Doctor Who

Doctor Who

A Brief History of the Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver

By Paul Lang on Tuesday 9 October 2018

The Doctor isn’t like most heroes. The Time Lord never carries a weapon (“Only idiots carry knives”), instead relying on brain-power, bravery and a lot of luck to get out of tricky situations. But there are times when even the Doctor’s amazing mind needs some help to get stuff done more quickly, and that’s when a sonic screwdriver can come in very handy.

Doctor Who
'Swiss army sonic – now with added Sheffield steel!' - The Doctor, The Woman Who Fell To Earth

Super sonic

The very first thing the Doctor used this incredible tool for was literally unscrewing some screws – although it soon turned out to have far greater capabilities, thanks to the powerful, miniaturised technology it contained.

Doctor Who
The Second Doctor and his first sonic screwdriver.

When some parasitic seaweed went on the rampage, the Second Doctor used the sonic to amplify his friend Victoria’s screams, and the laser wave it created saw off the mutant menace. This first sonic didn’t look as high-tech or flashy as some of the later models, and was basically a simple metal rod, but it got the job done!

The Second Doctor unscrewers a screw in the handle of a revolver in The War Games.


The Third Doctor was a snappy dresser, and got a nifty new sonic to match. It was mostly silver, with a black-and-yellow striped bit at the top that pulled down to activate the device. It was bigger than before, with a removable emitter head that could be swapped to provide different functions.

Doctor Who
The Third Doctor weilds his sonic screwdriver in The Sea Devils.

Once, the Doctor even popped a mirror on there to hypnotise an angry beast. Another attachment was handy for reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, which was this Doctor’s go-to plan for dealing with all sorts of problems.

The Fourth Doctor found lots of inventive new uses for his favourite device – everything from detonating land mines and creating holes in force-fields to safe-cracking and setting off fire alarms. Mostly, though, he used it to open doors – he definitely wasn’t the kind of Doctor who liked being told where he could and couldn’t go!

Doctor Who
The Fourth Doctor's sonic screwdriver in Destiny of the Daleks.


The Fifth Doctor didn’t have much luck with the sonic – he only got to use it a handful of times before it was destroyed by a fishy reptile-type called a Terileptil. The Doctor was devastated by the loss of his trusty tool – “I feel like you’ve just killed an old friend,” he said.

The Doctor didn’t replace the sonic for ages – the next time we saw one was when the Seventh Doctor used a similar model to seal a casket containing the Master’s remains.

The War Doctor also used a modified version of this sonic during the Time War, but had swapped the emitter head for a more simple light-up one.

The War Doctor's sonic screwriver in action in The Day of the Doctor.

TARDIS connections

By the time the Ninth Doctor came along he had a completely new sonic. This one had a cracked coral handle, and was more closely connected to the TARDIS than before – it could even make new copies on demand.

Doctor Who
The Ninth Doctor scans an 'empty' person in The Empty Child.

This version had one major drawback – it didn’t work on wood! Deadlock seals were also beyond its capabilities. However, it did have much more extensive scanning, diagnostic and medical capabilities and could act as a remote control for some TARDIS functions.

The Tenth Doctor shows off his sonic screwdriver in Doomsday.

Best of all, though, was its ability to make free money pour out of cash machines! This model served the Tenth Doctor too, but when it was severely damaged soon after his regeneration, it was time for a major change!


The TARDIS gave the Eleventh Doctor a souped-up new screwdriver with a whole new look. It was larger than before, packed with more functions, and had an extendable tip that glowed green.

Doctor Who
The Eleventh's Doctor's sonic screwdriver glowing green.

For the first time, the user could control the sonic telepathically by just thinking of a function, rather than having to input the required setting manually. It still didn’t work on wood, though! The TARDIS was kept busy creating replacement sonics, as the Eleventh Doctor lost or destroyed it in ever-more inventive ways – it was even eaten by a shark once!

The Eleventh Doctor scans Stonehenge in The Pandorica Opens.

Sonic sunglasses!

The Twelfth Doctor had the final version of this model, and decided he was over sonic screwdrivers altogether!

The Twelfth Doctor dons his sonic specs in The Zygon Invasion.

For a while, it looked like he really meant it – he even got into the wearable tech trend by creating a pair of sonic sunglasses with similar functions as a replacement. Eventually, the TARDIS presented the Doctor with another revamped model – a slick, metallic blue version with loads of extras attached.

Doctor Who
The Twelfth Doctor's bright blue sonic screwdriver.

Sheffield steel

After crash-landing in Sheffield with no TARDIS, a body that was still cooking, and two alien mysteries to solve, the Doctor realised she was missing something – her sonic screwdriver. As there was no TARDIS around to fire out a replacement, she had to take matters into her own hands.

Doctor Who
The Thirteenth Doctor forges her own sonic screwdriver using Sheffield steel and an alien crystal in The Woman Who Fell to Earth

With only a warehouse full of junk, an abandoned alien bulb filled with tech, a load of old spoons and a blowtorch at her disposal, the Doctor got busy. She hammered, soldered, glued, chiselled, welded, poured and, finally, froze it all into place, creating a sonic screwdriver like no other. A curved steel frame protects the golden, crystalline heart, and there’s even a tiny screen to study readings on. It might look weirder and be more unpredictable than the ones she’s had in the past, and it tends to splutter when asked do anything tricky, but the Doctor is rightly proud of her handiwork.

Doctor Who
The Thirteenth Doctor proudly holding her new sonic screwdriver.

And she quickly put it to work, using it to defuse the DNA bombs that had been implanted into her and her new mates, scan the alien gathering coils, and trigger a teleport device rescued from the abandoned Stenza pod. OK, so that did end up stranding the Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham in the middle of deep space, but there’s no doubt that the sonic screwdriver will help them to fix everything again.

Doctor Who
The Thirteenth Doctor puts her sonic screwdiver to work.

“Scanner, diagnostics, tin opener!” Everything an adventurer needs for the incredible journey ahead!

You can own your very own The Thirteenth Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver toy which is available to buy now from Character Options (UK) and BBC Shop (US).