The wildly popular regeneration of “Doctor Who” has spawned spinoff series like the kid-friendly “Sarah Jane Adventures” and the deeply dark “Torchwood,” which memorably included a season where aliens were snatching human kids to get high. Now BBC America is delivering something for teens and those who love their drama. Focusing on the Whoniverse’s Coal Hill Academy (formerly Coal Hill School), “Class” explores the adventures of a batch of high schoolers who can’t depend on the Doctor for every alien threat to Earth.
YA author Patrick Ness (the “Chaos Walking” trilogy) was trusted with constructing “Class,” and during BBC America’s panel at New York Comic Con, his excitement for the project was contagious. Sharing the stage with cast members Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins and Vivian Oparah as well as Executive Producer Brian Minchin, Ness set the show up by explaining, that the first spoken line of the spinoff is, “Everybody knows students disappear from this school and no one talks about it.” To Ness, this realm of unspoken terror is the perfect place to explore teen angst and extraterrestrial adventures.
“Coal Hill was featured in the very, very first episode of “Doctor Who” in 1963; his granddaughter went there,” Ness explained. “The school has appeared in the show many times over the years. And with all of the activity that’s taken place there, it’s become a little bit of a magnet for things. Our show is about what happens to people when the Doctor is done. He leaves you behind to deal with the rest. When he says, ‘The universe is different for you now,’ what do you do? That’s our show.”
This setup proved a perfect introduction to the first trailer, which spurred the panel guests to gather in a celebratory hug as the audience cheered. “No pressure then,” laughed Oparah. But Ness pointed out that pressure can be a great thing.
“I felt the same pressure I feel in anything, which is it’s so hard to make something good,” Ness began. “It’s so hard to make something true. And that’s really, really what we were after. I think it needs to start from a place of love with the Whoniverse and being welcoming to that. I think it’s implicit in that question, that if I didn’t feel pressure, I would just fuck it up. But I love the place. And the opportunity to engage in it, the opportunity to make new monsters, the opportunity to look at it from a different point of view, I mean the Whoniverse is so huge and so full of possibility! Literally, it’s infinite. It’s all of time and space. Just to have a corner and to get to take a look at it through the eyes of these four,” He said, gesturing to the beaming cast mates, “what a pleasure. What an opportunity! So yeah, absolute pressure. You should always put pressure on yourself, just to do something true.”
“It’s the best toy box in the world,” Ness said of joining the Whoniverse. “We’ve got some really great, really creepy monsters. We’ve got some that do unexpected things and play unexpected roles. I love the idea that if you don’t have the Doctor around, sometimes you might face an alien that you’ll never know the name of, you’ll never know their motivation. You’ll just have to deal with whatever it is.”
For the celebrated author of “A Monster Calls” (and adapter of its upcoming feature film), creating new monsters for the Whoniverse was an opportunity he relished. “I thought, ‘You know, if the worst happens and we only get eight episodes,” he offered, “I’m going to go out guns blazing. And so if you have a chance to make up brand new “Doctor Who” monsters, yeah. I just did my best.”
But as in love with all things “Doctor Who” as Ness is, he warned fans that he’s no fan of cameos. Yes, Peter Capaldi will appear as the 12th Doctor in the premiere episode of “Class,” but other notables from the Whoniverse are unlikely to pop by Coal Hill. “I think cameo appearances are like penises,” he said earning outbursts of laughter from the audience. “If you put it in the scene it’s all people are going to look at. So you have to have it there for a really, really good reason… I don’t want anything to take away from the story.”
We’ll bring you more from the cast of “Class” with coverage of CBR’s roundtable interviews.
“Class” will premiere along with “Doctor Who” in the spring of 2017 on BBC America.
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