I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder
Characters have their limitations. Well, let's just hedge our bets and say well written characters do
. Often, when a character has run into something they don't have the skill or knowledge for, they remind the viewers of that in a stock phrase that is almost always worded as: I'm an X not a Y. With X being their profession, and Y being whoever would be better able to do the job that they are having difficulty with.
Another variant is to have the character use this stock phrase to explain that they find something morally repugnant. In this case, Y will be something along the lines of common criminal
, or murderer
The most famous example, and thus the Trope Namer
, is Star Trek
's Dr. McCoy — but the earliest example we have so far is from 1869, making it not only Older Than Star Trek
but Older Than Radio
. (It was in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
.) Note that DeForest Kelley, contrary to popular belief
, never prefaced his statement with "Damn it
, Jim" or some variant thereof; he never swore
on the show, given that it aired in The Sixties
. He did
swear up a storm in most of the movies, however, so parodists naturally combined his potty mouth with his catch phrase, to great effect. (He never actually used his Catch Phrase
in a movie until the reboot
— wherein he did
swear, but he wasn't talking to Kirk, so the complete memetic phrase still has yet to be uttered).
Compare to Not That Kind of Doctor
, I'm Not a Doctor, but I Play One on TV
, Trust Me, I'm a Doctor
, Even Evil Has Standards
, Refusal of the Call
. Contrast God Mode Sue
, Jumped at the Call
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- This appears early on in Cerebus the Aardvark. A character declares himself to be a doctor, not a General, time-keeper or martyr, all in quick succession.
- King Shark from Secret Six:
- In The Detective And The Diplomat, Ponder Stibbons (not one of nature's runners) is having trouble keeping up with Sherlock Holmes (one of nature's runners). His reply when chided for this:
Ponder Stibbons: Dammit, Holmes, I'm a wizard, not a runner!
- The Ranma Abridged version of Doctor Tōfū can heal your wounds, unless they're costume-related.
Dr. Tōfū: Ranma, I'm a doctor, not a tailor.
- In Stargate Equestria: Incursion, Dr. Frasier gets to say it after tending to a wounded Twilight Sparkle.
- In Turnabout Storm, Phoenix is asked to tell a funny joke. The results are... rather unsatisfactory.
) This is a lot harder than I thought... I'm a lawyer, not a comedian!
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- Prince Roger: Inverted with Dobrescu's repeated claims he's a shuttle pilot, not a medic. Later it is re-inverted, when Dobrescu has to start working on the Mardukans and complains that he's a medic, not a xeno-surgeon.
- In Death Star, Doctor Uli Divini is ordered to make routine checkups and says "I'm a surgeon, not an internal meds doctor!" He has to do it anyway.
- Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869): After Captain Nemo Kicks the Cachalots with the Nautilus, he asks Ned Land his opinion:
"Well, sir," replied the Canadian, whose enthusiasm had somewhat calmed; "it is a terrible spectacle, certainly. But I am not a butcher. I am a hunter, and I call this a butchery."
- Star Trek:
McCoy: I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer!
Kirk: You're a healer, there's a patient. That's an order.note
McCoy: I'm a doctor, not an engineer.
Scott: Now, you're an engineer.
- The novelization of "Mirror, Mirror" from The Star Trek Reader averts this with McCoy simply saying, "I'm not an engineer," and Scott quipping "You soon will be." (Though Scott is proud of McCoy's help later.)
- Proudly continued by the Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH) from Star Trek: Voyager who was in fact an actual placeholder.
- The EMH from Star Trek: First Contact almost gives the trope title with "I'm a doctor, not a doorstop." anecdote
- If you shoot him in the game Elite Force, he says "I'm a doctor, not a bullseye."
- Lampshaded by B'Elanna ("I'm a Doctor—" "Not an engineer, right,") and flipped around by Tom. "I'm a pilot, Harry, not a Doctor!"
- The justification variant is frequently abused by Tuvok, who seems to feel compelled to begin any and every sentence or explanation with "I am a Vulcan."
- Bashir used it many times on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, one of the most notable (but far from the first or only) series 3 protest, "I'm a doctor, not a botanist" when Dax brought him a sick plant because Keiko O'Brien (the station's resident botanist) was at a conference at the time. He did, of course, use it in the show's anniversary episode "Trials and Tribble-ations" (a "cross-over" episode with Star Trek: The Original Series courtesy of in-universe time-travel and real-life special effects wizardry).
