From the upcoming Game of Thrones reboot, to new Peaky Blinders while the original corpse is still warm, the spin-offs keep getting spun out. They’ll need to be able to stand alone, however, Sarah Kennedy writes.
This month Peaky Blinders came to an end, or so we thought. Creator Steven Knight said it was in fact “the end of the beginning”, a much-used phrase when it comes to any creative success. Cue speculation of the characters that might be picked for their own shows. Maybe the next generation of Peakies will set off to London to cause havoc with their not-so soft southern counterparts, continuing the show’s expanding universe of hyper-local, culturally distinctive historical gangs. There is, of course, a long-promised film in the works; the nerd in me is delighted they’re getting the converted six seasons and a movie (just like Community promised), and strangest of all, a ballet. Or a dance theatre event; so says the blub anyway. Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby has its premiere at the Birmingham Hippodrome in the autumn, and people are excited about it.
I have faith in the film, as Steven Knight always had a seven-season arc in mind. Famously the original intention for the main Peaky Blinders series was for it to begin at the end of WWI and run-up to the first air-raid siren of WWII, as the German bombs began to fall on the industrial West Midlands. Of course, that plan will have been adapted over the years, as characters have grown and changed, and fans have found their favourites. But there was always a vision. Thanks to the show’s popular and critical success, it’s now moving to the big screen. Birmingham residents are invested in Knight’s vision for the future. His Mercian Studios project is due to be a multi-million pound media village consisting of film and TV studios, and space for houses, bars and restaurants. The hipsters and geeks of Digbeth and surrounding areas await further announcements with bated breath. If this pans out it’ll be the Peakies greatest business venture.
What better for a spin-off series than a universe of endless worlds and endless possibilities? Doctor Who has always had a vast frontier, embracing all the opportunities of time and space. In 2022 the historic show is in a sorry state, dragging itself to the finish line of Chris Chibnall’s time as showrunner with its 60th anniversary within touching distance. An interconnected universe, in the style of the Marvel films and TV shows, could be the shot in the arm that Doctor Who needs right now, after a number of deeply underwhelming iterations. Doctor, heal thyself! What the series needs is some swagger and ambition, and the Russell T Davies redux may be just the thing. The TARDIS gets all the hype but the rumour mill is actually the hardest working machine in the Doctor Who universe. Maybe as rumoured, it really was a case of RTD or nothing. A hiatus would be unthinkable to the BBC; imagine the lost revenue in worldwide sales and merchandise, not really a consideration back when the series was first canned in 1989. Can RTD resurrect the show twice?
What would work in his pantheon of goodies and baddies? How about Jo Martin, back as the Fugitive Doctor because that’s an outfit that demands to be worn again. Or The Paternoster Gang (The Doctor’s Victorian friends from A Good Man Goes to War) who have a visually vivid setting and characters developed via popular audiobooks. There’s so many more assistants, species, tribes and assorted Scooby gangs, even before we think about entirely possible parallel worlds. Spin-offs would mean we could spend more time with the characters in their own worlds. What happens when they have to solve their own problems without the Doctor’s breathless and confusing deus ex machina?
Could the success of Torchwood be replicated? We’re unlikely to see the return of the dashing Captain Jack with John Barrowman, now mainly famous for making his on-set colleagues uncomfortable. This is the stupider side of the very necessary #MeToo movement. Don’t get your knob out at work fellas; it betrays a certain lack of creativity and witty repartee. Especially don’t if you’ve somehow lucked into one of the greatest and best family-friendly franchises on TV. Anyway, everyone knows that The Sarah Jane Adventures was far superior storytelling.
If a show has a famously unsatisfying resolution, can people be swayed to reinvest in a spin-off? If the ending did us dirty, can our passion be resurrected? If the writers have already annoyed the audience, can the fans suspend hostilities and take an interest again? And no, I’m not talking about Game of Thrones, yet.
When I saw who the subject of the proposed Killing Eve spin–off was, I was excited. MI6 spymaster Carolyn Martens (played by steely Fiona Shaw) is a ruthlessly successful older woman. She’s survived all the brutality her foes in The Twelve and in the British establishment have thrown at her, including the death of her son. Middle-aged, middle-class vengeance? Intriguing! But what they’re talking about is a younger version of the character, like Inspector Morse, Indiana Jones or Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. Not exactly stellar company. This feels like a missed opportunity. And really, what did I expect from a series that ended so poorly?
The final episode of Killing Eve has been uniformly panned as a depressing anti LGBTQ cliché, reminiscent of the fate of gangsters in early Hollywood; a morality tale for impressionable audiences. Crime doesn’t pay, and apparently being gay doesn’t either. Once a lesbian is happy and finally fulfilled she has to watch her step. Eve and Villanelle get just 10 minutes of happiness before the viewer’s trust is betrayed in a hugely unsatisfying ending. I know a show about stylish violence and murder is never going to have a happy-ever-after, but this is a betrayal of a devoted LGBTQ audience and the promise of that incredible first series. We loved it because it was so original, presenting women as fascinating flawed central characters. The quality dipped dramatically from series one and never attained those dizzy heights again. In bad faith they wasted their potential and disappointed their remaining fans even further.
Sadly, Killing Eve has relegated itself to the same dishonourable club as the daddy of disappointments aka Dude Where’s My Dragon? aka Game of Thrones, now arguably more famous for the disastrous ending than any of its early achievements in making high fantasy a must-watch mainstream hit.
The rushed ending was careless. They ran out of time, and it showed, but with confidence bordering on hubris writers David Benioff and DB Weiss thought they could bash out in months what took George RR Martin a lifetime. The whole magnificent world was shrunk down inside a snow globe (winter is coming) compared to the free ranging rich world that had previously existed. Even the message-carrying ravens went express delivery. Storylines were snuffed out without resolution, characters reduced to two-dimensional tropes. The female characters, already suffering life in a very male fantasy version of the misogynistic Middle Ages, came off the worst. They had been multifaceted women, daringly complicated and uncompromising in early series. Now they were the action hero or the evil queen. Nothing remained.
There was no time for its hallmark clever dialogue. Tyrion Lannister’s verbal sparring with Varys was at least half the reason we watched at all. The cherry on the cake was the ruling families gathering together to anoint the least worst person still alive as the new king. Whatever happened to the early murmurs of revolution amongst the squalor of Flea Bottom? The people suffered so much as pawns in the wargames of kings and princes (or to give autocorrect its due, prawns flambéed on the grill whenever the dragons were in town). Going off book was a risk with commerce calculated against quality and it didn’t pay off at all. Game of Thrones became its own poor quality fan fiction, so much so that fans signed a petition basically saying they could do better. Their plan, if that’s not too grand a word, was to hold the production hostage and remake the whole final series, as if somehow that would be an improvement. It’s absolute carnage, on screen and off.
So yes, it’s complicated. But I will be watching as they hop back in time to tell us the tales of the House of the Dragon this summer. The casting intrigues me and the focus on the Targaryen family and their dragons may not be a bad thing; the dragons were always the stars of any episode they turned up in. It won’t be perfect, but at least the new team can learn from the many mistakes of this fantasy juggernaut. However, I’d imagine any further spin-offs in development (and at one point there were at least six) may want to pause until the first reviews are in.
As they say, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me, my loyalty to a once-lauded franchise and my infinite capacity for hope. Or something like that. Name recognition means these spin-offs will entice an audience, jaded or otherwise, but in retaining their viewers they must stand alone and prove their worth.