Although Von Doom has significant scientific knowledge and ability, he lacks an advanced university degree. Von Doom apparently likes the sound of "Doctor Doom" and as the absolute ruler of a country he simply started calling himself that.
Victor was born to Werner von Doom, a noted gypsy healer and Cynthia von Doom, who was said to be a witch. His mother was killed when Victor was an infant. She had attempted to gain power to protect her gypsy tribe from persecution by the reigning authorities of Latveria. Unfortunately she bargained with the demon Mephisto for power, and as is so often the case when dealing with demons, she was betrayed and killed. Later, Victor's father was hunted by the authorities for his failure to cure a Latverian baron's wife of terminal cancer. Werner von Doom died from exposure whilst fleeing and the young Victor von Doom was placed in the care of the remaining gypsy tribe. Victor vowed to make the entire world pay for his loss of his parents.
While a child, he discovered his mother's magical artifacts and von Doom began his studies into the occult as well as developing his innate scientific abilities. His astounding reputation came to the attention of the dean of science at State University in America and von Doom was offered a full scholarship. At State, von Doom first met both Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, two men who would go on to become his enemies in later years. Richards, in particular, represented a substantial threat to Doom's self-perceived superiority. Doom began conducting hazardous extra-dimensional experiments.
The focus of Doom's research was to construct a trans-dimensional projection device with which he could communicate with his dead mother. There was a flaw in the design which Richards pointed out to him, but Doom's pride prevented him from accepting Richards' advice and fixing the device before testing it. The machine worked perfectly for two minutes and 37 seconds, in which time Doom discovered that his mother was trapped in a hell. Then the device exploded, permanently scarring his face. Doom refused to acknowledge his own fault in the matter and blamed Richards for the accident, finding it easier to believe that Richards had sabotaged his work out of jealousy than admit to his own imperfection.
Doom was expelled from school afterward, and traveled the world searching for a cure for his scarred face. In truth the scarring was not particularly bad, but Doom was overly sensitive about it as a symbol of his failure. Eventually Doom discovered a village of Tibetan monks whom he lived among for a number of years. They assisted him in crafting a suit of body armor that concealed his deformity, but also seriously aggravated it when he ordered the mask be put on before it had sufficiently cooled, resulting in severe facial burns. This suit would become his trademark, and thanks to his technological enhancements puts him on par in terms of personal power with most superheroes in the Marvel universe. He then returned to his homeland, overthrew the standing government, and crowned himself king. Ruling with an iron fist and an equally strong will, Doom began to redirect the small nation's resources to help him realize his goals.
Although Doom has some native sorcerous ability, his real power lies in his genius level intelligence and his brilliant mechanical designs. He has constructed a time machine, something beyond the capabilities of his arch-rival Reed Richards. His surrogate "Doombots" are so like him few people can tell them apart from him. His nuclear-powered armor is capable of generating a force field only psionics can penetrate, as well as strong blasts of energy he shoots from his armored hands. Doom has also developed the ability to transfer his consciousness into another nearby human being, a process which he learnt from the alien Ovoids.
Doctor Doom was driven by three principal objectives: the destruction of Reed Richards, world domination, and the liberation of his mother's soul from the demon Mephisto's realm. He has so far achieved two of these aims. With the help of Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts and Earth's Sorcerer Supreme, he wrested his mother's spirit from Mephisto's grasp; a vital step in this process turned out to be tricking his mother into renouncing her love for Victor, and though it was difficult for him he was able to make that necessary sacrifice.
He has also achieved world domination several times. When the world's mightiest heroes returned from the alternate Earth to which they had been shunted following their confrontation with the sentient psionic being Onslaught, Doctor Doom remained behind and conquered that planet, which he dubbed "Planet Doom." He was by most accounts an very good ruler, leading Planet Doom into a period of unparalleled prosperity. He eventually abdicated as ruler of Planet Doom and returned to Earth, finding the task of world domination to be tedious once it had finally been achieved. Later, in a short-lived but canonical series of comics set in the year 2099, Doctor Doom was transported to that time from some point in our current near future and upon seeing the decrepit state of Latveria he becomes the president of the United States in order to curb the power of the megacorporations based there that were opressing his people. As a side effect he begins improving the quality of life in the United States as well, reinstituting democracy and an effective non-corrupt police force.
Despite repeated attempts through the years, Doom has been unable to completely defeat Mister Fantastic. He has also been physically humiliated by the Thing and Doom has vowed to take revenge on both men. He has come close on several occasions, however he has failed to win a decisive battle.
Doctor Doom's plans are fueled by his ego and his conviction that he is not only capable of world domination, but also worthy and deserving of it. While he is utterly heartless and places little value on the lives of others, he also follows a strict code of honor. Several times he has struck bargains with various characters in the Marvel Universe, and he has always upheld those bargains, honoring his word and following through with his promises to the letter. He is a cruel and ruthless dictator; yet while he rules his nation of Latveria with an iron hand and is willing to deliver swift and cruel punishments, he also treats his subjects fairly (as long as they acknowledge his absolute rule). This complexity has made him one of the more interesting characters in the Marvel Universe.
Even though the Fantastic Four consider Doom to be their villain, Doom actually pops up all over the Marvel Universe, casually stomping on anyone who gets in his way. He has faced the Avengers numerous times. Individual heroes like Spider-Man, Iron Man and Dazzler have become embroiled in his schemes. It's hard to avoid Doom if you have super-powers; he's always trying to find a way to use those powers for himself. He even was able to steal the power of Galactus and the Beyonder.