Who History: Dr. Who or Doctor Who?

We’ve all seen them: the images floating around Tumblr and Pinterest.  The threads that pop up on forums and Facebook.  The little snide comments on Twitter.  They usually boil down to something like this: 

Person A: Oh hai guys, I’m almost done with the first season of Dr Who! Boy that gas mask mummy kid was scary.

Person B: OMG. Okay, first of all, its not really the first season, there were eight Doctors that came first. Second of all – it’s DOCTOR, not DR.  NEVER abbreviate it. Sheesh, next you’ll be telling me his actual name is Dr Who. Noob.

Ten minutes later, Person B posts an image that says, “To non-geeks: You say it’s Dr Who, I say you’re a moron.”

Maybe not quite so long-winded and snarky, but if you’re a fan of the show, you’ve seen something like it – the ultimate litmus test between a True Fan and an Utter Noob.  Honestly, nowadays such contests kind of leave a bad taste in my mouth, just like the ol’ Gamer Girl debate (don’t say it twice more or it’ll rise from the grave!).  However, this issue is particularly interesting; there’s far more than meets the eye, and it encompasses the entire history of the show.


So everyone knows that the main character is called, simply, “The Doctor.”  It’s been the case since the very beginning.  And the title, “Doctor Who,” is simply a play on the fact that the Doctor is a mysterious figure, and a neverending source of terrible jokes (I’m pretty sure we get a “Doctor? Doctor Who?” joke in the first episode; definitely the first season).  Since “the Doctor” is a name and not a title, we don’t abbreviate it. Simple enough, right?

Sure, until you look at the image above.  In fact, the first three Doctors were credited as Dr Who!  Even Christopher Eccleston was credited as Doctor Who – it wasn’t until Tennant, a fan, came along that the credits were changed to “The Doctor.”  So, pretty weird, huh?  Does that make it canon, then?

Work in Progress

Well, kind of.  Not really.  See, we’re dealing with a TV show that’s been going on for 50 years – TV was practically a toddler, comparatively.  This show, in particular, was aimed more at families; it was not intended to be high art or even necessarily cohesive.  There was no “show Bible.”  Regeneration was thought up on the fly out of necessity.  Details  about the Doctor’s backstory were filled in, contradicted, edited.  There weren’t any repeats, so it wasn’t as big of a deal – heck, the BBC destroyed many episodes because they thought old footage was so much junk!

Even the TV movie – a show which, one could say, strove to take its place in the pre-existing timeline – introduced that whole half-human thing.  And while most of the fans and showrunners have embraced that Doctor as canon, everyone kind of ignores that half-human part.  Just like we’ve ignored the fact that the credits – something usually taken as absolute proof in issues like character names and spelling – list The Doctor as Dr Who or Doctor Who for 40 years.

“After all,” some say reasonably, “It’s just a TV show.”  And they’re right.  (But will they create “Know Your Who History” images, that’s what I’d like to know.)  But at any rate, maybe it’s best to leave the Doctor spelled out, because Dr. Who is another guy altogether.

Dr. Who

Dr. Who and the Daleks is a movie that was released in 1965, starring Peter Cushing.  While character names are (mostly) the same, and the plot is loosely based on the serial “The Daleks” from the first season of Doctor Who, the differences are quite large, and the movie is not considered canon.  There are some who go with a Tarantino-esque “movie within a movie” theory to try to include it in the Doctor Who universe, but suffice it to say it’s not part of that “reality” at any rate.  Though Peter Cushing is not one of “The Doctors,” he is his own “Dr. Who,” and the movie has kind of a fond cult following.

Oh, and let’s not forget his sequel: Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (loosely based on “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” from the second season).  How will Dr. Who defeat the Daleks this time?!  I admit that I haven’t gotten to sit down and watch it yet myself, but I intend to, because who doesn’t like a rainbow of technicolor Daleks?  I can almost hear the fans shaking their fists at the sky and growling, “Moffat…”

So, what have we determined?  Is Dr Who acceptable or not?  Well, the truth is that you can make a case either way.  Most agree that the guy’s name is probably intended as The Doctor, but in writing something down there’s no “right way” or protocol that only “true fans” follow.  Honestly, most fandoms are guilty of flagrant abuse of acronyms, and Doctor Who‘s is no exception – I’ve seen almost every new Who episode abbreviated at some point!  Are we really going to begrudge a simple  standard abbreviation?  And are we really actively trying to make other new Whovians feel more self-conscious?  Even though I tend to write out Doctor Who myself, thinking about it that way makes me a staunch defender of any title-mangling that may occur.

At any rate, the Dr vs Doctor issue provides a way to discuss a show with a multilayered and fascinating history.  What’s not to like about that?



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