In the 54 years since Doctor Who was first broadcast, its titular, time-travelling, planet-hopping hero has visited a vast array of temporal and geographical locales. But the Time Lord has made numerous trips to one seemingly normal London school, Coal Hill, an educational establishment that seems to attract monstery mayhem. Now, Coal Hill is the setting for Doctor Who spin-off Class, which tracks the sci-fi adventures of teenage pupils April (Sophie Hopkins), Ram (Fady Elsayed), Tanya (Vivian Oparah), and Charlie (Greg Austin), as well as a teacher named Miss Quill (Katherine Kelly). “It has become a place that other creatures notice,” says show creator Patrick Ness. “Our four get thrown into having to defend the school.” Read on for more from Ness.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get involved in Class?
PATRICK NESS: Really unexpectedly. The producers approached me about possibly writing for Doctor Who. Great opportunity. Fantastic opportunity. But it happened at a time when I had just done a bunch of other projects for other folks, like adaptations and screenplays and so on. I said, “I kind of want to do something on my own, I want to do something that’s mine.” They said, “We’ve got this other thought brewing, maybe a spin-off set in Coal Hill School. I immediately just went, “Ding!”
What is the set-up of the show?
The set-up of the show is that Coal Hill School, now Academy — which is a political thing in the U.K. — has been on Doctor Who since episode 1. The Doctor’s granddaughter went there in 1963. It has made appearances over the last 53 years and, as the Doctor says, there is so much Artron energy activity — time energy — that has gone on at the school that it has caused complications. It’s sort of about, what happens when the Doctor leaves? He comes in as a hero but he can’t stay everywhere. So, what happens in the aftermath of a Doctor Who episode? That’s basically the idea. It’s kind of like a Deep Space Nine, in that it stays and things come to it. On Doctor Who, they have their adventure and then they leave. On this, we can follow our four young leads, and Miss Quill, and really let them develop, and let them be really genuinely challenged, and taken to darker, unexpected places, and grow, and find hidden strengths, and so on.
And Peter Capaldi appears on the show?
He does. He’s in episode 1. I don’t care for cameos, so it had to be a proper guest-starring role. And it’s not just a handover, it’s more — I wrote a short story for a Doctor Who collection and the whole point of the story was reminding us that the Doctor is an alien. He looks human but he is an alien, he is different, and I find that really fruitful. I find that tension interesting.
Presumably, there will be monsters and creatures and strange beings.
Will any of them be familiar to Who fans?
I really am of the belief that the show needs to stand on its own and if you had the opportunity to make new Doctor Who monsters, would you turn that down? I wouldn’t turn it down. So, whole new sets of monsters, because the universe is unimaginably big. I hope you like them!
Class premieres on BBC America on Saturday at 10:10 p.m. ET. Watch the show’s trailer above.