A Song for the Lost: What We Can Learn from Class

Connor Johnston reacts to the cancellation of Doctor Who’s latest spin-off.

Yesterday afternoon came the news that the latest Doctor Who spin-off, BBC3’s Class, will not be returning for a second series following a statement by the channel’s controller Damien Kavanagh that the show simply “didn’t land” for them. For fans of the show, this is obviously an incredibly disappointing result. Though, in addition to individual levels of investment, Class’ cancellation also exposes a number of faults and mistakes in both the show’s promotion and the current television industry that have sadly taken the potential and success of this series as collateral instead of showing any attempt to improve themselves.

As reflected by a vast majority of fans following yesterday’s news; Class seemed to be fighting a losing battle from its offset. It did seem, at least initially, that for the BBC it was used as an incentive to lure viewers towards the newly formatted BBC3 and the world of online streaming instead of allowing the show the opportunity to present itself to audiences on television or even on already established streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon. Following the sacrifice of its own accessibility, the BBC then aired the series on BBC1 – but restricted the series to air two episodes at a time to occupy the graveyard shift. Not only was the show let down by its distribution format, but also strangely by Doctor Who’s own marketing team, with support for the show largely (and suspiciously) absent from the parent show’s social media accounts and magazine covers to name a few.

We will now never know if Class will reach the same standard of storytelling that Torchwood exhibited in its later seasons, or if it will hold the same place in fan’s hearts as The Sarah Jane Adventures because it will not be presented with the same chances they were. Television shows never amount to anything monumental without a little bit of belief… although it is not just internally that this belief was absent; but, as I mentioned before, exposes a far more widespread problem in contemporary television.

Television understandably remains one of the most competitive and ruthless industries in entertainment – though more often than not the pressure to go ‘viral’ or achieve somewhat of a cult status is expected to be achieved either overnight or not at all. Personally I don’t believe such an approach leads the way for longevity, especially when a show is weighed down by as many scheduling handicaps as Class was prior to release. Successful shows almost always require a chance to cement themselves, gauge audience reaction and stabilise accordingly. Shows that exhibited as much potential as Class don’t just require them, they deserve them.

Class was something extraordinarily unique in how it captured and wrote characters of a certain age demographic. In recent years one wouldn’t be alone in struggling to find accurate portrayals of young people on TV, mainly due to the television industry’s inability to a) take them seriously, and b) rise above shallow stereotypes of “how teenagers act”. In his books, Ness proves how accurately he understands the mind-set of the “Young Adult”, not shying away from depicting relatable and genuine characters as well as pointing the spotlight towards the struggles of mental illness, tragedy, reputation, body image and confidence everyone deals with growing up. Class was a rarity in the way it respected its viewers, not patronising them by shying away from the often taboo struggles that most teenagers face. The strength of the series was that it refused to allow its characters become one dimensional caricatures that were too “young” or “immature” to face hurdles head on. Of course we can’t forget another of the show’s victories being that of the diversity it paraded in all aspects of its cast and characters, working to provide a refreshing challenge to the outdated and nuclear leading line-ups.

Of course Class wasn’t a series completely free from flaws, though one would struggle to find any show that launches without any trace of a stabilisation period. Even limiting our examples to one universe, it is no secret that the first series of Torchwood was riddled with inconsistencies and questionable creative choices – though returned for two more progressively more successful series before making the jump to a fourth series in co-production with the US. Sometimes creative choices don’t completely ‘pay off’ or work unanimously for an audience – though that doesn’t mean that they should be crucified for them. Ambition is at the heart of success. The boldness, uniqueness and passion of Class to fill a gap in television by targeting a specific demographic that is consistently settling for programs riddled with clichés should be celebrated and appreciated by nothing less than a further opportunity to find its feet and cash in on the potential its already exhibited.

Although it now officially seems as though we won’t be seeing a second series of Class, it is worth mentioning that we’re not exactly walking away empty handed. From a show that had the incredibly daunting and unfair responsibility of launching as a “spin-off” with little to no support or on-air presence by its parent show for an entire year surrounding its release, there are a solid amount of victories and additions to the show’s universe that shouldn’t be forgotten. In terms of the creatives associated with the project, we’ve already seen how the the platform Class provided has moved both Director Wayne Yip and Composer Blair Mowat to work more intimately with Doctor Who in Series 10 and beyond. The talent and passion of both these individuals can only be viewed as a success for audiences of both shows. In front of the screen we’ve also been privileged to witness the budding careers of five exceedingly talented young actors take shape, who’s work will forever immortalised in one of the most loved and comprehensive fictional universes in existence. Finally, it brought us an incredibly memorable female lead with Miss Quill, portrayed without fail by Katherine Kelly – a character and an actress that we’d be unquestionably poorer to not see make her way into the main series at some point in the future.

As much as we can analyse and comment on how Class’ cancellation speaks wonders about the failings of the contemporary television industry, or lament the overwhelming amount of potential that will now go untouched, it is also important to celebrate everything Class stood for and achieved in such a short amount of time.

And hey, who knows! Perhaps BBC America or another property might just feel passionately enough to see the show return… however unlikely as that may seem.