The sonic screwdriver is a fictional tool in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who and its spinoffs. It is a multifunctional tool used by The Doctor. Its most common function is that of a lockpick, but can be used to perform other operations such as performing medical scans, remotely controlling other devices and tracking alien life. It can, with the exception of a deadlock seal or wooden lock, open any type of lock and operate many computers, whether their origin is alien or human.
Like the TARDIS, it has become one of the icons of the programme; spinoff media such as The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood have replicated its functions in devices such as the sonic lipstick, sonic blaster, sonic pen and sonic modulator.
The sonic screwdriver was first introduced in 1968, and was used regularly throughout the Second Doctor's tenure. It became less prominent from the beginning of the Third Doctor's tenure until 1977. It was written out of the series in 1982 due to the limitations it caused when writing for the show. It then featured briefly in the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie, before making a full return in the 2005 continuation of the series.
Throughout the series, there have been many different versions of the sonic screwdriver, as with subsequent Doctors the design of it was changed. It has also been destroyed on a number of occasions, thus leading to the introduction of the next model. Not all iterations of the Doctor have used the sonic on screen; the Fifth Doctor in fact opted not to replace his after it was destroyed.
1968–1982, 1996 
The sonic screwdriver made its first appearance in the serial Fury from the Deep, written by Victor Pemberton. It was used thereafter by the Second Doctor as a multi-purpose tool, with occasional variations in appearance over the course of the series. Ownership of the concept was retained by the BBC; Pemberton later told an interviewer for Doctor Who Magazine, "I'm very cross that the sonic screwdriver—which I invented—has been marketed with no credit to myself. ... It's one thing not to receive any payment, but another not to receive any credit."
Its abilities and overall appearance varied greatly during the classic series. The name implies that it operates through the use of soundwaves to exert physical forces on objects remotely. During the Second Doctor's tenure, it functioned much as its name implied—using sonic waves to dismantle equipment or to bypass locks. In addition, it was used as a welding torch in Episode Five of The Dominators. In the audio commentary for The Sea Devils, Michael Briant claims to have suggested it as a one-off gadget in 1968.
During the Third Doctor's tenure, producer Barry Letts was adamant that the device not become a cure-all for the series, and limited its use to avoid writers becoming over-reliant on it. During this time, the device underwent significant design changes. In The Sea Devils, the Doctor used it to detonate landmines; Michael E. Briant explains that this was feasible, stating that the sonic waves shook the mines. In The Three Doctors the sonic screwdriver is almost unrecognisable as a black grip and plastic spherical head have been applied to the device. In the DVD commentary, Letts himself cannot recognise the prop but remarks that this serial was produced out of transmission order; this explains why the sonic screwdriver reverts to its previous appearance for one story before receiving a more permanent refit thereafter.
During the first three years of the Fourth Doctor's tenure, producer Philip Hinchcliffe further reduced the use of the sonic screwdriver. Exceptions include Robot (which was the last story to be produced by Barry Letts), where it was again used to detonate mines, and as a "miniature sonic lance"[note 1] to cut out a lock. Aside from unlocking doors, the device was greatly downplayed during the Fourth Doctor's second and third seasons. It saw a resurgence once Graham Williams took over as producer in 1977. In the final story of season 15, The Invasion of Time, the Fourth Doctor conceded, "Not even the sonic screwdriver can get me out of this one."
It featured regularly in season 16 during the Key to Time saga. The Doctor's Time Lady companion Romana constructed a sonic screwdriver of her own similar to the Doctor's, first seen during the City of Death. Later on we saw that it was smaller and sleeker than the Doctor's, and he was sufficiently impressed with her design that he attempted (unsuccessfully) to swap screwdrivers with her in Horns of Nimon. By season 18, both script editor Christopher H Bidmead and producer John Nathan-Turner were eager to downplay the device as much as possible.
