Home : Archive : TSV 31-40 : TSV 36 : Feature

The Doctor's Real Name

By Jon Preddle

Whilst watching Silver Nemesis I was intrigued by Lady Peinforte's question 'Doctor who? Have you never wondered where he came from? Who he is?' The way she said 'Doctor who' sounded to me like a statement - not a question. Is he simply 'the Doctor', or is his true name 'Doctor Who'?

The Doctor uses 'Doctor' as a name; never 'Doctor Who'. He has never said 'Doctor Who' in reference to himself, but others have done so. In The Cave of Skulls when Chesterton calls him 'Doctor Foreman', the Doctor says, 'Eh? Doctor who? What's he talking about?', but since he was referring to Ian's remark, this can be discounted. Instances when it has appeared as if characters call him 'Doctor Who' include:

  • 'What doctor? Doctor who?' - Amazonia in The Curse of Peladon Episode 4
  • 'Doctor, er ... who did you say?' - The Investigator in The Mutants Episode 6
  • 'Er, Doctor who?' - Lady Cranleigh in Black Orchid Part 1
  • 'Doctor, who are you?' - Ace in Silver Nemesis Part 3, and of course the aforementioned quote by Lady Peinforte from the same episode.

'Doctor Who' (or Dr Who) was used as the character's name in the early comic strips currently being reprinted in the excellent Classic Comics series, the two Peter Cushing movies, and in some of the early Target novelisations, although this was for the most part restricted to the back cover blurbs. There is also evidence in the television series that 'Who' might well be part of the Doctor's true name:

  • The opening titles clearly say 'Doctor Who' and not 'Doctor Who?' - it is a statement, not a question. Also, for the first eighteen seasons, the closing credits give his name as 'Doctor Who'. It is only from the advent of the Fifth Doctor that the credit has been altered to 'The Doctor', as it was for the next eight seasons.
  • The fifth episode of The Chase is titled The Death of Doctor Who.
  • In The Gunfighters he uses the alias 'Doctor Caligari'. 'Doctor who?' asks Bart Masterton, to which the Doctor simply replies, 'Precisely!' And at the end of this story, the next serial was advertised as 'Doctor Who and the Savages'.
  • The super computer WOTAN correctly guesses what TARDIS stands for, and then refers to the Doctor as 'Doctor Who'. WOTAN doesn't make mistakes - perhaps it was able to read the Doctor's mind?
  • In The Highlanders he uses the name 'Doctor von Wer'. 'Doctor who?' asks a soldier. 'That is what I said,' replies the Doctor. 'Wer' is German for 'who'!
  • In Episode 1 of The Underwater Menace the Doctor signs his name as 'Dr W.' in his note to Professor Zaroff (this is clearly seen in a photo still from the episode).
  • The second adventure of the third Doctor was entitled Doctor Who and the Silurians in the opening titles!
  • Bessie has the registration 'WHO 1', then later in Battlefield, 'WHO 7'. Was this the first instance of personalised plates?
  • In the spin off story K9 and Company, Brendan asks 'Who is the Doctor?' and K9 simply answers 'Affirmative'. Now, K9 is a computer with a logical mind, so why else would he respond in this way?

There is enough evidence to prompt consideration of this issue, but I'll leave conclusions to you, and instead turn to 'Doctor'.

Is it a name or a title, like 'the Master' and 'the Rani', or is it a shortened version of a much longer name - Romana's full name is 'Romanadvoratrelundar', so perhaps his is something like 'Doctoradvoratrelundar'?

At the Prydonian Academy on Gallifrey his nickname was Theta Sigma, as stated in both The Armageddon Factor and The Happiness Patrol, but it would seem he adopted his new name before he graduated. His old teacher, Borusa, and his guru K'Anpo both refer to the Doctor by that name, so why does he use the title?

The most common and recognised use for the title of 'doctor' is in the field of medicine. However in 100,000 BC, Marco Polo, The Krotons and The Seeds of Doom, he clearly says he is not a doctor of medicine, and in The Rescue he confesses he does not have a medical degree. It is true that he has some background in medical science and surgical techniques, but this knowledge must be limited. The First Doctor's denials are, on the other hand, at odds with the Second Doctor's claim in The Moonbase to have earned his medical degree in Glasgow, 1888! In The Ark in Space he declares that his doctorate was purely honorary, which doesn't help matters!

In The Armageddon Factor, Drax congratulates him for receiving his 'doctorate'; it would appear from Drax's comments that the Doctor received his degree at some point after 'the class of '92', and since Drax only knows of him as 'Thete' and not 'the Doctor', then the Doctor must have stated calling himself this after his time with Drax. It is possible that during one of his many visits to Earth whilst training to be a Time Lord, the Doctor stayed with Joseph Lister in Glasgow, 1888. When he returned to Gallifrey, his fellow pupils gave him a new nickname as a joke - the Doctor.

In The Mysterious Planet, the Doctor lets slip that he does consider 'Doctor' to be more than just his name when he says he will write a thesis called 'Ancient Life on Ravolox, by Doctor-', but he is interrupted at this point!

Of course, the title 'doctor' can also apply to one who has qualifications in law, music, politics, philosophy or science. All of those subjects seem to be embraced by the Doctor. In The Aztecs he says he is a scientist and an engineer, while in The Daleks he claims to be a pioneer amongst his own people. During the Third Doctor's era, when asked what he was a doctor of, it was not uncommon for him to reply 'practically everything'!

There are other meanings in the dictionary for the word 'doctor'. One particular usage is as a verb - to doctor, meaning to tamper with, to meddle. Now, who does that sound like to you...?

This item appeared in TSV 36 (November 1993).