest companion, Clara Oswald. With this is mind, it is worth asking: is it worthwhile for a show like Doctor Who to have spinoffs or would it be better for the original programme to just to be left alone?
In the case of Doctor Who, the choice to create spinoff programmes in the past has seemed quite a sound one, especially once you consider the sheer variation between its core fanbase. Aside from a standalone series about K-9 that was released in 2010, the show has had two main spinoffs so far: Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. In the case of the former, the decision was made to appeal to the more mature viewers of Doctor Who, whereas the latter was targeted towards a younger audience. This allowed Torchwood to explore more complex and darker themes than what the original programme permitted and therefore enabling it to go deeper into territories where Doctor Who would need tread more carefully. On the other side, The Sarah Jane Adventures had created dedicated content for the younger and more impressionable audience of Doctor Who, allowing for a more child-friendly point of entry into the Doctor’s universe. Both of these shows were hugely popular and ran for four and five series respectively.
Class aims to bridge the gap between the two target audiences of Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, creating a series geared more towards the young-adult market. Patrick Ness, the YA fiction author who is to write the series, says that the show aims to make audiences “remember that the horrors of the darkest corners of existence are just about on par with having to pass your A levels.” If the show can make itself immediately recognisable as part of the canon of Doctor Who as well as producing something quite unique unto itself, Class is in with a good shot at becoming a successful spinoff just like Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
It is this idea of uniqueness that can become the point of contention as to whether or not spinoffs are a good idea. Some might argue that there is clearly something about the original programme that has captured the interest of the fanbase and therefore any departure from that will unlikely receive the same reaction from those viewers. Whereas the opposing argument is that by changing things around, the showrunners are able to give something extra to the pre-existing fans whilst also drawing in audiences who would perhaps never have otherwise taken interest in the franchise. This latter argument is much more convincing, as although the spinoff shows are necessarily different to the original show, the other defining aspect of a spinoff is that there is enough about it that is recognisably part of the same universe. Those that criticise spinoffs for being not enough like the original show need to realise that they are there to be supplementary to the central programme, not to replace it entirely. As long as shows like Doctor Who continue to consistently produce quality episodes on their regular schedule and do not allow the spinoffs to retract time and effort from that purpose, there should be no reason to oppose another show that grants you opportunity to spend more time with a universe that you are so well invested in.