What’s In Store for Doctor Who spin off Class?

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Here’s a piece I wrote for Cultbox, complete with embarrassing Shoreditch-is-near-Wembley error: http://www.cultbox.co.uk/features/opinion/doctor-who-spin-off-speculation-returning-to-coal-hill-school-in-class

Doctor Who Coal Hill School

Class has been announced as the latest spin-off series from Doctor Who, centred on the kids of Coal Hill School fighting aliens.

Sort of like The Sarah Jane Adventures without the comforting presence of Sarah Jane Smith. Within the BBC, as a product, such a show makes complete sense – a new genre show for young adults that will have a built in audience for the first episode, from trusted hand Patrick Ness.

Within the narrative of the Whoniverse, however, more justification may be required to explain why this secondary school is a magnet for monsters – and Joss Whedon has already got the copyright on any Hellmouths in the district.

Let’s take a look at why this little school in Shoreditch has suddenly become so important…

The Shoreditch Incident

sgasCoal Hill School and its environs have always been important to the mythology of Doctor Who, and now, with Class, even more so.

The programme essentially started there, of course, with teachers Ian and Barbara worried about their brilliant young pupil Susan. The school was a major stronghold in the battle against Davros and the Imperial Faction in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’.

This new show very likely won’t (and shouldn’t) be doing too much looking backward over the past fifty years of Doctor Who, but since Coal Hill is now the one single location on Earth aside from a UNIT base in the 1970s 1980s classic series that we have now returned to most often, it gains a certain totemic allure.

Basically, what’s so special about Coal Hill? It isn’t (as far as we know) built on a time rift. It doesn’t have a sparky journalist and her alien super computer living in it. Why – narratively – are we returning there?

Doctor Who The Caretaker Coal Hill SchoolOne clue is to ask another question: why were we there in the first place? The usual line is that back in 1963, The Doctor was busy making repairs to his spaceship. Common wisdom holds that he was attempting to fix the chameleon circuit, but that’s demonstrably untrue: as soon the TARDIS lands on prehistoric Earth, The Doctor (William Hartnell) voices a surprised reaction that it’s still a police box.

Even more pointed is Ian’s take when first seeing it: it clearly looks out of place in a junkyard – if it’s meant to fit in anywhere, it should be on a street corner down the road. This suggests the amusing image of The Doctor and Susan lugging a heavy Police Box down the King’s Road in the early sixties.

Later episodes suggest that Hartnell’s Doctor was busy looking after a insanely powerful Time Lord device (The Hand Of Omega), but still the question remains: why Shoreditch? Why Coal Hill School? What’s so important about this part of London? And will we ever go back in time to the original hill of coal?

Good Place To Put Things, Cellars

saWhile it’s a fair bet that Class will largely ignore Doctor Who (aside from a few cameos at some point, we’d expect), it may be that there are clues in the parent programme that justify its existence (it’s actually more likely that Class won’t need to justify its existence, but then we wouldn’t have an article to read here, so shush).

There may even be some DNA in an even earlier programme. In Quatermass and the Pit, a brilliant scientist is called in to investigate ghostly goings on in a disused underground rail station – Hobbs End – and deduces that there are no ghosts around, but instead that there are aliens buried deep underground. Hobbs End is located in Wembley, which is just down the road from … Shoreditch.

Hand The Class Over To Her

Doctor Who An Unearthly Child Susan Barbara Ian

It is very likely that the older students try to scare the new kids with Coal Hill’s very own ghost story – the tale of a brilliant, weird girl who suddenly disappeared without trace one November evening and never returned.

Rumour has it that if you say ‘Susan Foreman’ to the mirror three times, she will appear and chase you (it’s okay though, if you run fast enough, she’ll simply trip over a tree branch).

It’s telling that The Doctor has never told companion Clara Oswald about his own links with the school, and it’s also odd that Clara, with access to a time machine, has never asked to see what her school looked like before she was born (the answer being that it has looked like at least three completely different buildings in fifty years).

You’ve Ruined It, It Was My Coal Hill School Tie

Doctor Who Ian Chesterton William RussellIt’s already been noted that Ian Chesterton is currently on the board of governors, as seen in ‘The Day of the Doctor’. Presumably he and Barbara managed to deflect any awkward police enquiry relating to their disappearance on the same day as Susan Foreman.

In some ways, it makes sense: teaching as a young man in the 1960s suggests that Ian is already fairly local to the area, and after three years of travelling across four dimensions, it’s logical that he’d want to stay somewhere that felt very much like home.

If Ian (and Barbara) did indeed grow up in Shoreditch, it’s at least possible that their great-grandparents might have been locals during the Jack The Ripper attacks. While it’s not likely that a children’s television programme would touch that storyline, it does again lend some weight to the idea that the energy surrounding Coal Hill’s postcode is in some way important.

Perhaps Ian has remained involved with the school not because of some misplaced nostalgia for the school that he may have attended as a child (he does wear the old school tie, after all), but because he’s aware of something strange in the neighbourhood, and it’s the only place he can be certain of successfully waiting for a grumpy old white haired man in a Police Box. Seeing him in a Rupert Giles mentor role would certainly bump up the ratings amongst the old fan base.

Who You Calling Small?

Doctor Who AceOne of the most tantalising rumours before The Sarah Jane Adventures came to an end was that Ace – Sophie Aldred – might cameo in an episode. That didn’t happen, but there’s no reason why we couldn’t get our very own pyromaniac Dorothy McShane to guest in Class.

Her appearance would have added frisson, since Ace has form with aliens and a bit of minor vandalism at Coal Hill, and she might even try to get in touch with an elderly Judith Winters (look her up).

Ace would certainly be an expert that the class of Class would want to get in touch with for some tips on how to defend themselves against alien onslaught – although OFSTED wouldn’t look too kindly on any use of Nitro 9.

They’re Children. John Smith Wouldn’t Want Them To Fight, Never Mind The Doctor

Doctor Who The Caretaker CourtneySteven Moffat already has a school-based show on his CV – Chalk.

While he’s not the main writer on the show, it’s tempting to wonder if the title Class has any meaning beyond the obvious. Torchwood was an anagram, while The Sarah Jane Adventures is fairly self-explanatory.

As a title, Class left first responders on Twitter fairly underwhelmed. If this show is about a gang of kids (led by Courtney Woods, perhaps?) forming their own ‘Scooby Gang’ against the onslaught of aliens attacking an unprotected Earth, the ‘Class’ that we follow could be the Doctor Who version of Dumbledore’s Army.

It’s also worth pointing out that Earth could be unprotected in Class because 2016 is when – according to rumour – when there will be a lot less Doctor Who onscreen.

‘Class’ could also simply be a bit of teen slang, suggesting perhaps that many of the menaces that the kids fight will be metaphors for teen life, from online avatars turning out to be demons to boyfriends changing into complete monsters after you’ve kissed them (and yes, we know that Buffy The Vampire Slayer already did both of those almost twenty years ago).

In the end, however, all of the above may prove to be entirely irrelevant beyond fan fiction and online speculative articles. Whatever happens, Class promises to be a show that will be smart, funny and relevant – and just may have a guest appearance from The Doctor himself.

 

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