Wibbly Wobbly

54 Years Later, The Oldest TV Sci-Fi Hero Just Got A Massive Tech Upgrade

What CAN’T the new sonic screwdriver do?

Originally Published: 
Doctor Who Week

The Jedi have lightsabers. Members of Starfleet have phasers, preferably set to stun. But if you’re a lonely Time Lord from the planet of Gallifrey, you have ... a screwdriver. First introduced way back in 1964 for the 2nd Doctor (Patrick Troughton), the most beloved handheld sci-fi gizmo in all Doctor Who is easily the sonic screwdriver. While not all Doctors have consistently rocked this Swiss army knife of time and space, having a new sonic with a new Doctor has become something of a staple of the contemporary era, starting in 2005 with the 9th Doctor (Christopher Eccleston). Now, five incarnations and roughly four screwdriver designs later, the 14th Doctor (David Tennant) has a new sonic screwdriver.

But, as revealed in “The Star Beast,” this new sonic seems to be able to do way more than previous versions could. The Doctor may have regenerated back into one of their old faces, and the sonic might seem superficially similar, but its functions are way more powerful than ever.

Spoilers for “The Star Beast” ahead!

Something borrowed

With a blue emitter and a kind of retracting function that was apparent with the 11th Doctor’s sonic, the 14th Doctor’s sonic screwdriver is like a mash-up of all the designs we’ve had since 2005. Some fans have even pointed out there are echoes of the Master’s laser screwdriver from “The Sound of Drums.” The point is: It’s fancy, classy, fun, and seems like the right mix of new and nostalgic, assuming the nostalgia is focused on things that happened about 10 to 15 years ago.

When the BBC revealed the new sonic design back in July 2023, every Doctor Who fan had more or less the same reaction: Yep, that looks like a sonic screwdriver! Even if this isn’t your favorite design to date, it checks all the boxes. But, at that point, we hadn’t seen it in action yet. And now that we have, it’s clear we’re dealing with a totally new kind of Doctor Who device.

Sonic Screwdriver — God Mode

Matt Smith and David Tennant with their respective sonic screwdrivers in ‘The Day of the Doctor.”


Back in “Silence in the Library,” the 10th Doctor (also David Tennant) was astonished when River Song (Alex Kingston) rocked a future version of a sonic screwdriver with “red settings.” Throughout the Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi eras, we saw the various sonic screwdrivers seem to become even more powerful than ever before. In Season 6, the 11th Doctor was even using it as a low-key blaster. Both the 10th and 11th Doctors were later mocked by the War Doctor (John Hurt), who claimed they were not “water pistols,” but instead “scientific instruments.”

The 14th Doctor’s sonic may not be a weapon, but it does have two new functions which we’ve really never seen before. When the Doctor is helping the Noble-Temple family escape from the Wrarth Warriors and the possessed UNIT soldiers, he creates movable force fields out of thin air with the sonic screwdriver. We later see that these can be shattered by weapon fire, but still. Although we saw the combined sonics of the 11th, 10th and War Doctors do a kind of force-deflect on a Dalek in “The Day of the Doctor,” what we’ve got now is next level.

The 14th Doctor with the 13th Doctor's sonic.


Previous to this, the Doctor is also basically drawing holographic charts and graphs out of thin air with the sonic. While slightly more explicable within the existing Who canon (a fancy hologram?) this is also somewhat jarring, simply because the Doctor never has brandished the sonic quite like this before. How does this new tech work? Is the Doctor pulling from energy located somewhere else? (Perhaps the Eye of Harmony?)

It’s also not been revealed at what point the Doctor obtained this new sonic. In the in-canon 2022 comic strip story, “Liberation of the Daleks,” the 14th Doctor was still using the 13th Doctor’s sonic screwdriver — which, it should be noted, was made without the aid of the TARDIS. Both the 11th and 12th Doctors were gifted new sonics from the TARDIS, which we’re guessing is what happened here.

There are still a lot more questions than answers when it comes to the 14th Doctor, and it’s possible the existence of the new sonic screwdriver is just one of those things that will never be fully explained. Now, there are really only two questions remaining: Is there anything else it can do that we’ve not seen, and, perhaps most crucially, will the 15th Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) keep this sonic, or get yet another new design?

Doctor Who airs new specials and episodes on Disney+. “The Star Beast” airs on November 25, “Wild Blue Yonder” on December 2, and “The Giggle” on December 9. After that, the first Ncuti Gatwa episode, “The Church on Ruby Road,” will air on Christmas Day, 2023.

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