Over the years the Doctor’s friends (and their enemies) have gotten confused about the Time Lord’s true identity. Are they really the Doctor, or Doctor Who, or Theta Sigma? And what does all this mean for Doctor Who canon? It’s a bit of a rollercoaster, so brace yourselves – you may want to find something to hang onto!
When Doctor Who canon began in 1963, the “rules” about the Doctor’s identity were quite clearly established. Nobody really knew who this mysterious traveller was; his companions Ian and Barbara knew that he was a doctor of some sort, but they didn’t have a clue as to his name. (Although, to be fair, they never asked.) In ‘The Cave of Skulls,’ Ian turns to his friend and says, “Who is he? Doctor who?!” And this line, presumably, was to justify the show’s title – making it somewhat important in the course of Doctor Who canon!
Of course, nobody really addressed the First Doctor in this manner, as it was more of a question rather than a title. Or was it? By the time ‘The War Machines’ came around in 1966, Doctor Who canon was about to take its first beating thanks to a deranged computer called WOTAN, that was hellbent on taking over the world and enslaving mankind. The idea about WOTAN was that it was a highly advanced supercomputer (or a Will Operating Thought Analogue) that – when connected with every other computer in the world – would become the ultimate source of all human knowledge. A bit like Wikipedia with attitude.
And WOTAN, having done its research across the internet of 1966, came back to its human slaves with a clear instruction. “Doctor Who is required,” it stated. “Bring him here!”
So where on earth did WOTAN get the idea that the Doctor’s name was really Doctor Who? Well, maybe it had been watching the Peter Cushing movies, in which the eponymous hero actually refers to himself as Doctor Who. And these could technically be Doctor Who canon if you subscribe to the idea that they take place in a parallel universe, or even that these films represent someone’s attempt to document the Doctor’s adventures in film form. WOTAN could have drawn from this knowledge and mistakenly thought that the man he needed was, indeed, called Doctor Who. It could happen to anyone.
Now, this theory might stick if it were not for the 1966 story ‘The Highlanders’ in which the Second Doctor himself refers to himself as Doctor Who – albeit with the loose German translation of “Doctor von Wer.” And this is difficult to reconcile with Doctor Who canon, unless the Doctor’s real name actually is (for some bizarre reason) Doctor Who, or perhaps the Doctor had become aware of the urban legend surrounding his name and simply repeated it out of humour. He does a similar thing in ‘The Underwater Menace,’ when he leaves a note signed “Dr. W.,” and in ‘The Daemons‘ he refers to himself as the great magician Qui Quae Quod, which are Latin variations of the word “who.”
With all this in mind, the name of 1970 serial ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’ might kind of make sense – except for the fact that the Doctor is never referred to as Doctor Who in the story, or indeed at any point in the Jon Pertwee era (unless you count the WHO 1 number plates on his car, which are enough to make anyone’s wheels spin.) He is, however, called Doctor Who on the closing credits throughout the 70s, and this suggests that – even if nobody else considered this to be the Doctor’s name – the production team certainly did.
Was this simply a mistake on their part, made by people who weren’t familiar enough with the show to understand where his name actually came from? Or did they know something about Doctor Who canon that we didn’t?
In any case, things became a little smoother for Doctor Who canon in the 80s when the credits were changed back, and he was simply referred to as The Doctor. Although by the time the Ninth Doctor was in situ in 2005, the production team had once again decided that he was Doctor Who and not the Doctor. Fantastic?
Interestingly, all of this confusion is something that showrunner Steven Moffat picked up on and had fun with. For instance, in ‘The Time of the Doctor’ it is used as a question: the Time Lords (trapped in another universe) call out through a crack in space and time, asking the Doctor to confirm his identity. And in ‘Asylum of the Daleks,’ the Daleks themselves ask the same question when Oswin Oswald wipes all trace of him from their memory banks.
But then there is the famous scene from ‘World Enough and Time’ which threatens to throw Doctor Who canon irreversibly into the untempered schism. Missy (pretending to be the Doctor) emerges from the TARDIS and says, “Hello, I’m Doctor Who!” Bill calls her out on this, insisting that he’s not really called Doctor Who. And at first, Missy says she’s just cutting to the chase as it’s the question everyone asks (“I’m streamlining!”) but then later claims that it is, in fact, the Time Lord’s real name. Her evidence for this is the fact that she grew up with him.
But this is Missy we’re talking about – hardly the most reliable source of information.
So where does all this leave us? In a bit of a bind, by all accounts. The most logical explanation for these inconsistencies is the ever-changing nature of the production team over Doctor Who‘s 58+ years, with many producers being unsure as to how to address the titular character.
But never let logic get in the way of a good debate! The Doctor is clearly aware of his own enigma, even going so far as to dress himself in question marks throughout many of his incarnations (check out our Seventh Doctor sweatshirt by the way, nudge nudge.) So one way to incorporate this sticking point into Doctor Who canon is to acknowledge that the Doctor is simply having fun with the fact that nobody knows his name – hence the strange number plates on Bessie, and even that amusing moment in ‘The Gunfighters’ when Wyatt Earp says “Doctor who?!” and William Hartnell replies, “Yes, quite right!”
But tell me what you think. Are they really called the Doctor, or Doctor Who? And if the latter, how do you justify this in terms of Doctor Who canon? Let me know in the comments!
Seventh Doctor jumper – order now from the Lovarzi shop!