What is the correct or most acceptable way to refer to the main character of Doctor Who?

  • The Doctor
  • Dr. Who
  • Doctor Who
  • Doctor
  • The Dr.

I was searching and couldn't find any explanation on how I should say it!

I remember seeing something like, the name changed depending on the incarnation — the presentation of the name of the actor in the episode changed the nomenclature of the Doctor. If I'm not wrong, William Hartnell was called "The Doctor" while Baker was "Doctor Who".

  • 5
    @Kromey: That question is about why he's called "the Doctor"/"Doctor Who." This question is about which name is simply more appropriate.
    – jwodder
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 1:35
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    Wait. I seem to remember his name is John Smith. ; ) Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 1:56
  • 2
    He’s the Doctor. Just the Doctor. Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 8:44
  • 4
    Not a duplicate. I vote to reopen. It's like saying if a guy is named Dr. John Smith, Jr., do I call him "Doctor" or "Dr. Smith" or "John" or "Junior," as opposed to how did he get that name? Two rather different questions. Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 22:46
  • 1
    Definitely not "Dr. Who", because he's not American. Contractions do not take a terminal full stop in British English, while truncations do (cf. "Leut Smith" and "Col. Smith").
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 10:37

7 Answers 7


Generally, he introduces himself as "the Doctor," to his companions, friends and even to a bunny rabbit. The people or creatures (not the bunny who can't speak) call him "Doctor." Even meeting hostile aliens for the first time, as in The Eleventh Hour when he met the Atraxi, he introduced himself this way, and thus albeit subtly, all his previous incarnations (save for one that we found out about later, "spoilers."):

Doctor confronts the Atraxi

ATRAXI: Is this world important?

DOCTOR: Important? What's that mean, important? Six billion people live here. Is that important? Here's a better question. Is this world a threat to the Atraxi? Well, come on. You're monitoring the whole planet. Is this world a threat?

(There is a projection of the world between them.)


DOCTOR: Are the peoples of this world guilty of any crime by the laws of the Atraxi?


DOCTOR: Okay. One more. Just one. Is this world protected? Because you're not the first lot to come here. Oh, there have been so many.

(The projection shows the Daleks et al.)

DOCTOR: And what you've got to ask is, what happened to them?

(A run through of all the previous Doctors, then this Doctor steps through the projection with a jacket and bow tie.)

DOCTOR: Hello. I'm the Doctor. Basically, run.

(emphasis mine, the full scene at the Beeb's US site)

Sometimes he calls himself John Smith, and David Tennant's Doctor (the 10th, 11th or the 12th?) actually was John Smith for a while.

When the Family of Blood, armed with a stolen vortex manipulator came after the Tenth Doctor, he decided that it would be best if he and his companion, Martha Jones, hid for a few months waiting for the Family to exhaust their limited lifespan. Since the Family of Blood could track by scent but never saw his face, he used the Chameleon Arch to change his biology and transform into a human, storing his Time Lord essence in a special fob watch. The TARDIS invented a life story for him, chose a setting and integrated him. This led to the Doctor living life as an ordinary schoolteacher named John Smith in 1913, believing himself to be human and believing his TARDIS created memories to be real.

The Daleks call him "The Predator" and "The Predator of the Daleks." (At least in the Asylum of the Daleks episode.)

Tragically, he was also The Valeyard.

He's gone by, or been called, many other names and titles before, a great deal of which can be found here. I hate to leave just a link, but if you click through you'll see that no short summary is really possible as they even break it down by First Doctor, Second Doctor, etc and include nicknames and many other bits-n-pieces. Really a smashing BIG page.

