Before my series of Doctor Who history resumes around the time the show returns in April, I’m doing a few different WHO articles for a bit. This one’ll focus on the Doctor’s main gadget and multi-purpose tool, the sonic screwdriver. The sonic uses sound waves to perform a variety of functions, such as opening doors and disabling weapons (although it can sometimes be used as a weapon itself). It can also be used as a scanning device.
The sonic first showed up in Fury From the Deep, a second Doctor story. It also was used in the Dominators and War Games, where it actually does drive screws.
The second model appeared in the Third Doctor era, where the sonic gained far more use and a more elaborate shape and function. It’s fitting, since Jon Pertwee’s era is often considered the closest in tone to that other famous British icon with multiple faces, James Bond.
The sonic again appeared in the Tom Baker era, where it was slightly modified and less colorful. Like with Pertwee, the sonic was used quite a bit.
In an attempt to make the show more dramatic sci-fi, the sonic was retired for many years, destroyed in the story “The Visitation” The explanation was given that it was too much of a cop-out for the plots.
The Sixth Doctor briefly possessed a sonic lance, which pretty was used in only one story, Attack of the Cybermen.
The screwdriver reappeared in the TV movie, where it apparently had been rebuilt by the Seventh Doctor, and was used to seal the Master’s ashes. For most of the film it was in the possession of Chang Lee, and not used by the Eighth Doctor until “Night of the Doctor”.
The Sonic returns with the series in 2005, with the Ninth Doctor. The new model is retractable and, like the original, lights up. This would continue to be used by the Tenth Doctor.
We also see some other sonic devices around this time-Captain Jack’s sonic blaster:
Mrs. Foster’s sonic pen:
The Master’s laser screwdriver, which has well, a laser but also Lazarus technology built into it. (Later as Missy she has a similar multi-purpose device, but not really sonic or a screwdriver so I won’t get into that)
and River Song’s sonic screwdriver, which came from the Twelfth Doctor and was used to preserve her soul.
The sonic becomes badly damaged during the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration, and the Eleventh Doctor soon replaces it with a new, larger model with a green light, gold and ‘claws’.
The War Doctor-the incarnation that fought in the time war between the Eighth and Ninth Doctor, has a sonic as well, one that seems to be a sort of transitional model between the Eighth and Ninth Doctor sonics.
The Twelfth Doctor lost the green screwdriver when he unexpectedly gave it to the young Davros, where it stayed in the possession of the Dalek creator for centuries apparentally (although it’s unclear how he exactly used it, or if it somehow had some function in the creation of the Daleks). Leaving the screwdriver, he instead utilized a new device-the sonic sunglasses-which, although appearing to be normal sunglasses, they had sonic functions (including an internet browser!)
At the end of his latest trip to Gallifrey, and him forgetting (mostly) about Clara, the Doctor gains a new blue, more crystalline sonic screwdriver. For now, it’s the current model.