About the project

I am analyzing a corpus of Doctor Who scripts to examine the relationships between the characters, as indicated through terms of address. I will also be studying the effects that characters' gender and relative status have on their interactions.

Doctor Who is a BBC television show that was broadcast from 1963 to 1989, and revived in 2005. The main character is an alien time traveler called the Doctor, who travels throughout the universe in a ship shaped like a British police telephone box, and reincarnates periodically for production reasons. As of February 2014 there have been twelve Doctors, each played by a different actor.

The period of the show I am studying runs from 1971 to 1973, and was broadcast in serialized format. During this period, the Doctor, in his third incarnation, was exiled to Earth and worked alongside the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT), an international paramilitary group dedicated to protecting Earth from alien invasions. Recurring characters include the Doctor's personal assistant, Jo Grant; various UNIT officers; and the Doctor's school-friend-turned-archenemy, the Master.

Research questions

I will be examining how characters use terms of address to indicate solidarity and relative status with other characters. I am focusing on six recurring characters, as well as two that each appear in only one serial. My plan is to explore the use of terms of address between these characters, looking for patterns of usage that indicate the degrees of social intimacy between characters.


Fans of Doctor Who often engage in a practice called "shipping," in which they analyze the content of Doctor Who episodes to find evidence for romantic relationships between the characters. (Fans of other shows do this too; in fact, it's a very common practice in media and literary fandoms.) The UNIT era is home to a number of popular "ships"; in fact, there are fans who pair each of the characters I am studying with any or all of the others. Our goal is to determine quantitatively whether there is evidence in the episodes' verbal content for any of the popular ships.

The data

I am analyzing the use of a variety of different types of address terms, with the hypothesis that each type connotes a different degree of intimacy or status difference between the speaker and the addressee. The types are as follows:

Address type Examples
Pronoun "you"
Specific Title "Doctor," "Brigadier"
General title "sir," "ma'am"
Title and Surname "Miss Grant," "Sergeant Benton"
Surname "Yates," "Lethbridge-Stewart"
Full Name "Jo Grant," "Emil Keller"
First Name or Nickname "Jo," "Cliff," "Mike"
Endearment "my dear," "my friend"

The project title

The title, "The UNIT Dating Crisis," is actually a pun. The phrase is often used to refer to the difficulty of establishing the chronology of the era, since not all the events in the show's "present" (as opposed to other time periods visited through time travel) seem to take place during the time period in which the show was broadcast. We have capitalized on the double meaning of "dating," as suggested by an online friend, and are using the phrase to refer to the hypothesis that we will find signs of increasing intimacy (and thus, the emergence of possible romantic relationships) among some of the characters.

The researchers

This project was begun in the fall 2013 semester by Mara Katz and Rachel Folwarczny for the University of Pittsburgh's Computational Methods in the Digital Humanities course. I (Mara) continued it as a undergraduate thesis project during the 2014 spring semester, and hope to expand the scope of the project further in graduate school. You can contact me by email at katz (dot) 11a0 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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