Doctor Who is so much more than the title of a British science-fiction show. It is a loaded question that has spanned the history of the series. Decades after the time traveling alien known as The Doctor and his TARDIS made their debut, the answer to the oldest question in the Whoniverse is still up for debate. What is The Doctor’s name? And what’s more—who is he? Is he a cape-less superhero who makes split-second, tough decisions to save millions? Is he a toxic antihero who forges a path of ruin across time and space? Perhaps he is nothing more than an evergreen and enigmatic lunatic wandering about in a stolen spaceship.
The Doctor’s real name may always be a mystery to the Doctor Who fandom, but his persona is much easier to decode. Over the past 10 years of the modern series, several Doctor Who characters have given perfect descriptions of Gallifrey’s rebellious child. Here are 10 quotes that tell us everything we need to know about The Doctor.
1. “The Doctor is a legend woven throughout history. When disaster comes, he’s there. He brings the storm in his wake and he has one constant companion. Death.”—Clive Finch in “Rose”
After Rose’s chance encounter with the mysterious Doctor, she did what any normal human would do after meeting a weirdo: a good old-fashioned Internet search. The “Doctor Who?” question led her to the home of a “Doctor scholar” named Clive Finch. Clive was no stranger to The Doctor’s travels and he gave Rose (and the new Whovians) a CliffsNotes summary about The Doctor. In short, this is the man to call when evil threatens the past, present, or future. But in the midst of him waging war against injustice, his battles often include many casualties and martyrs. Poor Clive met Death before he met Nine, but his quote continues to live on as a haunting reminder of what happens when The Doctor makes a house call.
2. “You need to be careful, because you know the Doctor’s wonderful and brilliant, but he’s like fire. Stand too close and people get burned.”—Martha Jones in “The Sontaran Stratagem”
Traveling with The Doctor seems like a sweet gig. But, as Martha knows, being a member of a TARDIS team can be an emotional rollercoaster. Martha offered this bit of advice to Donna Noble (AKA her successor) as a fair warning about the dark side of being a companion. For all companions (and wannabe sidekicks), The Doctor’s pure energy and intelligence is addictive, but becoming too wrapped up in The Doctor never ends well.
3. “He’s like fire and ice and rage; he’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever, he burns at the center of time, and can see the turn of the universe. And…he’s wonderful.”—Timothy Latimer in “The Family of Blood”
This schoolboy gets an A++ for his plea to the human version of The Doctor, John Smith. When it was time for John Smith to return to being The Doctor so he could save the world, Timothy’s compelling description of the Time Lord hit the bullseye. The quote paints a portrait of a classic troubled man—a perfect storm of rage, wisdom, passion and pain—yet it is a reminder that he is NOT an ordinary man. The Doctor is immortal and damn near omnipotent with experiences and knowledge beyond human comprehension. He holds the power of time and the hearts of millions in the palms of his hands.
4. “The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life…You don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say ‘no.’ You have the guts to do what’s right, when everyone else just runs away.”—Rose in “The Parting of Ways”
By the end of season one, Rose Tyler went from an unfulfilling life as a clothing shop worker stuck in the daily grind, to a young woman blazing across time with The Doctor. Rose was living a dream filled with adventure and danger. But, she discovered something even better than the experience of seeing foreign planets and days from the distant past. As she sat in a London restaurant with her mom and boyfriend Mickey (while The Doctor fought for his life millions of years in the future), she knew she had to take action. Rose defended her decision to help The Doctor by explaining how he helped her tap into her own power as a person. Her time with The Doctor introduced her to the concept of living fearlessly as an agent of change. Fully aware of her mortality, Rose knew she couldn’t do everything, but it was her responsibility to try and make a difference.
5. “The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun, but this is the truth, Doctor: you take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons.”—Davros in “Journey’s End”
No one knows The Doctor as well as his enemies. The sinister scientist known as Davros and his infamous Daleks have been fighting a never-ending battle against The Doctor for thousands of years. So it’s no surprise that Davros knows the right words to hit The Doctor right in the feels. During this particular battle, the Tenth Doctor’s companions banned together to help him save the universe. As they were all united in one room with The Doctor, Davros took note of how companions change as they travel in the TARDIS. Martha went from a bubbly young medical student, to a UNIT badass, dressed in all black and ready to destroy a planet. Rose’s time with Torchwood hardened her personality, and she eventually started rocking a leather jacket and packing heat. Even skittish Mickey Smith went from a kitten to a lion, after helping destroy the Cybermen on parallel Earth. The Doctor’s influence is so strong that he brings out both the best and the worst in his comrades.
6. “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.”—River Song in “A Good Man Goes to War”
If The Doctor’s enemies know him best, then River Song’s knowledge of The Doctor comes in second place. His wife and intermittent companion showed up at “Demon’s Run” when the Eleventh Doctor was quite busy saving Amy, witnessing the death of allies and devising a plan to recover baby Melody from Madame Kovarian. When The Doctor lashed out at her for not helping him, she reminded him that the whole thing is actually his fault, because of his infamous reputation across the stars. Yes, he started out as a wayward traveler in a blue box, but over time he has stepped a bit too far from his heroic roots, and moved toward being a feared man who scares others into destruction.
7. “I thought…Well, I just started to think you were a madman with a box.”—Amy Pond in “The Eleventh Hour”
Amy Pond may have waited 14 years to see The Doctor again after he crash-landed into her backyard, but she seemed to get a pretty good grip on his personality. After hanging out with him for one day and watching him run the Atraxi off by simply telling him to “run,” Amy realized this alien man may be a little more than a kooky dude with a magical machine. But, instead of giving her a valiant “I’m The Doctor” speech, Eleven agreed with her and told her she must understand that he is indeed a madman with a box. Only a crazy man jabbers on in technobabble, takes bananas to parties, and dances around the console of his spaceship. This may be the simplest statement about him, but it is 100% true.
8. “I am The Doctor. Simply The Doctor. The one, the only, and the best.”—Jackson Lake in “The Next Doctor”
After Jackson Lake had the memories of The Doctor infused into his mind through an infostamp, he found himself face to face with the Tenth Doctor as they confronted each other. Jackson’s description of The Doctor is completely legit because he actually believed he was The Doctor. There may be a lot of Time Lords, Gallifreyans and aliens in the universe, but there is only one Doctor and he is arguably the best of them all.
9. “Because sometimes… I think you need someone to stop you.” – Donna Noble in The Runaway Bride
Donna Noble got way more than she bargained for on her wedding day. After dematerializing while walking down the aisle, being drawn into the TARDIS, and finding out her fiancé was working for a giant evil spider, she was understandably too freaked out to hop on board the TARDIS when Ten asked her to come with him. But before she went home, she asked him to find someone to keep him from going too far. On the surface, it seems like he really doesn’t need anyone—after all, he’s a genius—but companions are much more than an audience waiting to bask in his awesomeness. Companions are there to provide balance by reminding him to be empathetic, showing him different ways to love and keeping him from wreaking irreversible damage.
10. “You’ve been asking a question, and it’s time someone told you you’ve been getting it wrong. His name… His name is The Doctor. All the name he needs. Everything you need to know about him. And if you love him—and you should—help him. Help him.”—Clara in “The Time of the Doctor”
As the Eleventh Doctor died from old age, Clara Oswald gave this valiant speech to convince the Time Lords to save The Doctor. The Impossible Girl’s speech must have struck a major nerve, because he was granted a new regeneration cycle and allowed to make his transition to his next incarnation. Clara’s answer to “Doctor Who?” is perhaps the best answer of all. He is The Doctor, he is loved. And nothing else matters.