Where did things go wrong for YA Doctor Who spin-off Class?

Doctor Who spin-off Class has been in a strange position of limbo for some time, never entirely clear if it’d be a returning for a second series. From its iPlayer premier in October, to the BBC One repeats in January and the eventual American broadcast in April, there’s been little definitive comment about the future of the series – fans have had to make guesses based on offhand comments from cast members, unrelated Doctor Who news, and often rumours and speculation.

However, early this morning Patrick Ness – head writer, executive producer and creator of the show, as well as an acclaimed YA author in his own right – tweeted the first conclusive news about the future of Class:

I decided awhile back that, with unbelievable regret, I won’t be writing any more Class, even if a season 2 moves ahead.

This doesn’t, to be entirely clear, rule out another series of Class completely. It’s possible that the BBC may want to bring in a new head writer to replace Ness – perhaps another successful YA author, allowing the show to continue in the same vein. However, it undoubtedly casts a dubious shadow on the future of the show; given so much of Class was directly linked to Patrick Ness, and other executive producers Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin are moving on from Doctor Who as well, it seems like the show won’t be returning.

Even if the show is set to return eventually, it won’t be soon – another of Ness’ tweets attests that a second series would need to be filming now to make a 2019 airdate at least. The fact that it isn’t suggests we won’t see more Class for, at the least, another three years, at which point it would no doubt be in a very different place.

Which does beg the question: why won’t Class be back? Two of Doctor Who’s previous spinoff efforts, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood, spanned multiple seasons and survived beyond a major creative change on the parent show – there’s a precedent there that suggests Class could have been similarly longrunning, particularly when considering the large publicity draw that Patrick Ness’ involvement should have been.

And yet, it doesn’t seem to have been – Class had fairly dismal ratings across its run, which no doubt was one of the main contributors to the lack of progress on a second series. (Indeed, the show has been reasonably well received by critics in both the UK and the US.) It’s likely that the programme’s staggered release did it no favours in the viewing figures – as well as its questionable scheduling by BBC One – but it’s also worth asking some questions about how the show was publicised.

It’s clear that Class was reliant primarily on word of mouth to gain traction; certainly, you didn’t see the cast on the sofa of BBC Breakfast or the Graham Norton show. That’s fine, if the budget for that sort of promotion wasn’t there – but equally, there’s more that could have been done. The initial trailers for the show didn’t sell it as well as it could have; one of the first trailers for the show played after the Great British Bake Off, possibly the largest audience Class could have been given to speak to, and yet the trailers didn’t emphasise the Doctor Who connection or Patrick Ness’ involvement. In a way, that’s quite staggering – this was a programme that had spunoff from one of the largest franchises in Britain, and was coming from a hugely successful author with fans across the world. That the trailers didn’t boast “From the universe of Doctor Who” or “From the mind of Patrick Ness, author of A Monster Calls and the Chaos Walking trilogy”, particularly when the A Monster Calls movie was up for Oscar consideration – well, to call it an oversight would be something of an understatement. Those early trailers, those painfully generic advertisements, may well have damned Class entirely.

Any question as to where things went wrong for Class have to come back to that point. Certainly, the programme wasn’t perfect, and there would have been a need for subsequent series to improve upon it – but equally, it was a strong debut series, with a lot of potential. Indeed, in many respects it was better than the opening eight episodes of Buffy, its most direct antecedent – Class had earned a second series on its quality, even where the show was frustrating. Where it fell down was in not having enough eyeballs pointed at it – and that’s the fault of the marketing and scheduling of the programme.

It’s a shame; with a few more episodes, the show could have become something special, and certainly had in it the potential to run for years. But in the end, it seems as though the show won’t go on (and on and on and on and on and on and on).


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