Last night we watched ‘The War Machines,’ a late First Doctor story with plenty to recommend it. It’s a classic robot-overlords drama, featuring a futuristic mega-computer and the brand new ultra-modern Post Office Tower looming over London. It’s tense, exciting, and quickly paced for the 60s. It’s Ben and Polly’s introduction as well as their sole surviving complete story. It was great fun to watch while full of Hartnell feels from ‘An Adventure in Space and Time.’
It is also the one and only occasion in-universe when the Doctor is called “Doctor Who.”
Today, if anyone should refer to the Doctor as such, they are bound to be shouted down by zealous fans. His name is The Doctor, they insist, not Doctor Who. Nor are they wrong – except for the Peter Cushing movies which don’t really count. However, I find there is little support for such fervor with regards to the Doctor’s name. He’s had too much history as Doctor Who.
For eighteen seasons, the character’s name in the credits was Doctor Who – or even, horrors, “Dr. Who.” One serial – ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’ – and many Target novelizations use the name in their titles. Casting announcements referred to “the new Doctor Who;” the Third Doctor’s car license plate read “WHO 1;” actors identified themselves as “Doctor Who” and fans did the same. Though the character introduced himself as the Doctor, and was with that sole exception referred to likewise by others, “Doctor Who” was widely used outside the show, by fans, showrunners, and the uninitiated alike. (ETA: Listen to Peter Capaldi talk about the character and you’ll see what I mean.)
This changed for the first time in 1982, with fanboys John Nathan-Turner and Peter Davison. JNT was the first producer to make an issue of the show’s continuity, populating his series with references and in-jokes. Davison was the proto-Tennant, the first actor playing the Doctor to have watched the show in childhood. Either may have taken issue with the Doctor’s name, and both had sufficient influence to do something about it. From Season 19 until the show’s return – including the 1996 film – the character was credited as “The Doctor.”
Russell T. Davies is also a fanboy, but clearly of a different stripe. He deliberately avoided references to continuity, hoping to set his show apart from its lackluster latter days and attract a new audience. Did he consciously choose history over accuracy when assembling the show’s credits? Did he leave it to someone else, who didn’t know or care? Whatever his feelings in the matter, personal or professional, his first season credits the character as “Doctor Who.”
Then David Tennant came along, the fanboy to end all fanboys. (Until Capaldi, of course.) He reportedly asked for the credits to be changed again, and the character has remained “The Doctor” ever since.
No one is arguing over the name: he is without question the Doctor. However, though I don’t do it myself, I agree that there are times when “Doctor Who” is a more efficient way to refer to him. In mixed company, for example, “The Doctor” could be anyone from Leonard McCoy to one’s personal physician, while “Doctor Who” is unambiguous. (Personally I find myself saying, “The Doctor from Doctor Who,” which is admittedly awkward.) I don’t see the value of stomping on people who take this shortcut, particularly when history – and continuity – support them.