Thursday, 7 September 2017

Suzanne says… do we want another spin off?

Isn’t it tempting to imagine spin offs from your favourite shows starring your favourite characters? Doctor Who has certainly done that in the past, but not all have been successful.

I confess I love spin offs, for various reasons. First, because I can enjoy another part of an universe I enjoy. Second, because said universe is growing thanks to the spin off. Telling stories from a different perspective or angle can be a clever way to refresh a franchise, get fans to be hooked again as well as gain a new audience.

While one of the eldest spin offs on television is dated 1941, the first Doctor Who spin off only happened in 1981, 18 years after Doctor Who was aired for the first time and as of 2007 Doctor Who is officially the show with the most spun off media, with nine in total.

It is not surprising, considering the depth of the Whoniverse, if you ask me. The beauty of a spin off is that it’s your favourite series while it isn’t at the same time. Talk about an identity crisis! Let’s take Torchwood for instance. It features Captain Jack Harkness, who was one of the Doctor’s companions that got his own series - pretty much like Sarah Jane and K9. A companion getting his own series? This is proper Doctor Who material, when in fact... it isn’t. Torchwood is not for every audience. It was aimed to a more adult audience which means that it’s not Doctor Who after all. In fact, I’d rather say, spin offs in Doctor Who introduce a proper notion of layers in both the universe and the stories. And that’s probably another thing I like so much about the series: its endless possibilities. Think about it, there is material for pretty much any spin off you can imagine.
  • You love doctors and hospital shows? Why not follow Nyssa’s adventures as she helps out finding a cure for Lazar’s disease?
  • You prefer epic space battles? Then you will love the Sontarans!
  • If you like military series best, then you should try UNIT adventures.
  • Care for some romance? Then why not see what happens to Amy and Rory after the Weeping angels got them back?
  • If you enjoy conspiracies and mastermind games, follow The Master’s attempts to conquer the universe (and the galaxy).
I could go on for pages, listing (and imagining) all possibilities and I suspect that Big Finish did exactly that, listing all potential ideas, before rolling a few dices to decide which story they should tell first!

It's not always easy to get a spinoff right. Just ask K9. His first attempt, K9 and Company, never made it past the 50 minute pilot episode, while his later solo series, K9, only lasted for one series. However, his mistress, Sarah Jane, was considerably more successful, with The Sarah Jane Adventures running for 5 series.

Big Finish has been exploring the Whoniverse for years, expanding storylines with a range of familiar characters to great success. Meanwhile, the BBC recently chose to develop a new spin off: Class.

If, like me, you enjoyed Torchwood, then you probably got excited about a new spin off that seemed very promising. While previous spin offs featured characters/aliens from Doctor Who, Class was taking place in a famous location from the Whoniverse: Coal Hill (formerly school, now academy). My mind was filled with memories such as Susan enjoying lessons from Ian and Barbara, and I eagerly watched the first episode, admiring the photography and the way it was filmed. Seeing the Twelfth Doctor make an appearance was overwhelming as (like any Whovian) I had been craving for some Doctor Who. But then, I came back to my senses and examined that spin off with a more critical mind. I honestly tried to give it a chance and watched the whole season, teeth clenched as I was desperately trying to find something that would make me enjoy it. I failed to see a Doctor Who layer in Class. The spin off was obviously aimed at a younger audience who enjoy special effects and gore, but I couldn’t feel the Whoniverse spirit. In fact, I even started to wonder if that particular spin off would have any effect as to bring a younger audience to watch Doctor Who. I pretty much doubt it. And therefore I’m now wondering if the BBC is able to create an appealing spin off. I’m not surprised that Torchwood is about to be revived on audio, because let’s face it, except for that sad 4th season, Torchwood is Doctor Who material... and not just because we got Peter Capaldi playing in Children of Earth!)

So… should we get another spin off? I say, why not. Not only because I love the idea of a spin off exploring another layer of the Whoniverse (I’m one hopeless optimist), but also because I hope that the creative team is still capable of coming up with an idea as powerful as Children of Earth was. If not, then by all means, let Big Finish become an inspiration.