[The following post contains MINOR SPOILERS for the Doctor Who season 9 premiere.]
Few things are constant in Doctor Who. Adventuring in space in time with an extraterrestrial hero means the scenery (and starring Time Lord) is ever-changing – along with a revolving door of companions, redesigns to the exterior (as well as interior) of the TARDIS, along with new iterations of the the Doctor’s trusty sonic screwdriver. The sonic screwdriver hasn’t always been a staple of Doctor Who – several “classic” series Doctors didn’t carry the cure-all gadget; however, following Russell T. Davies’ “modern” continuation of the show, the sonic screwdriver has appeared in nearly every episode.
That is, until the season 9 premier story “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar” saw the presumed loss of the Doctor’s current sonic screwdriver build and debut of wearable sonic tech: sonic sunglasses. Sonic eyewear was a clever play on current wearable tech trends but most viewers didn’t expect the addition to stick – until the sunglasses reappeared as a central plot point in episode 3 “Under the Lake”. As a result, fans have begun to wonder if this Doctor truly has ditched his screwdriver in favor of shades but thanks to a new press release and response from production, we have a better idea of whether or not the iconic gizmo will return this season.
Doctor Who executive producer and current head writer Steven Moffat is known to mess with expectations – leaning into spoilers, speculation, rumors, and controversy in order to keep viewers guessing. For that reason, it should come as no surprise that the showrunner goaded skeptical viewers – defending sonic sunglasses as well as suggesting that fans need to lighten up a bit.
Check out the video of Moffat responding to sonic sunglasses backlash (we’ve also included the quoted text below):
“Sometimes you have to be heretical. Sometimes you actually have to embrace the heresy. And I just thought, really, on a whim, why would The Doctor feel wedded to a screwdriver? Maybe he fancies varying it for a while, maybe he’ll pop his sonic glasses on instead. Also, it maybe resurrected the original joke which we’ve sort of slightly forgotten, that the screwdriver was just a screwdriver that made a noise. It’s gradually become this all-purpose everything that looks really cool… It’s fun to be naughty.”
Understandably, Moffat’s comments didn’t do much to sate Whovians who were petitioning for the banishing of sonic sunglasses in favor of screwdrivers; nevertheless, things are looking up for Doctor Who purists, and it’s a safe bet the screwdriver will return.
“I know some people are incredibly irate about it, and I’m sure the screwdriver will show up again someday. But just to show that we can – why not?”
Speaking to What’s on TV, star Peter Capaldi was even more definitive – flat-out stating the screwdriver isn’t gone (before extolling the virtues of his new shades):
“The sonic screwdriver hasn’t gone. The sonic sunglasses are an adjunct to the sonic screwdriver and have arrived because the Doctor likes Ray-Bans! You press them and they go zzzzz and they do great things.”
If Moffat wanted to add a new iteration of the screwdriver into the franchise, now would be an opportune time – since the Doctor, technically, lost his current sonic screwdriver to Davros and the gadget has not been seen on screen since. There’s no requirement that each Doctor gets a revamped sonic screwdriver (Tennant shared Eccleston’s throughout his entire run); however, as Doctor Who becomes an increasingly popular brand worldwide, the interest in producing a steady stream of fresh retail products into the market also grows – and sonic screwdriver replicas, toys, as well as parody merchandise (pizza cutters, etc) are one of the franchise’s most bankable assets.
That all said, a recent BBC press release could indicate otherwise – specifically that we’ll soon be seeing the current screwdriver back in action (rather than a redesigned model). As part of the Doctor Who: The Christmas Specials box set, which features every holiday special in the modern series, BBC is also including a replica of the “Twelfth Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver.”
Recently revamped packaging for Smith’s sonic screwdriver toy now includes “Twelfth Doctor” attribution and, following the same trend, marketing for the new box set clearly shows that the Twelfth Doctor’s screwdriver is the same version the Time Lord has used the last three seasons. While it’s still possible that Moffat could introduce a new sonic screwdriver in an upcoming episode, the inclusion of Smith and Capaldi’s accessory in a box set package that will release (November 24th) near the end of season 9 would seem to suggest that BBC intends to keep this version of the screwdriver around and in play for a bit longer.
Plenty of viewers still purchase toy versions of the ninth and tenth Doctor’s sonic screwdriver (along with classic versions of the device), so it’s not unheard of for BBC to include a retro toy model in a new pack; yet, it would still be strange for BBC to package a, comparatively, dated replica into a new box set – if the network planned to introduce a drastically redesigned version on TV at the exact same time. Either way, based on Moffat and Capaldi’s comments, it sounds as though the sonic screwdriver hasn’t really gone away; instead, Doctor Who is just reveling in the silliness of wearable technology – indulging Moffat’s sense of humor for a few episodes.
So, fans can hold-off on those anti-sonic sunglass petitions – at least for now.
Doctor Who returns this week on BBC1 and BBC America with “Before the Flood’.
Source: BBC and What’s on TV