The sonic screwdriver was written out of the series late in season 19, in the Fifth Doctor serial The Visitation. It is destroyed by a Terileptil to prevent the Doctor from escaping a holding cell; in response, the Doctor remarked, "I feel as if you've just killed an old friend." Eric Saward later explained in a 2005 DVD interview that this was done on the instructions of producer John Nathan-Turner. Saward had written out the sonic screwdriver, believing that the Doctor had "a cupboard full of them" in the TARDIS. On the basis that a device that could help in any situation was very limiting for the script, Nathan-Turner decided that it would not return. The Tenth Doctor joked about the Fifth Doctor's lack of sonic screwdriver in the mini-episode Time Crash, commenting that he "went hands-free" and could "save the universe using a kettle and some string." The device did not appear again for the remainder of the original series.
In the Doctor Who TV Movie, the Doctor was seen to have a new sonic screwdriver with a telescopic design.
A redesigned sonic screwdriver appears in the new series, with a blue light in addition to the sound effect. In its first incarnation, the prop used in the new series was fragile and prone to breakage. The toy version (made by Character Options Ltd.) was slightly larger to accommodate a working soundchip. It also includes an ultraviolet light and changeable invisible ink nib for viewing messages written in the ultraviolet ink. A common misconception is that the Doctor Who production team at BBC Wales were so impressed by how much more resilient the toy sonic screwdriver was than the real prop, that they obtained moulds of the original prototype of the toy to use in the 2006 series, in fact, this was not the case. Over the course of the next two years, the props were continually repaired and modified, with some additions being a new thumb slider design and different colours of wires used in the clear channel when extended.
For Series 4 (2008), a new design of Screwdriver was commissioned by the BBC. Nick Robatto was hired to make two new props. These featured the final slider design, and redesigned body ridges, among other smaller changes. This design debuted in 2008's "Partners in Crime" and continued to be used until the Screwdriver's ultimate destruction in 2010's "The Eleventh Hour". This later design has gained the nickname "Series 3-4 Sonic" (relating to the fact that at the start of Series 3, in "Smith and Jones", the first Sonic Screwdriver was supposedly destroyed), even though strictly speaking it first appeared in Series 4. Prop replica company MFX were given a licence to produce replicas of this prop, and in 2009 released their replica. Strictly limited to a run of 500 units, and initially priced at £250, these replicas sold out quickly, and are now unobtainable from the original retailer, however, a surplus of stock at the time of the licence termination allowed a private dealer to purchase all remaining stock, and so they are still not entirely unobtainable. This replica has become highly sought-after among fans, as to date it is the only official replica released. Since they were removed from shelves prices for them on auction sites have risen exponentially, with many sellers choosing to repaint the screwdriver in a screen-accurate paint, in order to access the higher price range. QMx is currently owner of the licence to make replicas of this prop, and to date have shown two prototypes. However, a failure to comment on the progress of the manufacture of this replica by QMx has led to fan speculation that the project may have been canceled in favour of releasing a different product. QMx have refuted these claims.
In contrast with Nathan-Turner's attitude that the sonic screwdriver should not be used as a cure-all, the new production team gave it even more functionality than previous versions which has given the series some criticism as it seems to be a deus ex machina, a literary device that is generally avoided. Some of the uses in the new series include: repairing electronic equipment; re-attaching materials such as barbed wire; detecting, intercepting and sending signals; remotely operating the TARDIS; burning, cutting, or igniting substances; fusing metal; scanning and identifying substances; amplifying or augmenting sound; modifying mobile phones to enable "universal roaming”; disabling alien disguises; resonating concrete; reversing teleportation of another entity. It is sometimes used to disassemble robotic enemies or turn other objects into weapons; healing cuts and wounds. In "The Parting of the Ways" and "Utopia" it is used to operate the TARDIS controls remotely; when the Doctor attempts to counteract the Master's theft of the TARDIS, it is used to limit the TARDIS' destination. In "Doomsday", the Doctor states that the sonic screwdriver does not kill, wound or maim; however, it is sometimes brandished in a threatening manner, such as in "The Christmas Invasion", "The Impossible Planet", "The Runaway Bride", "The Lazarus Experiment" and The Infinite Quest. In "World War Three", when confronted by a group of Slitheen, the Doctor threatens to "triplicate the flammability" of a bottle of port wine with the sonic screwdriver, though one of the Slitheen realises he is bluffing. In "Closing Time", ringed energy beams are seen emitted from the device, giving it a more weapon-like appearance, particularly when used to disable a weakened Cyberman at a distance.
