The Sonic Screwdriver, now a staple of modern Doctor Who, hasn’t always existed within the show. In fact the First Doctor didn’t even have one. Not until Fury from the Deep, did the Second Doctor introduce it. In this article I am going to look at the various models of the screwdriver and my thoughts of each.
So as I mentioned, the Mark I Screwdriver appears with Patrick Troughton’s Doctor. It is suggested much later by the Ninth Doctor that he made it himself on a lonely night when he needed to put up a lot of cabinets, though he may have been joking. The Doctor first uses it in Fury from the Deep, The Dominators and The War Games. The uses of it were pretty straight forward in doing what the name would imply. It is able to do up screws and open panels.
However in The Dominators, the Doctor uses at as if it were a welding torch, to cut through a wall. If capabilities like that existed in the Screwdriver, then you have to ask yourself why he doesn’t use them more often. The appearance of this model is simplistic. It is a small penlight-type look, with a black dial on the base and a light on the other. It even appears to have a little pocket clip similar to a fountain pen. We don’t get to see much more of this model before it gets revamped.
Since by this point, the Doctor had been exiled to Earth without any kind of advanced technology or use of the Tardis, it does make sense that he might try and do a bit of upgrading. This model sets the trend for the look of the next few designs. It features a large handle with a circular emitter. It is activated by pulling down on the handle. There are black and yellow stripes that spiral towards the top which are exclusive to this edition.
This screwdriver gets used for things such as activating land mines, unlocking doors, igniting gas, breaking a hypnotic trance and as an actual screwdriver. In my opinion this is one of my most influential designs and a very effective one.
The Screwdriver was then adapted again slightly before the end of the Third Doctor’s time. This is because the prop went missing during Carnival of Monsters and needed a quick redesign. Essentially the same design as before, but without the yellow and black spirals, this screwdriver went on to be the longest lasting, being used by the Third, Fourth and Fifth Doctors.
Although looking the same throughout it’s usage, it does vary slightly, with extra components sometimes added to the emitter, and a white line visible during the Fifth Doctor’s time. It is eventually destroyed by the Terileptils in The Visitation as writers considered it as an easy get-out for the Doctor.
The Sonic Screwdriver then didn’t return to Doctor Who for a good while. This meant that the Sixth and Seventh Doctors didn’t really get to use it.
In the 1996 television movie, we see the Seventh Doctor use the Sonic Screwdriver briefly. The look is much the same as previous models, except for a golden band around it, and the apparent ability to extend and retract partially. We know this as at the end of the television movie, the Eighth Doctor is working on the Tardis and clicks the Sonic Screwdriver into a retractable position before drinking some more tea.
When the Eighth Doctor finally returned in the minisode The Night of the Doctor, he was also armed with a Screwdriver. This is only seen for a matter of seconds and appears to be the same as the one featured in the television movie, however in some shots it does seem as though the emitter glows. If so it would make sense considering what the next model looked like.
Chronologically in the Doctor’s timeline, the War Doctor carried around a Sonic Screwdriver that had an identical handle to the Mark III, but with a red glowing emitter instead of the circular ring-head. The other difference being a red dial added to the base.
Funnily enough, seeing as the prop was only going to be used for a short time, it was actually made from a Mark III toy, with some adjustments made – probably why you don’t see it too closely.
Some time between the end of the Time War and meeting Rose Tyler, the Ninth Doctor decided to have away with the Mark V, and create something new. It was a lot smaller than previous models, with a glowing blue crystal emitter and a cream, cracked porcelain texture on the handle.
It was also able to be extended, showing what appeared to be spiraling wires, reminiscent of the Mark II’s yellow and black pattern. This is the first Sonic Screwdriver to directly connect to the Tardis, being ‘plugged in’ by the Ninth Doctor. According to general consensus, this version was destroyed when the Tenth Doctor overloaded it while amplifying the radiation on an X-ray machine.
Practically identical to the previous model, the Tenth Doctor gained a new Sonic Screwdriver. It was slightly larger than it’s predecessor and had a grey handle as opposed to the cream as seen before.
This model still performed many of the same tasks as the one before. Soon after the Eleventh Doctor arrived, this model appeared to be getting unreliable; taking a long time to open doors and other functions. It then seemed to overload, sparking and burning out completely.
When the Tardis rebuilt itself after the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration, it produced a new Screwdriver from the console. This one was a lot larger in size, and seemed to match the colours of the console room, like the one before it. Unlike previous models, it had a glowing green emitter and would extend as if spring-loaded. The diode emitter also seemed to have a red setting but is only seen in one story.
With this model it starts to turn into a magic wand more than a scientific instrument. For example it now had a psychic interface allowing any users to just point and think rather than changing settings. The Twelfth Doctor also mentions that it has a voice control but often forgets about it. This version was actively used similarly to a weapon, disabling weak Cybermen, fighting psychic attacks and stunning enemies. This Screwdriver was used by the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, and would seem to be the longest lasting model, considering how long the Eleventh Doctor spent on Trenzalore. The Twelfth Doctor decided to give up the Screwdriver while trying to rescue a young Davros.
