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Article — What’s in a Name?

First Published:
Sonic Screwdriver #83

Publish Date:
March 1994

Comments:
This piece was co-written with Rod Scott, who is an endless source of little-known tidbits and horrible puns. Along that line of thought, if anyone understands the final phrase feel free to explain it to me!

It is not rare for Who writers to select names for characters or locales that hint at elements of the story’s plot. The references may be from mythology or history, and sometimes the spelling is phonetically altered or otherwise altered to make it a bit less obvious. Here are just some of the examples we have noted:

Hydromel, that ever so precious substance on Terminus, without which one will eventually die, is actually an archaic term for mead. Nyssa spent the rest of her life synthesising that ‘crude organic’ liquid, beer!

Karina and Bulic of Warriors on the Cheap are characters from Dvorak operas — and Dvorak becomes Vorshak, the Sea Base commander.

The Janus thorn in The Face of Evil is named after the two-faced god of doors, whose temple was opened for war.

In The Hand of Fear, Tom Baker gives the telephone number of the Doctor Who production office as the co-ordinates of Kastria. Much later, Mark Strickson (Turlough) had to enter a code number on the Trion ship: he used his agent’s phone number!

The mandrels from Nightmare of Eden were hairy bipedal creatures. The Mandrel of The Sunmakers is a hairy thug. The mandrills in West Africa are monkeys!

Janet the stewardess from Terror of the Vervoid was named so after Janet Fielding: Tegan, the air stewardess.

Time and the Rani has many a reference: the title comes from the play Time and the Conways by JB Priestly. Loyhargil, as many know, is an anagram of Holy Grail, which probably explains why she’s so excited to get it. The race of Lakertyans are lacertian in nature (ie. lizard-like). Beyus and Ikona’s names come from ‘obey’ and ‘iconoclast’, suiting their natures. More obvious are the Tetraps — tetra, four, telling us their number of eyes. Urak, their leader, is named after Uriah Heep from David Copperfield.

Of course, there are entire stories based on mythology. Take Underworld, which was virtually a re-make of Jason and the Argonauts’ quest for the Golden Fleece. Jackson is Jason — indeed, the Doctor calls him that at the end of the story; the Race Bank cylinders are golden, the P7E is Persephone, and so on.

Similarly, The Horns of Nimon is a reference feast (well, actually a complete rip-off): the original story had King Minos (’Lord Nii-mon…’) demanding a tribute of seven youths and seven maidens (replace seven, count them, of those with Hymetusite crystals) rather than the Cnossian (Skonnos) king. Anaphe (Aneth) and Corinth (Crinoth) are key places in each tale. Seth, the name of the whining kid (oh, sorry, hero), means, depending who you believe, appointed (he is a Prince) or consolation (well, if you don’t get the Hymetusite, you’ll have to do with him…). As with Underworld, we get a really obvious hint at the end from the Doctor: ‘I’m glad I remembered to get them to paint the ship white. They forgot last time, caused a terrible hoohah! Oh, other places, other times, Romana. A hero called Theseus who sailed to defeat a monster called the Minotaur. It had horns and lived in a maze and demanded sacrifices.’ And so it goes on…

For those of you familiar with The Masque of Mandragora, Heironymous Bosch was an actual medieval painter who depicted humanity being taken over by demons, reflecting the opposition to the new scientific discoveries and political reforms of the Renaissance.

The names of the Menoptera from The Web Planet are the same as Latin names for some species of butterfly. Also, as normal butterflies are lepidoptera, these humanoid ones are called Menoptera.

The Chelonians of the New Adventure are big nasty turtles. Chelonian is the scientific name for tortoises and turtles.

Organon, from The Creature in the Pit, literally means a method of investigation, in keeping with the nature of the character.

Nyssa and Kassia are both botanical names, appropriate enough to the garden setting of The Keeper of Traken. Looking more deeply, Kassia’s fate parallels that of the Roman General Cassius, who conspired to replace Caesar. In turn, this parallels the conflict between Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam in the seventies, Malcolm contemporaneously depicted as a stone statue on Easter Island a la Melkur (that last bit is Rod Scott’s fault!)

When Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln were dissatisfied with the making of The Dominators, they removed the right to use their names, instead using a pseudonym, Norman Ashby. This was obtained from the names of their respective fathers-in-law.

In The Green Death, Benton names two of the UNIT soldiers Letts and Dicks, after the producer and script editor. Also, in what I hope was just a coincidence, BOSS of that story could be the BOSS of South Africa: the Bureau of State Security!

Kinda is a feast for Buddhism references, even if the story on screen ended up with Christian overtones. Many of the character names are taken from Buddhist terms: Dukkha (instability or suffering), Karuna (active compassion), Panna (wisdom), Jana (meditation) and Mara (evil).

Leela was named after Leila Khalid, a notorious terrorist of the 1970s.

Most people know that Robert Holmes re-arranged ‘gourmand’ to get Androgum for The Two Doctors. Very few realise, however that ‘Dastari’ was working on making his namesake, nearly: ‘a TARDIS’.

The pirate Brotadac of Meglos had his name formed as an anagram of ‘Bad Actor’, as that was how the writers expected it to be played. Meanwhile, the Doctor is trapped in a Chronic Hysteresis — which is the proper name of video howlaround, the technique used to produce the early title sequences.

Mawdryn Undead is a quite neat [Neat? Neat?! Neat?!!] title, for in Welsh mawdryn means death. The emblem on the 1977 Brigadier’s blazer is even cleverer — it bears a motto which in Latin means ‘five into one’.

Talos was the legendary bronze man, created by Daedalus to guard the coast of Crete, and so we get the origin of Telos, the Cybermen’s adopted home planet. Alternatively, teleology, our dictionary tells us, is the ultimate purpose of things, especially as regards natural processes. If Kit Pedler, creator of the Cybermen, were to hear this, his worst nightmares would have been realised — evolution, a natural process, taken to its logical conclusion! Regarding Mondas, the Cybermen’s original home planet, what about this: "maunders" means to wander idly, muttering like an idiot. Sound like a good description of the tenth planet and its inhabitants? Or more like this piece? Or it could just be the explanation given in the story itself: Mondas being an old word for the Earth.

There are hundreds of other such instances of such hidden meanings right throughout the history of Doctor Who. Whether such a style complements or detracts from the enjoyment of a story is subjective, but clearly Time is an Allusion.

End of Article

Here’s the list of the Doctor Who articles available here
A Bit of Adric in All of Us
Ace Timeline
Cursed References
Doctor Who Collectible Card Game FAQ
Doctor Who Collectible Card Game Tips
Doctor Who in America
History of the Daleks
History of Doctor Who
History of the fanzine Sonic Screwdriver
How I Killed a Fanzine (or, What’s an EFG?)
Survival the (Con)vention
The Doctor and I (First Memories)
The Doctor and I (1985 — Move to the USA)
The Doctor and I (Organised Fandom? Huh?)
The Doctor and I (Doctorin’ Ithaca)
The Doctor and I (Back to Melbourne)
The Doctor and I (Whovention)
The Doctor and I (David, Meet the DWCV)
The Doctor and I (Enlightenment)
The Doctor and I (The Blankety Blank Era)
The Doctor and I (Q Who)
The Doctor and I (DWCV Committee, Meet David)
The Doctor and I (Whovention II (Control))
The Doctor and I (Sonic Screwdriver, Meet David (and Marco and Matthew))
The Relative Confusion of The Curse of Fenric
What Makes a Warrior?
What’s in a Name?
→ Or just head back to the Doctor Who Index


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This page last updated by David J Richardson on Wed, 8 Jan 2003.