At one point in "Doomsday", a Dalek calls the screwdriver "a sonic probe" when the Doctor reveals it. This may suggest that "probe" is the device's original name, while "screwdriver" is merely the Doctor's preferred name.
The sonic screwdriver has been the subject of jokes: in "The Doctor Dances", Jack Harkness mocked the concept by asking, "Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks, 'Ooh, this could be a little more sonic'?", and later exclaims to the Doctor that "in a pinch, you could put up some shelves!" In "Smith and Jones", Martha Jones asked if the Doctor also had a "Laser Spanner", to which he replied that he had, until it was stolen by Emmeline Pankhurst. In Day of the Moon, during the fight with the Silence, the Doctor tries to help with the Sonic Screwdriver and River Song says 'You have a SCREWDRIVER! Go build a cabinet.'
In "Smith and Jones", the sonic screwdriver burns out after the Doctor uses it to amplify the radiation output of a hospital X-ray machine. In the "Series Three concept Artwork Gallery",  when referring to the burnt out sonic screwdriver, Peter McKinstry says "the green crystal structure visible under the shattered dome refers back to the TARDIS console crystal. It's the same technology – the TARDIS's little brother." Though initially saddened at the loss of the screwdriver, the Doctor obtains a new one at the conclusion of the episode.
In "Partners in Crime" the alien nursemaid possesses a "Sonic Pen". In this episode it is shown that when you hold two sonic items together it creates harmful sound waves, which the doctor uses to escape.
The sonic screwdriver is unable to open a "deadlock seal", used as a plot device to prevent an easy solution. Russell T Davies once mentioned that he would never make the sonic screwdriver the solution to an episode. In "Silence in the Library", while trying to open a wooden door, the Doctor tells Donna that the sonic screwdriver won't work because the door is made of wood, a fact later restated in "The Hungry Earth"; when Rory complains about this, the Doctor counters to not "diss the sonic." In "The Parting of the Ways", the Doctor mentions that when Emergency Program One was activated, the sonic screwdriver would receive a signal from the TARDIS. In "Forest of the Dead", he claims that a few hair-dryers can interfere with the device, though he states that he is "working on that".
We learn in Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead, that in the Doctor's future he will upgrade the sonic screwdriver, in addition to Mark VI settings, "red settings" and "damper settings". River has the Doctor's future screwdriver in Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead.
Like its predecessor, Character Options have released a spring-loaded toy version constructed of injection-moulded plastic. In relation to the prop, the size and proportions of the toy are broadly similar, unlike 2005-2010 Sonic Screwdriver, where which the toy version was made larger to accommodate a working soundchip. Prop Replica company QMx have also been given licence to produce accurate replicas of this prop, taking over from previous licence owner, MFX. They plan to release a fully accurate replica of this prop in the near future, in addition to three other sonic screwdriver replicas currently in production. In 2012, QMx released an "Artizan Series" replica of this Sonic Screwdriver. A strictly limited run priced at nearly $5,000, these replicas were handmade by original prop-maker Nick Robatto, and have now sold out permanently. Despite this, QMx still have released no information on their own in-house replica of this particular prop, as well as any of the other replicas they are producing.
In "The Eleventh Hour", the malfunctioning sonic screwdriver is destroyed when the Doctor tries to signal the Atraxi ships. The Doctor later receives a new one, which emerges from the newly-regenerated TARDIS console. The Eleventh Doctor's sonic screwdriver is larger than its predecessor; it has a green light and metal claws that extend with a flick of the wrist. It is shown to have been created by the TARDIS as part of its automatic regeneration. A toy version of this (also by Character Options) is available. Curiously, this toy is stamped on its green "Crystal" infrastructure as having a copyright date of 2004. A metal version of the sonic screwdriver has been produced by Wow Stuff that mounts a functional set of changeable flat and Phillips heads under a removable cover as well as providing light and sound effects.