  • 7
    I didn't need SO MUCH Atraxi, I know, but dang it. I just REALLY love that scene. All the Doctor's faces like that gave me goose-pimples when I first saw it and it still does. Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 2:38
  • It was the 11th Doctor who called himself John Smith when him and Martha were hiding from the Family of Blood and the Doctor had to become a human while they waited for the Family of Blood to die off so they would stop hunting for a Time Lord in order to become immortal.
    – Memor-X
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 4:45
  • easy to remember the Doctor numbers because there would be in total 13 Doctors, David used 2 Regens so originally Matt was the last so he's 13 - 1 = 12 until the Time Lords gave the Doctor another regen and in Day of the Doctor there were 13 TARDIS's from all of time and space
    – Memor-X
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 4:45
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    Don't forget The War Doctor, between 8 and 9! Not really all that easy. There's some grey. Plus, David regenned into himself; the personality and looks stayed which would open up the number from John Hurt's Doctor... Matt Smith could be the 11th (by regular actor canon, ignoring The War Doctor), the 12th (counting David's twice, or counting The War Doctor), or the 13th (if you count David's twice, and The War Doctor). Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey...Stuff. Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 5:01
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    David Tennant was "Ten" and Matt Smith was "Eleven" for almost the entirety of their span as The Doctor. Smith even refers to himself in-character on-screen in The Lodger as "number Eleven." No one is seriously going to start calling them "Eleven" and "Twelve" just because we found a missing Doctor 8 1/2 we didn't know about.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 18:16

"Doctor" when speaking directly to him, and "The Doctor" when referring to him.

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    You should really cite some refences or back up your answer in some way. Even my comment (of the same answer) was longer and had more substance than this answer. One sentence answers are frowned upon here and are often deleted as "low quality." I suggest checking out the Tour to get a better idea of how to ask and answer questions. We're not a typical discussion forum. Don't be discouraged, we were all new here at some point. Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 1:54
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    Nothing more needs to be said to answer this question though :P I didn't even read the comments under the question, but regardless, it's nice to have an answer as an answer. The answer itself, this is one of those things that doesn't even need to be explicitly explained anyway.
    – Kay
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 2:03
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    What references. Just watch the show that's full of rubber suit monsters for years of references =) Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 5:25
  • So, it's wrong to call him "Doctor Who" or "Dr. Who" as for instance "Fast, call Doctor Who to help us!" or type "Dr.Who was here"?
    – Michel
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 18:52
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    @MeatTrademark Watch the Peter Cushing movies to see why you never want to hear "Dr Who". Commented Jun 8, 2014 at 18:57

Susan called him Grandfather.

Ian addressed him (in the first adventure) as Dr. Foreman (generating the very first in show "Doctor Who?" response).

He was mistaken for Maximus Pettulian in The Romans, and for Zeus in The Myth Makers.

He was called "Doctor Who" in The War Machines and the non-canonical Cushing films.

He impersonated Raul Salamander in The Enemy of the World.

K9 addressed him as Master (but not The Master).

His college nick-name was Theta Sigma (and River's message in The Pandorica Opens included Theta Sigma).

Ace usually called him Professor (possibly to annoy him).

He was "Merlin" in Battlefield.

Occasionally he has been "John Smith".

He used "Dr James McCrimmon" in Tooth and Claw.

The Daleks apparently called him the On-coming Storm The Girl in the Fireplace.

Davros named him "The Destroyer of Worlds" in Journey's End.

River Song called him "Sweetie".

Otherwise, "Doctor" or "The Doctor".

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    Just as a funny sidenote, from Moffat's first published Doctor Who story: "The Daleks of Skaro, of course, know him as the Ka Faraq Gatri. Traditionally this is translated as ‘Bringer Of Darkness’ though Professor Lyttle has established beyond reasonable doubt that this translation was, typically, the work of the Doctor himself. More accurately, and with that wonderful Dalek sense of irony, Ka Faraq Gatri means ‘Nice guy - if you’re a biped.’ And that perhaps sums up the Doctor better than anything. He just never knows when the Daleks are kidding." (though Ka Faraq Gatri isn't Moffat's idea).
    – JimmiTh
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 9:39
  • He was also known as Theta Sigma in School on Gallifrey (it was his nick name). Commented Jun 7, 2014 at 9:06
  • I will never allow any list of aliases to omit "Captain Troy Handsome of International Rescue". Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 19:17

tl;dr: With one notable exception, the character has never been identified on-screen as anything but "The Doctor" (nitpicker's corner: by people who are addressing him by name, and not using an alias or epithet), but has been variously identified as both "The Doctor" and "Doctor Who" if various contexts beyond the televised episodes. Nearly all fans of the show prefer "The Doctor", but even cast and crew of the show will sometimes refer to him as "Doctor Who".


