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?

3 Answers 3


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)

  • 1
    It also doesn't do turkey.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 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
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 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
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 11:08
  • I know; it's exactly the scene I was refering to as "pushback". :)
    – Mario
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 11:09
  • In the Ark in Space the fourth Doctor also actually used it as a screwdriver. Commented Oct 7, 2014 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.
  • Exactly, the sonic screwdriver doesn't do rays (before). That was Jack's sonic blaster, and The Master's LASER screwdriver.
    – user16696
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 22:00

Based on what we have seen over the years, as the Doctor has come to use the sonic more and more for a wider variety of different functions and has come to rely more and more on it to get him out of messes, I think it is safe to assume that each version of the sonic is superior to the ones that came before it. This could be by it having more functions or greater flexibility than its predecessors, or allowing the Doctor to be faster on the draw with it or being able to use it without hands, to give theoretical examples. It would seem disingenuous for each version of the sonic to "lose functions" that its predecessors possessed, given that later Doctors have used the sonic more frequently than earlier incarnations.

I would logically assume that functions seen in older models of the sonic are still present in newer ones. I come to this conclusion because many functions seen used in older models have cropped up again in newer ones, either being utilized in the same way or in an equivalent manner. If a function seen in an older model hasn't yet been seen being utilized by a newer model, then I think it more probable that an equal or equivalent situation where the function was used simply hasn't yet cropped up while the Doctor has had the newer model, and not because the newer model doesn't have the feature. Given the near omnifunctionality of the sonic, I think it's more likely that an older function is still there in a newer model, but unseen rather than the newer model doesn't have it anymore.

  • Could you provide a description of what new functions you've seen, and when you've seen them? Perhaps a timeline showing the evolution of the device? As your answer is now, it reads mostly as general speculation and really needs some supporting evidence.
    – DavidW
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 3:18
  • The wiki page lists functions by model (tardis.wikia.com/wiki/The_Doctor%27s_sonic_screwdriver) and a number of them recur between different models, suggesting that newer models keep the functionality of older ones and may even possess new features not seen in older ones. Providing a timeline, as you say, would be very time and energy consuming on my part, and I just don't have that now. Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 3:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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