doctor who or dr who name debate bbc america 'Doctor Who' or 'Dr. Who'? Experts weigh in on the great name debate

There’s been plenty of debate in recent years over whether it’s acceptable to refer to the BBC sci-fi classic “Doctor Who” as “Dr. Who.” Sure, the abbreviation makes tweeting easier, but does it also highlight someone as a total “Who” newbie who doesn’t understand that “Doctor” is the main character’s name, not title?
It turns out that answer isn’t especially clear-cut. The conflict comes from the fact that the BBC previously credited “Doctor Who” as “Dr. Who” during the first run of the series, and there even was a 1965 movie released called “Dr. Who and the Daleks.” Zap2it reached out to 10 “Doctor Who” experts for their takes on the great name debate. Here’s what they had to say:
  • “In the 1963 pilot episode of ‘Doctor Who,’ Ian Chesterton refers to the old man in the junkyard as ‘Doctor Foreman.’ In reply, the man mutters under his breath ‘Doctor who?’ and a series staple in-joke was born. One that would later become a series arc! But ‘Dr. Who’? Hmmm. I actually think it’s fine to refer to the programme in this shorthand. After all ‘ST: TNG’ [for ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’] is fine (isn’t it?) so why not shorten the title for economy or efficiency? It doesn’t bother me. After all, I seem to recall even the good old Radio Times used to do it in the UK. And if it’s good enough for that institution, (dr) who am I to rock the boat?” — Richard Dinnick, BAFTA judge and author of “Doctor Who: The Underwater War”
  • “Much like the ancient debate of whether the lead character of Doctor Who is called ‘the Doctor’, ‘Dr. Who’ or ‘Doctor Who’, how you spell the show’s title doesn’t really matter. Sure, to some people, whether you call it ‘Doctor Who’ or ‘Dr. Who’ will either distinguish you as a real fan or some sort of sub-human fraud, but who cares? In terms of canon or what is right and what is wrong, the 50 year history of Doctor Who is a total mess — fraught with confusing contradictions. All that matters is what the show means to you — and that extends to how you refer to it. So, with that in mind, what do I call it? Well, as an aesthetic choice, I refer to it as ‘Doctor Who.’ Despite the first three Doctors — William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee — being referred to as ‘Dr. Who’ in the credits (see? Contradictions), it has always been billed as ‘Doctor Who’ in its opening title sequence. The only time that I would ever really call it ‘Dr. Who’ is when I have to ruthlessly slaughter characters to make a tweet work. But, as I said, it’s entirely up to you. I don’t care what you call the d*** thing, the fact that you’re watching it is good enough for me.” — Stephen Kelly, UK TV journalist for Doctor Who Magazine, Radio Times and beyond

  • “The choice between calling it ‘Doctor Who’ or ‘Dr. Who’ is a personal one. That said, Doctor is as close to a name as you’ll ever get, not his profession. The Doctor never got his Ph.D., nor is he certified to practice medicine. Shortening it to ‘Dr.’ connects more to the job than a name, and no one wants the Doctor performing surgery on them. So while what you call the show may be a choice, make the right one. It’s ‘Doctor Who.'” — Chris Hayner, staff editor at Zap2it

  • “I always felt it was more acceptable to call the ’60s movie version ‘Dr. Who’ and the call the TV one ‘Doctor Who.’ That way I could identify each separately as their characters seemed miles apart to me when I was younger.” — Jim Wilkins, admin for The Doctor Who Hub and artist for In Print Comic 

  • “The BBC, different actors who’ve played the Doctor, and the show’s original creators have all often used ‘Dr. Who’ as an abbreviation for the show. Today more people prefer not to do that because it implies it’s the character’s name, but sometimes on social media where you have limited space, it’s just easier and that’s understandable. I’ve noticed it’s mainly American fans who get angry about it, oddly.” — Alan Kistler, author of “Doctor Who: A History”

  • “As both a stickler for grammar and a lifelong Doctor Who fan, this debate has always made my brain hurt. The proper title for the series is ‘Doctor Who.’ To abbreviate it is not only lazy, but it sort of misses the point. Here’s why: The lead character’s name is ‘The Doctor’ (or at least that’s the only name he goes by). From the earliest episodes back in the ’60s, when he introduced himself as ‘The Doctor,’ he was usually met with the response, ‘Doctor who?’ That’s where the series’ title comes from (as any longtime fan will be happy to tell you). When people abbreviate the title to ‘Dr. Who,’ they’re actually removing his name from the title, adding the abbreviation of a professional occupation that has nothing to do with his adventures in time and space, and suggesting that ‘Who’ is his name. (It’s not.) So it’s wrong on not one, but three, very infuriating levels. Basically, if you want a fan of ‘Doctor Who’ to take you seriously, for the love of Gallifrey, don’t refer to the series as ‘Dr. Who.'” — Rick Marshall, writer (and professional geek) for, MTV, Mental Floss, Digital Trends, and other online and print outlets
  • “Dr. is a standard abbreviation for Doctor, and really, I think we can all sympathize with needing an abbreviation to stay under 140 characte” — Philip Sandifer (via Twitter), author of “TARDIS Eruditorum” and 
  • “There are only two times in a true Doctor Who fans life where it is acceptable to use the term ‘Dr. Who’: when referring to the 1965 Peter Cushing movie ‘Dr. Who and the Daleks,’ or when talking about the credits of the Classic era.” — Harri Sargeant, writer at Hypable 

  • “Saying ‘Dr. Who’ makes it sound like it’s his name. His name isn’t Who. I doubt he really got a PhD somewhere (in my headcanon his various degrees are all honorary and he has many), He is The Doctor. He is The Doctor Who this week is fighting Daleks. Or The Doctor Who needs to escape this time warp. It’s a show about him and what he does. And while he might have been credited as ‘Dr. Who’ for many years in the early show, it’s worth pointing out that only one thing ever called him that in that time and it was a deranged and lonely super computer that just wanted other computer friends. And not for nothing? But the one time they accidentally slipped and called a story ‘Doctor Who and The Silurians’ they changed the business practice that made that slip possible so ‘Doctor Who’ being his name would never happen again. And besides. Don’t you think if ‘Dr. Who’ was the way, the truth and the light it would be all over the show by now?” — Matt Smith, founder and writer of Classical Gallifrey

  • “‘Dr. Who’ is what was used back in the ’60s, so there should be no reason not to use it now. But using ‘Doctor’ is best because when one is talking about The Doctor, you should be respectful. I really have no strong feelings either way; people can call him Bob for all I care, but he is still The Doctor.” — Jason Andolina, admin for The Doctor Who Hub
Posted by:Terri Schwartz