The BBC has officially confirmed the cancelation of its Doctor Who spinoff, Class. The demise of the show had been rumored for a long time, but Damian Kavanagh, controller of the BBC's online channel, BBC 3, put the final nail in the coffin at a Broadcasting Press Guild Event, saying that the show had never really landed with the channel.
The spinoff show was widely and heavily publicized when it first came to life, touted as a sci-fi drama aimed at young adults. Taking place at the fictional Coal Hill school, which is often featured in Doctor Who, Class followed a group of students and their alien teacher, Miss Quill. A visit from the 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi, in the Class premiere, set the scene for the group of teenagers to come together and fight unfriendly aliens, thanks to a tear in the universe that exists at Coal Hill. Unlike other Doctor Who spinoffs, such as Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, and K-9 and Company, Class never really found its audience, despite having popular YA novelist, Patrick Ness (A Monster Calls), at the helm.
Class made its debut on BBC3 to fair (but not excellent) reviews. It subsequently aired on BBC America before being shown in syndication on BBC 1. The show failed to attract strong ratings on both sides of the pond, with reports revealing its U.K. audience had dropped as low as 300,000. In the U.S., Class aired back to back with Doctor Who; its premiere pulled in 0.5 million viewers, losing almost half of Doctor Who's audience, which was 0.9 million. The reasons behind the poor viewing figures are plentiful, but undoubtedly something that harmed its chances has been its scheduling.
Capaldi previously stated that he thought the BBC's scheduling of Doctor Who had harmed season 9 viewing figures; its failure to be able to land a regular time on a Saturday night during BBC 1's packed fall schedule meant that a lot of people gave up on the show because they never knew when it was on. The same could be said for Class; despite much initial publicity, the show was then barely heard of, and audiences didn't get continual reminders to go and watch online. Its subsequent syndication run aired late at night, as double bills - something that just won't work unless a show has a dedicated following, because a 2 hour commitment to watch a show extremely late at night is something that most don't have time for.
Scheduling was certainly one of the reasons that Ness gave for his decision to quit the show. In a lengthy Twitter announcement back in June, he added to the rumors that Class wouldn't return for a second season, when he stated that he would no longer write for the show. Though he described his tenureship as having been "amazing," Ness also added that he was "baffled" by the scheduling decisions of BBC1, and pointed out - all those months ago - that if a second season were to happen, it should have been filming already. After the cancellation was confirmed, Ness once again said how proud he had been of his work on the show, adding, "Would that things were different."
But Ness had already played his part in the demise of the show. An exceptional writer, Ness did seem to fall short with many aspects of Class. While the characters and pairing of Charlie and Matteusz was a highlight, other characters were under developed or muddled, and so it became difficult to care about them. While you could tune in one week and find the characters behaving in one way, the following week they could be entirely different. Facets of their personalities were never fully expanded upon; frustrating for the viewers and, presumably, for the actors themselves. And that's possibly one of the most frustrating things about Class coming to an end; its cast were very strong indeed, and though they will all no doubt go on to bigger and better things, it is still a shame for them that the show is cancelled.
Another possible cause for the low viewing figures could well be because Class never seemed to know where to pitch itself. Initially it was billed as a YA show, and that made sense, given the age of the cast and the background of its showrunner. But it spun off from Doctor Who, a family show, and one which young children enjoy. They were instantly shut out of Class, while many adults assumed it would not be for them. Class actually did explore adult themes, though never quite to their full potential.
It's still unusual, though, for a Doctor Who spinoff to fare so poorly, and there is one important factor that could well have contributed to its downfall. When Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures both came to air, Doctor Who was at the peak of its popularity. Fans simply couldn't get enough of the Doctor, his companions, and adventures through space and time. In recent years, the show has seen a dramatic decline in its viewing figures, with many deserting the show altogether because of the poor writing. Though the viewers might increase with the introduction of the first female Doctor, right now, it's undeniable that the show is not nearly as popular as it once was, and this could well have impacted upon Class, causing a distinct apathy for any more Doctor Who related shows.
It's never great to see a TV show being cancelled, but some are easier to accept than others. While Class had bags of potential, its school report would have said must try harder, and it never managed to do so. Maybe in the future, another Doctor Who spinoff could develop, angled differently, aimed at a different market, maybe. But for now, Class is dismissed.
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