In Doctor Who, S6E7, we learn that we got the word Doctor for being a healer / wise from the doctor:

RIVER: This was exactly you. All this. All of it. You make them so afraid. When you began, all those years ago, sailing off to see the universe, did you ever think you'd become this? The man who can turn an army around at the mention of his name. Doctor. The word for healer and wise man throughout the universe. We get that word from you, you know. But if you carry on the way you are, what might that word come to mean? To the people of the Gamma Forests, the word Doctor means mighty warrior. How far you've come. And now they've taken a child, the child of your best friends, and they're going to turn her into a weapon just to bring you down. And all this, my love, in fear of you.

So, our interpretation of the word is based on the Doctor as being a healer / wise man. But what was the meaning when he took it as his name?

  • 3
    1995 - > Steven Moffat ([email protected]): "Here’s a particularly stupid theory. If we take “The Doctor” to be the Doctor’s name – even if it is in the form of a title no doubt meaning something deep and Gallifreyan – perhaps our earthly use of the word “doctor” meaning healer or wise man is direct result of the Doctor’s multiple interventions in our history as a healer and wise man. In other words, we got it from him. This is a very silly idea and I’m consequently rather proud of it."
    – Valorum
    Jul 4, 2021 at 9:10
  • @Valorum Lots of Moffat-era DW stuff originated in fan chatter from the Wilderness Years. You can see several of them cropping up in The Curse of Fatal Death (1999).
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 4, 2021 at 11:47

1 Answer 1


"Doctor", like "Master", is a title, chosen by a Time Lord presumably at some point in their education or qualification from the Academy on Gallifrey. The title "Doctor" means someone who makes people better. This is according to the heart-to-heart between the Doctor and the Master by telephone in Series 3 Episode 12, "The Sound of Drums":

MASTER: Doctor.
DOCTOR: Master.
MASTER: I like it when you use my name.
DOCTOR: You chose it. Psychiatrist's field day.
MASTER: As you chose yours. The man who makes people better. How sanctimonious is that?
DOCTOR: So, Prime Minister, then.
MASTER: I know. It's good, isn't it?

Although it's often a losing struggle to seek consistency in the Doctor Who canon, and the combination of this exchange with the one you quoted in your question has been specifically cited as an example of something that doesn't make sense, it can be consistent if you squint a bit: the word "Doctor" meant "someone who makes people better" in the Gallifreyan language, and then, thanks to The Doctor, the word spread throughout the universe to have the same or similar meanings in countless other languages.

See also Origin of the titles “Doctor” and “Master” from Doctor Who on the sister site Movies & TV.

  • Most doctors throughout the history of the English language haven't been (as Einstein's housekeeper apocryphally once put it) the "sort of doctors what help people."
    – Valorum
    Jul 4, 2021 at 15:10
  • @Valorum I know, but go and tell that to Moffat :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 4, 2021 at 15:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.