In A Christmas Carol the Doctor advises a young Kazran Sardick to pursue romance while implying that in a similar situation in his own past he had instead gone to his room to "design a new kind of screwdriver." Also in that episode, the sonic screwdriver gets split into two pieces, one of which ends up inside a flying shark. The remaining piece is said to be signalling its other half in an effort to repair itself. The Doctor uses this to send a signal through the half inside the sky shark to open up the clouds. Afterwards, the half not in the shark is left with Kazran Sardick. The Doctor had duplicates of this screwdriver, which he continued to use throughout his travels.
In "Let's Kill Hitler", it's explained that instead of having settings, this version operates through a psychic interface, basically doing whatever the user thinks of while pointing and holding down the button. This version of the screwdriver also appears, although never officially announced, to have a flashlight setting, as the Doctor is seen to have it emitting a continuous glow while not uttering the classic sonic noise. In mid-late 2012 Character-options is planning to release a so-called Trans-Temporal sonic screwdriver which will be compatible with the build your own screwdriver set and the "Personal Tardis" set.
Other appearances 
Licensed media 
BBC Books 
- The Past Doctor Adventures novel The Murder Game, set after The Power of the Daleks, has the Second Doctor escaping from a locked room with a box-shaped sonic device, in which he muses on the advantages of building a smaller model. The novel Dreams of Empire by Justin Richards, set after The Ice Warriors and before Fury from the Deep, features the Second Doctor utilising the device to break through a concrete wall. Stories with the device used by the Second Doctor before the screwdriver's first on-screen appearance are plausible as the Doctor in that story indicates that the machine "never fails", implying its successful use before that adventure.
- The More Short Trips short story "Special Weapons", set late in season 24, indicates that the Seventh Doctor has a sonic screwdriver.
- The Eighth Doctor Adventures novel, Father Time, features an amnesiac Doctor attempting to recreate the sonic screwdriver with 1980s technology, eventually producing a bulky device nicknamed the "sonic suitcase".
- In the Ninth Doctor Adventures novel The Clockwise Man the sonic screwdriver is used to cauterise wounds, as a soldering iron, and to stop a clockwork mechanism. In The Monsters Inside it is used to provide light, but runs out of power in the process. In Winner Takes All the Doctor fails to open a lock with it and concludes that it "hints at alien involvement". It is used to examine electronic standing stones in The Deviant Strain. In Only Human it is used to restrain someone by welding wires to a chair; in the same novel the Doctor informs Quelly that the device contains 29 computers.
- In the Tenth Doctor Adventures novel The Stone Rose, the sonic screwdriver is used to sedate animals. In The Nightmare of Black Island it is used to provide light. In The Last Dodo it is used to distract animals, and to liquefy and re-solidify tarmac. In Peacemaker, it is used to stop bullets and to dismantle guns.
Big Finish audio dramas 
- In the Big Finish audio drama Pier Pressure, Evelyn Smythe mentions that although the Sixth Doctor didn't possess a sonic screwdriver, he fondly remembered it as his "door key". The Sixth Doctor uses his fingernails as a stand-in for the screwdriver as an escape method in The Nowhere Place.
- The Seventh Doctor uses the device in The Harvest and Dreamtime. His companions Ace and Hex use the device in the Doctorless audio drama, The Veiled Leopard.
- In Sword of Orion, the Eighth Doctor reveals that his sonic screwdriver has a torch built into the handle. In The Dying Days he uses the device to reflect the sonic cannon of an Ice Warrior back at his attacker. In Blood of the Daleks he uses it to trace a transmission beam.
Doctor Who comics 
- In an untitled story by Gary Russell featured in the first issue of IDW Publishing's Doctor Who comic book (published February 2008), the Tenth Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to destroy a sword and later sacrifices it in order to defeat a Sycorax hunter. Later, he indicates that he needs time to "grow" a new sonic screwdriver.
Virgin Adventures 
- The Seventh Doctor regained his sonic screwdriver in the Virgin New Adventures novels, with its first reappearance in The Pit.
- The Virgin Missing Adventures novel Venusian Lullaby established that the First Doctor had a sonic screwdriver.
Red Nose Day 
- In the Red Nose Day special, The Curse of Fatal Death, the final regeneration of the Doctor, played by Joanna Lumley, enthusiastically remarks that the sonic screwdriver "has three settings".
