We’d better keep an eye on him [the Doctor], he seems to have a knack for getting into trouble.
–Ian Chesterton, companion of the Doctor, in Series 1, 1963
In ‘The Name of the Doctor’, the series finale for this, the seventh series of the rebooted Doctor Who, Matt Smith (Eleven) says that the name he chose, ‘Doctor’, was meant to be a reflection of who he wished to be, how he wished to act in his adventures in Time And Relative Dimension In Space (TARDIS). And there was a time when he acted out of keeping with the name of Doctor —
the Time War, when he destroyed the homeworlds and species of both the Time Lords and the Daleks.
But, wait? Is this what Doctor has always meant to our centuries-old Time Lord?
The answer must be no.
If we turn back to Classic Who, we realise that the Time War is not the only moment when the Doctor has acted unlike a physician (the dangerous sense of the word doctor in today’s English). We need look no further than the very first serial of 1963 to see the Doctor trying to kill a caveman with a rock.
Many will dismiss this, saying that they didn’t really know what they were doing with the show back in 1963. This is true. And this is an easy out for a lot of inconsistencies.* Nonetheless, we can’t actually escape so quickly.
What about ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ (Series 12 [classic])? You know, that time when Four (Tom Baker) tries to kill every Dalek before Davros can finish genetically engineering them? That is, when the Doctor wilfully attempted genocide?
What makes Tom Baker’s failed genocide so different from …
ACTUAL SPOILER NOW. (Classic Who references don’t really count.)
… John Hurt, as the actual Nine, when he succeeded at genocide? Because he committed a double genocide?
Nonetheless, in general, the Doctor is not a genocidal maniac. And we must admit that the President of Gallifrey was involved in sending Four to obliterate all the Daleks. So it’s not really the same as the Doctor of his own volition killing all the Daleks and trapping the Time Lords in the Time Vortex.
Back to One (William Hartnell). If One was around four hundred years old (it’s really hard to tell; the Tardis Data Core leaves me baffled as to how old the Doctor was in 1963) when we met him, and if this is something of an adolescent age for a Time Lord, AND if he had been in that first regeneration a bit too long, perhaps we can understand why he is how he is in 1963. He is both too old and too young.
So he is a trickster, a manipulator, a pompous man, the sort of person who is willing to abandon others in danger, the sort of man who trusts no one. But he regenerates, and becomes both younger and older, time and again, until, when he’s over 900, he’s the youngest we’ve seen him yet. He’s also spent a lot of time at Earth.
And perhaps this is what makes the Doctor change — his contact with Earth and humans. He goes from a pompous Time Lord (as many of them can be — indeed, we need not even consider the Master, when the President of Gallifrey himself intended to take over the entire universe during the Time War) to someone a bit more like us, with two hearts beating out of love for a young species still finding its way in the ‘verse.
If this makes sense, my theory (in sum) is that the Doctor has matured with time and through regenerations. He began not as a physician doctor but as a science doctor, but has found that the former suits his role in the cosmos — especially as the last (known) Time Lord — much better.
*How does Skaro exist again? Where did all the Daleks in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ come from? Why didn’t reapers emerge in Series 6 (reboot) when the Doctor’s alleged death was averted, the way they did in the Series 1 (reboot) episode ‘Father’s Day’? How can so many other people time travel? According to ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ (Series 14 [classic]) and ‘The Two Doctors’ (Series 22 [classic]) it is very difficult to achieve and highly dangerous. I could go on; others could go on further …