Clearly, it's more than just a screwdriver. It could have been called an alien Swiss army knife, or an alien multipurpose tool. Why, then, is it just called a sonic screwdriver?

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    My impression from the show is that the Doctor invented (or acquired) a sonic screwdriver, and then kept tinkering with it over the centuries. So it was merely a screwdriver, once, and now he just keeps the name out of (probably) a sense of whimsy – Jason Baker May 30 '15 at 3:44
  • Remember that normal screwdrivers are designed to be strong enough to do more than drive screws. For instance you can use them as levers pry things open, and poke holes in things with them. – bdsl Aug 17 '15 at 20:41

It's called the sonic screwdriver because originally that is exactly what it was. Initially it was, literally, a screwdriver. Except instead of touching the screw, the Doctor would point it at a screw, and sonic waves would somehow cause it to turn. Several examples of using the sonic screwdriver as a screwdriver can be found in The War Games (1968). There's an excerpt from this story on Youtube which demonstrates the original sonic screwdriver's operation.

Over time the writers devised new capabilities for the sonic screwdriver, gradually turning it into a sort of all purpose magic wand / deus ex machina. But the original name stuck.

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    You're correct (of course), it might be worth mentioning Romana also made a sonic screwdriver City of Death (1979), the daleks call it a sonic probe in Doomsday (2006). Also, Sarah Jane Smith had a sonic lipstick (from the Doctor) in the spin-off Sarah Jane Adventures. – Elliott Frisch May 30 '15 at 8:06
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    The Adipose mother had a Sonic Pen, if we're collecting examples :) – Mac Cooper May 30 '15 at 9:21
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    @Tom How did it evolve? – moonman239 May 30 '15 at 18:16
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    I remember my first exposure to Doctor Who and his Sonic Screwdriver in the novel Revenge of the Cybermen. In it, he uses the SS to vibrate a screw loose from a vent/door/something (it's been over a decade!) because the head of the screw(s) was on the other side of the wall. There was definite emphasis on the sonic vibrations. – user31178 Jun 1 '15 at 6:10
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    The first use of the sonic screwdriver was in Fury from the Deep. When the (2nd) Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria arrive on the beach they find a pipeline with a control box. The Doctor removes the screws with the sonic screwdriver, saying it "never fails" and that it works via sound waves. – David Conrad Jul 20 '15 at 17:52

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