- In a comic The Catherine Tate Show sketch, Catherine Tate's teenage character Lauren Cooper accuses her English teacher (played by David Tennant) of being "the Doctor". After much provocation, the teacher uses the sonic screwdriver to transform Lauren into a Rose Tyler action figure.
Unlicensed media 
- The unlicensed fan fiction novel Time's Champion speculates that the Sixth Doctor has re-built the sonic screwdriver. He used a similar device in The Nightmare Fair, a script which was never produced for television but has been adapted twice.
- In the video game Daleks (published for operating systems of the early 1980s), the Doctor can use the sonic screwdriver to teleport and to defend himself against the Daleks.
Public Appearances 
- Matt Smith used the Eleventh Doctor's sonic screwdriver to turn on the Christmas Lights in Cardiff in November 2010. Its appearance was cheered by the crowd.
Related devices 
Doctor Who 
- The Doctor has used other sonic devices similar to the sonic screwdriver, including the "door handle" of Inferno (Liz Shaw having one of her own) and a pen-sized white noise generator in Four to Doomsday.
- In the 1965 episode "Trap of Steel", the Doctor uses an apparently ordinary screwdriver to examine the metal of the Drahvin spaceship and other tasks.
- In the 1979 serial "City of Death", Count Scarlioni's henchmen use a "sonic knife" to cut the glass in front of the Mona Lisa.
- In the 2005 episodes "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances", Jack Harkness uses a "sonic blaster", referred to by Rose Tyler as a "squareness gun", capable of "digitising" structures by disintegrating them and then reversing the process, among other functions. The device resurfaces in "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead", now wielded by River Song. Steven Moffat confirmed in an episode of Doctor Who Confidential that the device was the same one.
- In "Smith and Jones", the Doctor claims to have once owned a "laser spanner" until it was stolen by Emmeline Pankhurst, described by the Doctor as a "cheeky woman".
- In "The Sound of Drums", the Master reveals his laser screwdriver. Unlike the sonic screwdriver, it is used as a weapon that can kill as well as artificially age its target, using technology developed by Lazarus Laboratories originally seen in "The Lazarus Experiment". It includes isomorphic controls, allowing only the Master to use the device. The design of the prop was meant to imply that the Master constructed it on Earth, and it was deliberately made larger than the Doctor's sonic screwdriver. Like the Doctor's screwdriver and Sarah Jane's lipstick, the Master's laser screwdriver was also created as a children's toy with sound effects.
- In the series 4 episode "Partners in Crime", the antagonist Miss Foster is shown using a sonic device identified by her as a sonic pen, which the Doctor describes as having identical functionality to his screwdriver. It could, however, open deadlocked windows and compartments in the Adipose building that the sonic screwdriver couldn't. After confiscating and briefly using it, the Doctor throws the sonic pen into a bin.
- In "Silence in the Library", Professor River Song possesses a slightly bulkier sonic screwdriver, which she claims the Doctor gave to her in his future. The Doctor mentioned that he does not give his screwdriver to anyone. In the following episode, Professor Song mentions that her screwdriver is augmented with a "red setting" and "dampers". It also contains a hidden neural relay linked to River Song, saving her at the episode's conclusion—the purpose for which the future Doctor gave Professor Song the device. A toy version is available. Despite the Doctor's claim not to give his screwdriver to anyone, he gives one to his own doppelgänger in "The Rebel Flesh", and either gives or loans one to Rory Williams for use in "A Good Man Goes to War", having previously loaned one to Rory in "The Big Bang".
- In the Christmas special The Next Doctor, Jackson Lake, who believes himself to be the Doctor, carries a regular screwdriver which he claims to be sonic. When the Doctor asks "How is it sonic?", Lake replies, "It makes a noise," which he demonstrates by tapping it against a door frame.
- In the series 6 episode "Let's Kill Hitler", the Doctor has a sonic cane which appears to have the same functions as the sonic screwdriver.
- In the series 6 episode "The Girl Who Waited", future Amy Pond has a "Sonic Probe" that she made herself. She claims she calls it a probe and not a screwdriver because that's what it is, and to signify that she has come to hate the Doctor. Later after she has forgiven him, she calls it a sonic screwdriver.