Okay so I am partially cheating on this one. It isn’t technically a Sonic Screwdriver, but I like to think that they are linked together with the same interface and technology. The Twelfth Doctor started wearing Sonic Sunglasses that had the appearance of regular sunglasses but were able to perform functions of Sonic Screwdrivers seen before. The Doctor decided on these instead because he felt guilt over not saving Davros originally.
These received a lot of criticism from fans. People have campaigned to get rid of the Sonic Screwdriver in order to make situations more difficult for the Doctor; but it doesn’t solve the problem when you replace it with an identical powered tool.
After losing Clara, the Tardis created a new-look Screwdriver for the Twelfth Doctor to use. This version was massive and could glow blue or green, with the colour spiraling around the emitter, mirroring the Tardis time rotor.
The Doctor then continued to use both his Sonic Sunglasses and Sonic Screwdriver for a while, giving him plenty of choice. We haven’t seen this model in action very much, but the design does look overly busy. In my opinion the design team should have scaled-down the design and simplified it a little. However I do like the activation slider switch on this model.
Now we reach the honourable mentions –
Romana’s Sonic Screwdriver
In The Horns of Nimon, Romana shows the Doctor that she had made her very own Sonic Screwdriver. It was a lot sleeker than his, with green and yellow stripes. It bizarrely also included a silencer. We don’t really get to see this in action, however it impresses him enough that he tries to swap with hers.
Amy Pond’s Sonic Probe
Personally, the idea of Amy being stranded alone and her being able to make her own sonic device is implausible. However, it is possible that she received help from the interface – or something. It was small and rectangular with a green lit emitter, similar to the Sonic Screwdriver of the time.
Sarah Jane’s Sonic Lipstick
Apparently left by the Doctor as a gift, the Sonic Lipstick performs similar functions to a Sonic Screwdriver. It looks a lot like a lipstick (as the name suggests) which allows it to blend in. However inside there is a red diode emitter.
Miss Foster’s Sonic Pen
Nanny of the Adipose, Miss Foster acquired a Sonic Pen somehow. It looked like a normal black pen, but had a blue emitter, like the Tenth Doctor’s Screwdriver. When held against the Doctor’s Screwdriver, it produced an unbearable screech which was used to distract Miss Foster and her guards. It was seen briefly to perform the same functions as a Screwdriver before the Doctor thew it in a bin.
The Master’s Laser Screwdriver
Unlike the Sonic Screwdriver, this was used as a weapon. It extended like the Sonic, and had different settings too, including being able to age the Doctor. The controls were isomorphic, meaning that only the Master could use it; causing the Doctor’s plans to halt. The model was gold and cream, with a similar design to the aforementioned screwdriver. We don’t see the fate of this weapon but we can assume that either the Doctor disposed of it, or it burnt with the Master’s body.
The Third Doctor’s ‘Door Handle’
The Doctor once uses a device very similar in appearance and ability to a Sonic Screwdriver. There has been some debate as to if this is a variant screwdriver or a neat little device he cobbled together to open doors. I prefer to think the latter. Later in the story in which it appears, the Doctor pulls the end off to reveal a normal screwdriver. A proper multi-purpose tool.
The Sixth Doctor’s Sonic Lance
Although the Sixth Doctor didn’t get a Screwdriver, he did once use a Sonic Lance on a Cyberman. It was more of a weapon and had a glowing red emitter.
The Eleventh Doctor’s Sonic Cane
Created for no real reason, the Eleventh Doctor used the cane while dressed in a top hat and tails. Similarly to his Screwdriver, it extended; the handle opening up to reveal the green emitter. He was able to take readings from it and perform the same functions as his screwdriver.
Captain Jack’s Sonic Blaster
This device which both Jack and River Song are seen wielding, seems to be more of a weapon. Jack states that it functions as a Sonic Blaster, Sonic Cannon and Sonic Disruptor. It has the ability to remove chunks of surfaces such as walls and floors, then replace them. It is also known as a Squareness Gun. The Ninth Doctor, disliking guns, stealthily switches it with a banana inside Jack’s pocket.
River Song’s Sonic Screwdriver
Before the end of her life, the Twelfth Doctor gifted River Song with her own Sonic Screwdriver. It was very similar in appearance to the Mark VII, looking more worn and with added parts. This model featured a red setting and also hid a neural relay in order to upload her data ghost into the Library main computer. The Tenth Doctor was shocked by the revelation that he had given her a Screwdriver, stating that he doesn’t give anyone his screwdriver; not knowing the relationship they would have in his future.
River Song’s Sonic Trowel
Again I am not really sure about the need for this one. Other than the fact that River Song is an archaeologist and so an actual trowel might come in handy; I don’t see the point apart from a cheap gag. We don’t really see it in action very much, but it appears to look like a normal trowel with a bright light fitted in. Presumably it could do the same as previous sonic devices.
Let me know if I have missed any variants in the comments.