Millie Gibson and Ncuti Gatwa in "73 Yards"
(BBC/Disney+)

Wait, Why Was Ncuti Gatwa Barely In Saturday’s ‘Doctor Who’?

The most recent Doctor Who episode, “73 Yards” is one of the season’s highlights so far. It’s a high-stakes tale that incorporates Welsh folk horror, politics, and the fractured life of Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson.)

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But if you tuned into this week’s episode specifically to see the Fifteenth Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa, you would have been disappointed. He’s barely in it.

What happens to the Doctor in ’73 Yards’?

At the very beginning of the episode, the Doctor and Ruby step out of the TARDIS all excited for a new adventure in Wales. But then the Doctor accidentally treads on a fairy circle, breaking it, and that fairy circle seemingly bound an entity called “Mad Jack.” Before Ruby is truly aware of what’s going on, the Doctor vanishes. Kate Stewart (Jenna Redgrave) later confirms that he’s not been seen at all after that incident, although what exactly happened is left creepily vague. He doesn’t appear in the episode again until the very end.

So, why do an episode of a TV show without the title character? Well, Doctor Who very often does “Doctor-lite” or “companion-lite” episodes, in order to give the actors playing those roles a chance to focus on other work or another episode. Showrunner Russell T. Davies explained on the behind-the-scenes show Doctor Who Unleashed that Gatwa was filming the show Sex Education at the time, so the producers decided to make that work to their advantage and create an episode where the stakes are even higher because the Doctor isn’t coming to save anyone.

The ‘-lite’ Doctor Who episodes

In fact, the Doctor- or companion-lite episodes of Doctor Who are often some of the best ones around. The episode “Turn Left” was filmed at the same time as “Midnight,” with one being about Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) and one being about the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant.) Both of these episodes are considered among the greatest stories that Doctor Who has to offer. The writers have to get creative, especially when the budget is tight, and it shows. “Midnight” takes place almost entirely in one room and it’s a masterpiece of tension.

Admittedly this doesn’t always work. Davies’ “Love and Monsters” in 2006 didn’t feature the Doctor or companion very much, instead focusing on a group of Doctor fans and Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri). Some people love that episode, and some people hate it. But hey, at least Davies and co. tried something new, right?

So Ncuti Gatwa will be back in action as the Doctor next week, and for at least two seasons, in fact! Don’t worry!


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Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.