The Sarah Jane Adventures 
In the Doctor Who spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Sarah Jane Smith uses a "sonic lipstick", which is a gift the Tenth Doctor gave her alongside a new model of K-9 and her scanner watch. It functions much like the sonic screwdriver, used primarily for opening and closing locked doors, and for disabling and re-enabling machines. A toy version is available.
- In Enemy of the Bane, Mrs Wormwood (Samantha Bond) possesses a sonic device disguised as a ring called the "Phonic disruptor".
- In the Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood episode "Fragments", genius Toshiko Sato's backstory reveals that she stole faulty designs from the Ministry of Defence and UNIT, which she used to construct a sonic device, referred to as a "sonic modulator", to trade to a terrorist organisation in exchange for her mother. The device is confiscated by UNIT, which imprisons Sato until she is pardoned and recruited into Torchwood by Jack Harkness.
- In the episodes "Day One" and "End of Days", Captain Jack Harkness uses a green device somewhat similar to a sonic screwdriver. Its origins and function are unknown.
- In "Greeks Bearing Gifts" a replica of the Doctor's sonic screwdriver can be seen on Toshiko Sato's desk. Toshiko also uses a "lockpick" device in a number of episodes which replicates the door-opening function of the screwdriver.
- In Children of Earth, Gwen Cooper uses a similar device, which she refers to as a Gizmo, to deactivate CCTV cameras.
BBC Books 
- In the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Alien Bodies, the Time Lord Homunculette has a sonic monkey wrench.
In other media 
The sonic screwdriver has appeared in a variety of media, particularly other British fiction and science-fiction in general, likely a tribute to Doctor Who's enduring place in both genres. Sometimes it appears as a genuine tool, but often it is parodied—for example, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy text adventure game included tools such as the ultra-plasmic awl, and the BBC Radio 4 science-fiction comedy Nebulous offered the sonic crowbar.
Sonic screwdrivers appear in the 1980s Fighting Fantasy book Sky Lord (although it is never used for anything in the book), the Iron Man novel Femme Fatales, and the Red Dwarf novel Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers. In the latter two, it is used largely as a highly advanced hand tool, that is to say it doesn't possess many of the additional qualities of the Doctor Who version. Similarly, the online game World of Warcraft includes an item named "The Ultrasonic Screwdriver" which is used to reprogram robots in a quest.
In Star Wars, a "Sonic Servodriver" was a cocktail composed of Sullustan gin, Old Janx Spirit, and spicebrew. This drink has made appearances in the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels MedStar II: Jedi Healer and Conviction.
In Star Trek: Enterprise episode 21 of season 4, Trip Tucker uses an advanced screwdriver aesthetically and functionally similar to the Doctor's while held captive by a human xenophobic group called Terra Prime.
In the Facebook game Legacy of a Thousand Suns, there is a Trinket named the Ironic Screwdriver. The description reads, 'This device is a marvel of engineering, and can perform a wide range of functions—from opening locked doors to deactivating security turrets. But since it lacks a screwdriver head, it can't actually unscrew anything.'
- The Sixth Doctor uses a hand tool "sonic lance" in Attack of the Cybermen
- Cook, Benjamin (26 June 2002). "Friend of the Earth:-)". Doctor Who Magazine (318): 10–14.
- Commentary on DVD of The Sea Devils
- Commentary on DVD of The Visitation
- Commentary on DVD of Castrovalva
- "Toys and Games". BBC. 26 July 2005. Retrieved 29 October 2006.
- BBC – Doctor Who – Series Three concept Artwork Gallery
- "The Wand Company and BBC Worldwide Unveil The Doctor Who Sonic Screwdriver Universal Remote Control". 11 July 2012. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
- BBC – Doctor Who – Series Three concept Artwork Gallery
- "The Sarah Jane Adventures – The Official Site". Alien Objects. BBC. Retrieved 21 December 2006. (UK Access Only)
- Drinks mixer
- Sonic screwdriver diagram
- List of appearances and functions in the classic series
- List of appearances and functions in the 2005–2009 series at SFX
- Sonic screwdriver sound effect from the current series (MP3)
- Sonic Screwdriver article on the TARDIS Wiki