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"Doctor-lite" is a term originated by the BBC Wales Doctor Who production team to describe televised episodes which, in order to be able to film all commissioned episodes in time and on budget, don't have an extensive appearance by the Doctor. Inversely, "companion-lite" describes an episode that, for similar reasons, has a reduced appearance by the regular companion(s).

Etymology Edit

One of the earliest known uses of the term was in 2007, when Steven Moffat called Blink "the cheap, no CGI, Doctor-lite episode" of series 3 in Doctor Who Magazine #393. DWM staff writer David Darlington, who was conducting an interview with Moffat in that issue, picked up on this "behind-the-scenes" meaning of the word, and called Blink the "double-banking episode", which Moffat confirmed meant "the one that doesn't have the Doctor in". DWM subsequently reprinted Moffat in DWMSE #17's exploration of the making of Blink. Later, while he was in production of series 5, Moffat gave an interview to Non-Sports Update in which he said that Doctor-lite episodes are "purely a scheduling issue", arising out of a need to film fourteen episodes in the time necessary to film thirteen, meaning that there's "one without the Doctor" filmed simultaneously with another episode that does feature the Doctor.[1] So to the production team, it's not just a story that doesn't feature the Doctor much. It's a story that doesn't feature the Doctor because there's no other way that principal photography could be concluded in the time allotted. This basis had already led to the creation of the episode Love & Monsters in series 2.

The next was 2008's Turn Left, starring Donna Noble as main character of the episode. That was counter-balanced by the previous Midnight, which brought an innovation: it was only companion-lite, since David Tennant was fully engaged in that story. Series 4's introduction of the companion-lite story was followed in the next two series by the two Craig Owens adventures, The Lodger and Closing Time. Though these stories absolutely featured less of the regular companions for production reasons, the fact that they starred a recurring character offered a further refinement of the concept. It allowed fans to view the episodes as "companion-different" rather than companion-lite.

Indeed fan use of the term is important to document, if only to contrast with the original BBC Wales meaning. To many fans, a Doctor- or companion-lite story is simply any adventure where the role of the Doctor and/or recurring companion is significantly reduced. Thus, fans will often make a retrospective judgement about an old serial, calling the likes of Mission to the Unknown "Doctor-lite" — even when there is no evidence at all of a behind-the-scenes need for a Doctor-lite story.

This purely narrative assessment is also used with non-televised stories, and indeed there are several examples of this sort of "audience perception" Doctor-lite story going back as far as the old World Distributors annuals. In this sense, companion-lite stories have happened since at least the First Doctor comic stories in TV Comic, where John and Gillian sometimes disappeared for weeks.

Non-televised stories Edit

Though the term may have been a product of the BBC Wales version of the television programme, the concept of a story featuring less of the Doctor certainly pre-dates the 2005 series. Three prose examples of Doctor-lite stories are the novels Who Killed Kennedy, Birthright and The Face of the Enemy. In comics, Happy Deathday is ultimately revealed to be a Doctor-lite story, in which the Eighth Doctor is never actually seen, but the entirety of the story is revealed to be something that happened on a video game Izzy was playing on the TARDIS' Time-Space Visualiser.

Companion-lite stories are comparatively rarer in other media[disputed statement], but there's at least one example that, however narrowly, predates the introduction of the concept to television. The comic strip The Lodger gave readers a Rose-lite, Mickey-heavy story at a time well before Mickey joined the TARDIS crew in TV: School Reunion. PROSE: The Banquo Legacy was a Doctor-lite, with supporting characters centred by their retelling of the narrative. Equally, the two short stories Amy's Escapade and Rory's Adventure in Doctor Who The Official Annual 2012 are Doctor-lite stories starring each companion, set simultaneously.

Historically, though, the earliest companion-lite stories can be found in World Distributors annuals and TV Comic. Annual short stories like Fungus and others featured a Doctor whose companion-less status — even though companions were present elsewhere in the annual — was never explained.

Any number of Polystyle's comic stories suddenly had a regular character drop out of sight without explanation. But stories like The Duellists, where Jamie McCrimmon is suddenly absent after having been in the comic for dozens of weeks, is perhaps not the purest application of the term "companion-lite". This sort of turnover happens with regularity in comics. After all, one issue Destrii and Ace were in DWM comic stories, and the next they weren't.

However, there are examples that are less ambiguous.

Fan co-option Edit

There is little doubt that since the term first bubbled up in the 2000s, fans have sought to use the term to describe stories that had narratives with "less of the Doctor". Among the many stories claimed to be "Doctor-lite" by fans — without any reference to production realities — are The Tenth Planet,[2] The Crimson Horror,[3][4] The Veiled Leopard, [5] part one of Spearhead from Space[6] and The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve.[7]

Usage on this wiki Edit

Because the term has demonstrable flexibility within fandom, it's important to have a clear sense of what the term does not mean to this wiki, editorially.

  • For televised episodes, we stick with the strict definition provided by Steven Moffat: it's only Doctor-lite if it's made by BBC Wales and features less of the Doctor because of double-banking.
  • They aren't stories which were filmed when there was no actor under contract to play an ongoing companion. Hence, The Lodger is companion-lite, but The Waters of Mars isn't.
  • They aren't stories in which only some of the companions make a reduced appearance. Vincent and the Doctor might very well be "Rory-lite", but it's not companion-lite as Amy makes a full appearance. In addition, Rory had ceased to exist at the end of Cold Blood, making the hypothetical "Rory-lite" term inaccurate as he was not an ongoing companion.
  • They aren't stories in which a character has a reduced appearance in a single episode of a multi-part story. In the Hartnell and Troughton eras, several individual episodes had a reduced role for their companions as a result of the filming schedule of the time and the serialised nature of the programme.
  • Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Doctor Who Magazine backup comics, or any of a number of Big Finish Productions ranges aren't Doctor-lite — they're spin-offs. Spinoff stories can be "character-lite" themselves, such as Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?, but this is stretching an already thin term.

Footnotes Edit

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