Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

As the series and the Doctor have been rejuvenated over the years, Dr. Who has wielded several cosmetically different Sonic Screwdrivers. While it seems that a Timelord would have the top of the line Sonic Screwdriver from the series beginning, the device's outward appearance has changed.

Are all of the different versions of Sonic Screwdrivers equal in their functionality?

share|improve this question
up vote 17 down vote accepted

No, they do not all have the same features.

But there's very little mention of "upgrading" or any other justification for the changing features: it just happens as the scripts need it to. The screwdriver's various visual changes do not typically have anything to do with changes to its capabilities.

The sonic screwdriver started out as... a screwdriver, nothing more. You held it next to a screw, and it turned the screw while making a funny noise.

Over the years its functionality came and went, but overall the "sonic" bit got more play and the "screwdriver" less and less, until it basically let the Fourth Doctor do whatever the writers needed to get him into the next scene without effort.

This is why the Fifth Doctor's era saw the screwdriver destroyed--the producer felt it was a crutch for lazy writing.

The Fifth Doctor's screwdriver, burning.

The sonic screwdriver didn't show up again on screen until New Who (unless you count a cameo in The Movie, but it didn't do anything). Now it's a magic wand which can do just about anything, including act as a shield and a ray gun, but frequently it's not used as an actual screwdriver when that would be useful.

(It's worth noting that the brief period in New Who during which it "couldn't do wood" seems to have no precedent, but is one in a long line of attempts to limit the sonic's power, all of which are then blithely ignored as soon as they become inconvenient. See also: deadlock seal)

share|improve this answer
It also doesn't do turkey. – Mr Lister Dec 24 '13 at 10:36
Also important to note that They're scientific instruments, not water pistols. I don't think I've ever seen it being used as a direct weapon (if you ignore the pushback in The Day of the Doctor's finale); indirect at most to screw up (hah!) some weapon system or sensors etc. Also they introduced deadlocked locks as something it couldn't handle, although I don't know whether that's something new in "New Who" or from classic era. – Mario Dec 24 '13 at 11:01
@Mario The "water pistols" comment is especially ironic because The Day of the Doctor featured all three Doctors shooting a Dalek with raybeams coming out of their sonics. – BESW Dec 24 '13 at 11:08
I know; it's exactly the scene I was refering to as "pushback". :) – Mario Dec 24 '13 at 11:09
In the Ark in Space the fourth Doctor also actually used it as a screwdriver. – Nigel Ellis Oct 7 '14 at 7:48

First, the answer by BESW is absolutely correct - in the new Doctor Who, the sonic screwdriver is simply a magic wand. The Day of the Doctor explains the device as a molecular screwdriver, able to manipulate matter on the atomic scale, allowing all three Doctors to disintegrate their cell door - plus having the storage capacity to record each and every atom and the computational power able to compute a "dissolving" "frequency"-"thing" across hundreds of years. Unfortunately, from that context try explaining away the "pushback" beam.

Second, the sonic screwdriver has never been a ray gun. As I recall the only characters in the new Doctor Who to possess a sonic gun are Cpt. Jack Harkness and River Song. These devices behave very differently from sonic screwdrivers.

Third, in relation to specific features I bring you an excerpt from Forest of the Dead, Season 4 Episode 9:

00:07:10,989 --> 00:07:13,604
There's a signal coming from somewhere,
interfering with it.

00:07:14,015 --> 00:07:16,315
-Use the red settings.
-It doesn't have a red setting.

00:07:16,350 --> 00:07:19,740
-Well, use the dampers.
-It doesn't have dampers.

00:07:19,775 --> 00:07:21,060
It will do one day.

00:07:24,819 --> 00:07:27,508
So some time in the future, I just
give you my screwdriver.
share|improve this answer
Exactly, the sonic screwdriver doesn't do rays (before). That was Jack's sonic blaster, and The Master's LASER screwdriver. – user16696 May 31 '15 at 22:00

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.