Dr. Bashir: I'm a doctor, not an historian.
- A morally repugnant example in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Broken Link", when Garak tries to convince Worf to stand by and let him commit genocide. Worf responds with "I'm a warrior, not a murderer!"
- It was such a trope of McCoy's that it had to be in the 2009 revival. "I'm a doctor, not a physicist!" (Well, his understanding of the physics Spock suggested seemed okay....)
- Subverted in the Saturday Night Live episode that William Shatner hosted. In one sketch with the Enterprise now a restaurant, one of the customers starts choking on his food. Shatner, as Kirk, tells "McCoy" (Phil Hartman) to help him. "McCoy" responds, "Dammit, Jim! I'm a doctor not a— Oh! Oh, sure!"
- However, it was played straight in the earlier "Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise" skit: Dan Aykroyd as "McCoy" deadpans the line "I'm a doctor, not a tailor, dammit!" and gets a huge laugh.
- Inverted for laughs on Rowan And Martins Laugh In by DeForest Kelley himself: "I'm not a doctor, I'm a convicted murderer!"
- There's another parody example in Bobby Pickett and Peter Ferrara's Star Drek. Mr. Schlock advises Captain Jerk to wait for further plot complications before taking action; when Jerk asks McCoy his opinion McCoy replies "I'm a doctor, not a scriptwriter!"
- An episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had Will, Carlton and William Shatner get high off of a leaking laughing gas tank at the dentist's and start acting like Star Trek characters; after Shatner addresses Will as "Bones", he responds "Dammit Jim, I'm a black boy from Philly, not a doctor!"
- In a Trivial Pursuit commercial featuring DeForrest Kelly, the actor was asked a medical question, only to respond, "How should I know? I'm an actor, not a doctor!"
- Monk has a few good ones.
- This one from "Mr. Monk and the Critic":
Captain Leland Stottlemeyer: Where the hell is Randy?
Natalie Teeger: Oh, I sent him out to get a newspaper.
Captain Leland Stottlemeyer: (looks at her incredulously) You? You, you sent Randy out? Well, who are you, the new police commissioner?
Natalie Teeger: The morning edition comes out at midnight! They're gonna review Julie's play!
Captain Leland Stottlemeyer: For the love of god, he's a police lieutenant, not a bellhop! Though maybe he is.
- In "Mr. Monk and the TV Star," when Monk and Sharona arrive at a crime scene at a major star's house, Sharona is focused on her teeth, and Monk tells her, "Sharona, this is a murder scene, not a high school dance."
- Stargate SG-1 provided a variation of this trope in "Deadman Switch" where Aris Boch demands that Daniel Jackson treat his wound after capturing them:
I'm an archeologist. Aris Boch:
But you're also a doctor. Daniel Jackson:
... of Archeology
- Stargate Atlantis had Carson Beckett do this in a couple of episodes:
- In "The Eye" he said: "I'm a bloody medical doctor, not a magician."
- In "The Brotherhood" the line is: "For the last time — I'm a doctor not a bloody fighter pilot."
- A character exclaims "I'm an internist, not an obstetrician" (which means, "I specialize in innards, not reproductive organs.")
- Bernard is a dentist, not Rambo.
Tom: Shephard says he's a spinal surgeon, not an anesthesiologist..
- In the Season 3 blooper reel, Elizabeth Mitchell responds to Matthew Fox's wondering how a flooded hatch can still function by saying, "Dammit, Jack, I'm a doctor, not a marine engineer!"
- 3rd Rock from the Sun has Officer Don say in one episode "I'm a cop, not a goat" when meeting Sally on a Hill at night.
- Moseby of The Suite Life On Deck wanted to put Zack on permanent detention for detonating a stink bomb in the chemistry lab. Tutweiler's response:
Tutweiler: I'm an educator, not a warden.
- Joked about in the second of Criminal Minds.
Can you do it? Garcia:
Remember on Star Trek
, when Dr. McCoy always said, "I'm a doctor, not a miracle worker?" Morgan:
So you're saying you can't? Garcia:
No, I'm saying that I'm not a doctor.
- Played with when Rachel tells how her former fiancé, an orthodontist, once went to a Halloween party disguised as a dentist.
- Joey has this line while pretending to be a doctor and unable to figure out a person's age from their date of birth.
