You’ve probably heard the news that a brand-new Doctor Who spin-off called Class is on the way, based around Coal Hill School (which appeared in Doctor Who’s first ever episode and throughout the sci-fi series) and penned by Young Adult author Patrick Ness.
However, what you may not know is that Ness (who is primarily known as a novelist) has actually written about a school afflicted by otherworldly forces before – and we reckon it might offer a few clues as to what we can expect from the new series.
Let’s start with the premise: Ness’ 2015 novel The Rest Of Us Just Live Here centres around an apparently ordinary school that comes under frequent attack by vampires, extra-dimensional aliens and the like, with cool teenagers battling the forces of darkness while trying to work out their complex romantic relationships.
So far, so Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Twilight. But what sets the novel apart from its fellows (and what could work translate well to the spin-off) is its unusual focus on the ordinary students who go to the school, rather than the heroes trying to save the world. In other words, the novel follows the sort of kids who would be in class with Edward and Bella in Twilight, but don’t actually fall in love with any vampires themselves (and are really quite blasé about their fellows being murdered by aliens because it happens so often).
The cover to Ness’ novel
The huge world-saving events are mostly confined to satirical chapter headings and the occasional far-away explosion, while the action of the novel focuses instead on lead character Mikey’s struggles with complex issues including his OCD, a drunken father and an unrequited love for a friend.
But what could this mean for the new Doctor Who spin-off? Well, based on what we know so far, this mix of the fantastic and the mundane (with some more adult themes) definitely seems to have influenced the new show. When describing Class, Ness commented that “the darkest corners of existence are just about on par with having to pass your A-Levels”, and this idea that the ordinary (like finding a date for prom) is just as momentous as the extraordinary will hopefully create a series that’s both grounded in the real world (like the novel) and distinct from its parent series.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here’s focus on “background characters” could also definitely work for Class – Doctor Who spin-offs have worked a bit like this before, after all (Torchwood had an episode based on Doctor Who’s Cyberman-heavy 2006 finale and how it affected one ordinary couple, for example).
And it’s not the first time such an idea has made it on TV generally, either – an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (The Zeppo) follows the solo adventures of ordinary bloke Xander (Nicholas Brendon) while his friends battle against the Apocalypse in the background, and Marvel TV spin-off Agents of SHIELD focuses on an organisation dealing with the fallout of superhero adventures.
Perhaps an average Class episode could see aliens attack London while the unknowing students deal with teenage worries about love, exams and sex. We can almost see them now, blithely strolling past a conspicuous blue box as they chat about their A levels.
Or maybe the influence will be subtler – these kids have grown up in the 10-year-old modern Whoniverse after all, full of spaceships crashing into Big Ben, Daleks and Cybermen battling in the streets, outer-space police in the sky and trees choking entire cities. Teenagers from this period will have known nothing except alien invasion – so why wouldn’t it become part of the fabric of their everyday lives? London being attacked by aliens is no big deal – just an inconvenience that delays them from the more important parts of their lives, like an outer-space Tube Strike.
Ultimately we’ll probably have to wait a long while before we find out whether any of these ideas actually cross over, but considering this is Ness’ second project in one year related to a school of ordinary kids under attack from otherworldly forces, it’d be one hell of a coincidence if there was no overlap at all. For now, we’ll just leave you with this quote from The Rest of Us Just Live Here – you can make up your own mind as to whether it could apply equally well to the world of a certain Time Lord.
“Not everyone has to be the Chosen One. Not everyone has to be the guy who saves the world. Most people just have to live their lives the best they can, doing things that are great for them, having great friends, trying to make their lives better, loving people properly. All the while knowing that the world makes no sense but trying to find a way to be happy anyway.”
In other words, not everyone has to be the Doctor– the rest of us just go to school here.
Doctor Who is on BBC1 this Saturday (10th October)