Ncuti Gatwa’s True Role In Doctor Who Season 14 Is An Unwelcome Surprise


Ncuti Gatwa’s role in his first full season of Doctor Who has taken a strange turn, with his version of the Doctor being much less of a focal point when compared with his predecessors. Although he should be the leader of the Doctor Who season 14 cast, Gatwa has been conspicuously absent from the show’s truncated run on Disney+. While he has shone in his appearances to date, his availability to shoot his debut Doctor Who season raises certain questions about whether casting him as the Doctor was the best option.

Thankfully, the franchise has an established framework that can account for a Doctor Who story not revolving around its star. This narrative trend has carried over into Doctor Who’s Disney era from before the BBC’s deal with the company took place. So, certain portions of the existing fan base may not find Ncuti Gatwa’s unusual role in the Doctor Who cast too jarring. That being said, others will be disappointed that some of Gatwa’s earliest outings feature so little of the actor and his take on the famous Time Lord.

Doctor Who Season 14 Having Two Doctor-Lite Episodes In A Row Is Unprecedented

Gatwa is used very little in back-to-back episodes

Although he was restored as a result of the ending of Doctor Who season 14, episode 4, “73 Yards,” Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor was erased from the timeline for almost the entirety of the installment. The next episode, “Dot and Bubble,” was just as lacking in the Doctor department. Doctor Who has long made use of the “Doctor-lite” format for various reasons; ranging from streamlining filming schedules to reducing the workload for the show’s lead actor. However, Doctor Who season 14 already has two installments where the Doctor is sidelined, which is new for the franchise.

Prior to the Disney era, Doctor-lite episodes were limited to one per season, if there was one at all. One of the most famous Doctor-lite episodes is the introduction of the Weeping Angels in the Steven Moffat-written, “Blink.” Not only are “73 Yards” and “Dot and Bubble” prominent in their scarcity of the Doctor, but the fact they’re back-to-back episodes makes his absence all the more glaring.

Thankfully, both season 14 Doctor-lite episodes take different approaches to the format, which at least makes them intriguing writing exercises. In “73 Yards,” the Doctor’s vanishing act is at the heart of the story, and it’s arguably what sets the entire plot in motion. In “Dot and Bubble,” Gatwa appears sporadically throughout the episode via social media feeds but does make a physical appearance at the end. So, “73 Yards” is more akin to Doctor Who season 4, episode 11, “Turn Left,” whereas “Dot and Bubble” takes more inspiration from Doctor Who season 3, episode 10, “Blink.”

The Explanation Behind Season 14’s Doctor-Lite Episodes Doesn’t Fully Work

Gatwa’s Sex Education schedule raises questions about his casting

Speaking on the Doctor Who: Unleashed companion episode for “73 Yards,” showrunner Russell T Davies explained Gatwa’s reduced role in the Millie Gibson-led installment by saying it was, “Partly because Ncuti [Gatwa] was busy filming Sex Education.” However, while this does clear up why the actor has been missing from huge portions of two episodes, it becomes confusing as to why such a noticeable scheduling conflict didn’t put Gatwa out of contention to land the role of the Fifteenth Doctor.
There’s no denying that Ncuti Gatwa is brilliant as the Doctor, with his innate charisma and magnetic personality as the Time Lord aligning perfectly with the show’s identity. However, bending the production process and even how the scripts are written to accommodate the availability of Doctor Who’s lead actor so early into their time on the show is uncharted territory.


Doctor Who Season 14’s Doctor-Lite Episodes Are Hurting Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor

The Fifteenth Doctor needs to establish himself more on-screen

A new Doctor’s debut season is the perfect opportunity to establish their version of the character, and with Gatwa being missing from two of the first five Doctor Who season 14 episodes, there’s still an incomplete image of what quirks his Doctor boasts. There’s also the fact that Doctor Who season 14 is only eight episodes long, with previous runs often hitting the 13-episode mark. So, Gatwa is quickly running out of time to flesh out the Fifteenth Doctor before heading into his second season.

Out of every actor to play the Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa’s loss of screen time has been much more prominent than most. For instance, David Tennant played the Tenth Doctor for three full seasons plus several specials between 2005 and 2010. During that period, he had a total of three Doctor-lite episodes. So, Gatwa is already close to matching Tennant’s record, despite being in the role for a significantly shorter length of time.

Doctor Who ‘s increased budget due to the Disney deal suggests that Doctor-lite episodes are no longer a financial necessity.

The Doctor-lite format originated during Tennant’s run, and it was a way of making sure the full season was shot on time and within the production’s budget. There would often be a “companion-lite” episode within the same season that was shot at the same time as its Doctor-lite counterpart. Doctor Who’s increased budget due to the Disney deal suggests that Doctor-lite episodes are no longer a financial necessity, as does season 14’s reduced episode count. So, it would appear that Gatwa splitting his time between Doctor Who and Sex Education’s final season is the main cause behind his absences.

“Dot & Bubble” Highlights Doctor Who’s Ncuti Gatwa Problem More Than “73 Yards”

“73 Yards” worked much better as a Doctor-lite episode than “Dot and Bubble”

“73 Yards” allows Millie Gibson to take the spotlight, and the episode focusing so intensely on Ruby’s possible future not only creates an incredibly compelling installment but also brings a stunning performance from Gibson herself. The issue with “Dot and Bubble” is that both the Doctor and Ruby are given incredibly reduced roles, with both characters only making in-person appearances during the episode’s closing moments. As a result, much of the story feels like an episode of an entirely different show, almost as though it’s a repurposed Black Mirror script.

One of the most frustrating parts of the episode’s make-up is that when Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor finally makes a physical appearance in “Dot and Bubble,” rather than just communicating remotely with Lindy Pepper-Bean, he steals the scene and delivers an incredible performance. This reminder of Gatwa’s talents after a muted role in “Dot and Bubble” makes his absence from the episode feel like an enormous mistake. Although Callie Cooke does a commendable job as Lindy Pepper-Bean, there’s no substitute for having Ncuti Gatwa at the forefront of Doctor Who season 14.