In-universe, as everyone else has pointed out, he introduces himself as The Doctor", and those familiar with him usually address him as "Doctor" (assuming he's not trying to hide his identity by using an alias, of course). There has only ever been one, rather infamous, exception to this rule: a Season 3 episode (which I haven't actually seen, only heard about) where an intelligent computer named WOTAN calls The Doctor "Doctor Who" throughout the episode. Besides that one encounter, no one has ever directly addressed the character as anything other than "Doctor" or "The Doctor" on television.

(The phrase "Doctor Who" does come up in conversation on occasion, but as a running-joke, in the form of a question: "Doctor Who?", playing off the fact that no one knows his real name.)

The question of how to identify the character when discussing him outside of the show itself is a lot murkier. While most fans disapprove of the name "Doctor Who" for identifying the character, that's how he was billed in the closing credits for the first 18 seasons. When Peter Davison took over the role from Tom Baker, he had the credit sequence changed to identify the character as "The Doctor", which is how it appeared on all subsequent episodes until it was canceled, and on the 1996 TV movie.

When RTD revived the show, the closing credits reverted to billing Christopher Eccleston as "Doctor Who", and again, when David Tennant came in, he insisted on having it changed back. It has been "The Doctor" in every episode since then (and with Moffat being an actual fan of the show, will likely stay that way for a while.)

Cast members doing media appearances have also been known to call the character "Doctor Who" (David Tennant has done this at least twice). This is most likely done for the sake of the audience, to help differentiate the character from other random "doctor" characters (e.g. Alex Kingston was on E.R., which had lots of doctors, but not The Doctor).

According to the TARDIS wikia, the alternative media (books, comics, etc), especially the early ones, also referred to the character as "Doctor Who" in the narrative text. I don't remember this from the few novels that I've read, but those were mostly later incarnations, long after they'd settled on the character's name, so I can't confirm this personally.

  • WOTAN was a non-repeating villainous sentient computer in The War Machines. Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 4:20
  • Wotan is also a part of The Church of the SubGenius mythos. Lest we forget. Commented May 26, 2016 at 16:22

When the Doctor was exiled to Earth (end of Troughton, beginning of Pertwee) they assigned the name Dr. John Smith to give him a personnel alias for his posting with UNIT. While I have not consumed much Who beyond the Davison era, story continuity might include subsequent regenerations using this convenient lie as appropriate.

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    Other Doctors have used that alias. Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 21:26
  • I'll take your word for it, I can only speak to Pertwee, Baker and Davison
    – Lighthart
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 23:18
  • In fact, The Doctor chose the name himself - The Brigadier insisted he have a proper name, and he chose Dr. John Smith. Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 20:14

In Trial of a Timelord, when the charges are being outlined the prosecution gets as far as referring to him as "Doctor Who-" before being cut off, implying that "Who" is the first syllable of his name.


"His college nick-name was Theta Sigma "

That was in Tom Baker, episode "the armageddon factor"; final story in the key to time series. But do none of you remember that as Drax, his old school chum meets him, he clearly and repeatedly calls him "feet"? He does so until baker reminds him that he had received a doctorate (then calls him doc).

  • 1
    That was Drax' accent - he's saying "Thete", very badly. BTW, Drax was a member of a secret club that The Doctor, The Rani and several other academy students founded called The Deca. tardis.wikia.com/wiki/The_Deca Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 20:15

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