“Quick – put up some shelves.”

While watching the 2005 season finale of Doctor Who with Rain the other day, something struck me. The Doctor carries a tool he calls a “sonic screwdriver”. About the size of a regular screwdriver, this tool emits sonic (and perhaps other) waves which can manipulate small mechanical and electronic objects. It’s most commonly used as a lockpick, but it’s been shown as a welder / unwelder, circuit modifier, computer reprogrammer, medical scanner, and (on rare occasions) a screwdriver.

He started using it in the Sixties, in his second incarnation, and continued well into the Eighties, when it was destroyed by an enemy of the Fifth Doctor. Sources in the BBC production team revealed that the device was causing the writers trouble when they wanted the Doctor locked up or otherwise frustrated by mechanisms. While I can’t remember if the Eighth Doctor used one during his movie, the Ninth and Tenth do so regularly, and I think with good reason. Someone at the BBC seems to have realized a fact:

Locked doors are boring story telling.

The sonic screwdriver is in fact a boon to the program: when there’s only 45 minutes of story, it’s a wise move to get past the locked doors and computer codes, and move on to the part where the Doctor must deal with other people and nasty decisions.

Besides, since the tool’s never too clearly explained, you can always have the door that the sonic screwdriver just won’t open.

(Brion Fields of Space Rogues keeps a sonic screwdriver in a pocket of his jumpsuit. Where he got it, I don’t know; and it was intended to be a subtle in-joke, not fill half the frame in an early scene.)

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