Joey: Dammit, I'm a doctor, not a mathematician.
- The Smallville episode "Rush" has Clark say, "I'm an alien, not a cartoon!" when Chloe asks him if he can fly.
- An episode of Roundhouse referenced this by having Star Trek-esque scenes playing during a channel surfing montage. On the third appearance...
Kirk: Bones, this man is dying!
McCoy: Dangit Jim, I'm a doctor, not... oh.
- In the The Big Bang Theory episode "The Desperation Emanation":
Sheldon: Leonard, I'm a physicist, not a hippie.
- The Order of the Stick:
- Last Res0rt: Likewise, Scout Arael cheerfully reminds you that she's a medic, not a messiah.
- In Schlock Mercenary, Tailor has to perform brain surgery on Tagon, which leads him to say, "I'm a clothier, not a doctor."
- In Wapsi Square, Monica is an Anthropologist, not a Psychiatrist. She even throws in a "Dammit Jin" for good measure.
- The Property Of Hate: Madras is a merchant, not a doctor.
- In Wayward Sons, Hara says that she's a doctor, not a miracle worker.
- In the RiffTrax of the 2009 Star Trek film, they come down on the usage of this for not being deep and raspy enough, asking to hear "those throat nodes and smoker's hack."
- Mr. Peabody, an Insufferable Genius Funny Animal in a Rocky and Bullwinkle short, used to constantly remind his pet human, Sherman that he was "A genius, not a miracle worker," (substitute sharpshooter, etc. to taste).
- In the Adventures of Super Mario Bros 3 episode "Oh Brother", King Koopa's pipes burst, leading to the following conversation:
Koopa: Well, don't just stand there, Kooky. Fix it!
Kooky: I'm a mad genius, not a plumber.
- A particularly brilliant example in Animaniacs when the Warner Siblings are backed into a corner in Hades:
(William Shatner voice
) Wakko... anything in your... Gag Bag that will help us..? Wakko:
Nothing, Yakko. Yakko:
Dot... comments... analysis...? Dot:
Nothing, Yakko. Yakko:
Darn it, Yakko, I'm a doctor, not a magician!
- The predecessor series Tiny Toon Adventures beat them to it. In the episode "Duck Trek", Furrball-Bones tells Plucky-Kirk "Darn it, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a barber!" It Makes Sense in Context.
- Roughnecks Starship Troopers Chronicles, the animated series, has a conversation while defusing a bomb that goes something like this:
A: OK, what color of wire do I cut?
B: Why do ask me, I'm a doctor not a electrician!
A: What's your favorite color?
A: (cuts red)
B: Why did you cut the red one? I said blue.
A: You're a doctor, not an electrician.
- Beavis And Butthead, similar to Saturday Night Live's example:
Bones, I've got an injured crewman here and you've got to do something! You've got
to do something
! Dr. McCoy:
Captain, there is a limit to what one man can do. Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor not a doc—... Oh, yeah, I'll get right on it. Butt-head:
Hey Beavis. Beavis:
Beavis. Beavis: What
Those guys better look out for the Klingons near Uranus
- The US Acres episode "Swine Trek" from Garfield and Friends parodied this as well. When Orson Pig, playing The Kirk in a dream, asks Wade Duck, playing The McCoy, about a distress call that didn't sound right, Wade went, "How Should I Know?!? I'm a duck, not the Wichita Lineman!!"
- On an episode of Justice League, Lois Lane tells Superman, "Look, I'm a reporter, not a public relations person."
- In the final scene of The Simpsons episode "D'oh-in' in the Wind," Homer ends up in the hospital from a flower lodged in his head, which Dr. Hibbert asserts he cannot remove, because "I'm a doctor, not a gardener."
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 gave Donatello a line that was clearly a Shout Out to the Trope Namer during the Big Brawl arc: "What can I do? I'm an engineer, not a doctor..."
- In the Danny Phantom episode "Masters of All Time", Danny asks Clockwork if he could save Vlad and Danny's friends from the Ghost Pox. Clockwork's response: "I'm the ghost of time, not the ghost of miracle cures."
- X-Men: Evolution has Storm give us this one: "I'm a weather witch, not a snowplough!"
- The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius reportedly said "I'm a composer, not a psychic!" when her wife wanted to know when he would be back from one of his drinking sprees.