On New Doctor Who Spin-Offs

On occasion, I have interesting brainwaves.

Take yesterday. Over on TrekBBS, there’s a thread running on what the next Doctor Who spin-off should be. You can click the link if you want, but I promise you won’t find much of interest; the ideas being tossed around amount to continuing The Sarah Jane Adventures with Clyde and Rani, doing Madame Vastra and Jenny as a series, or doing a Torchwood in a different era like, say, the Edwardian period.

All three ideas have the same problem — they’re not different than what’s already been done. I see them as, basically, doing Doctor Who without the Doctor. Okay, there’s a chance that a Vastra/Jenny series could be different — Sherlock Holmes with a lesbian Silurian instead of a human ratiocination machine — but by and large, I see a Clyde/Rani series or an Edwardian Torchwood doing exactly the same kinds of things that Sarah Jane and Torchwood (in its first two years) did — a group of characters, who know more about the dangers of the universe than anyone else, wage a secret battle against the forces of darkness.

A few years ago, the BBC wanted to commission a Rose Tyler one-off movie, but RTD couldn’t see the point. The purported title, Rose Tyler: Earth Defence, suggested something not far from Torchwood, though set on the alternate Earth of Doctor Who‘s second season. That comes back to the problem of doing Doctor Who without the Doctor. It reminds me of something John Ordover used to profer as an argument against Captain Sulu novels in the Star Trek publishing line; there’s virtually nothing you can do with Sulu that you can’t do with Kirk. Sure, the trappings are different, the characters are different, but at the end of the day, it’s basically the same story, so why would you tell it with a niche character instead of the mainstream character?

The ultimate problem when dealing with Doctor Who as a spin-off generator is that the series is capable of being anything. The TARDIS can go anyplace and anywhen, and you can drop the Doctor into virtually any story and have it work. Madame Vastra and Jenny may be monster hunters and crime solvers in the 1890s, but with the TARDIS so too is the Doctor. Clyde and Rani can investigate strange doings in present-day London, but the Doctor can, too.

I’ve long thought that the way to do a Doctor Who spin-off would be to think outside the genre and format box. Want to do a series about Rose Tyler? Do a college sitcom built around her. Want to carry on with Dr. Martha Jones? Make her a regular character in Casualty. Since the BBC is so good at doing costume drama, after “The Girl in the Fireplace” they should have commissioned a four- or six-episode series about Madame de Pompedour, starring Sophia Myles, and played it completely straight, except for references here and there to the Fireplace Man and possibly a cameo by David Tennant at the end, then sold it to Masterpiece Theatre, complete with introductions by Alistair Cookie. In other words, work in the universe of Doctor Who, without doing the kinds of stories that Doctor Who could do just as easily with the Doctor at the center.

I thought about the TrekBBS thread last night. I wrote out a response, and I posted it. In the response, I wrote out exactly what I would do in a Doctor Who spin-off. If Doctor Who is Star Trek: The Next Generation, this idea was like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, picking up from an episode from the last five years, then forging its own course to tell stories that can’t be told with the TARDIS. Then, half an hour later, I realized that what I wrote was actually pretty good, that the concept was something I could use. Not necessarily as a Doctor Who spin-off story, though that’s what it was intended as. It’s not the greatest concept in the world. I freely admit that. It’s derivative of a couple of different things. But it’s a couple of things that haven’t been put together in quite this way, and certainly never within the Whoniverse. So I went and quickly edited it out of the post then filed it away, because I don’t know when it might come in handy for a future project on its own.

As for the thread on TrekBBS, does there need to be another Doctor Who spin-off? I have my doubts. I’m not afraid of franchise fatigue or audience indifference setting in. I’m afraid that any spin-off won’t get past the “Doctor Who, but without the Doctor” problem. Though if someone decided to make an Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer series, I’d be all over that. :h2g2:

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