Doctor Who Pointed Out Its Own Worst Habit (But Still Does It)

Doctor Who Day of the Doctor Key Art

Doctor Who once pointed out its own worst habit, but has carried on doing it ever since regardless. While it's impossible to describe the modern incarnation of Doctor Who as anything other than a resounding success, it would perhaps also be fair to say that certain elements of the iconic franchise's contemporary makeover have rubbed fans of the classic series up the wrong way. New additions such as romance angles between the Doctor and companions or heavy-handed moral subtext aren't necessarily in keeping with the traditional Doctor Who format and are indicative of how a TV series caters for a modern audience.

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Another common trait of new Who that irks longtime fans is the Doctor's insistence on pointing sonic screwdrivers as if they were weapons. Not only does poking any item threateningly towards an enemy seem to contradict the Doctor's (usually) diplomatic, pacifistic approach to dealing with alien villains, but it also makes very little sense. When the sonic screwdriver was first introduced, it quite literally undid screws using sonic power. Clearly, the tool's capabilities have expanded considerably since those days, but a weapon to be feared it most certainly is not.

Related: Doctor Who: Every Time The Doctor Messed Up One Of His Companions

In its own good humor, Doctor Who made fun of this trope in its 50th anniversary episode, "The Day of the Doctor." When John Hurt's wizened, suffer-no-fools War Doctor stumbles across his Tenth and Eleventh regenerations (played by David Tennant and Matt Smith, respectively), he's astonished and disappointed to find them brandishing their screwdrivers like pistols against oncoming soldiers. After getting a well-deserved dressing down from their predecessor, the two younger Doctors sheepishly lower their devices. The scene was a hilarious send-up of Doctor Who culture and a knowing wink to the audience, so viewers might assume that the series would subsequently refrain from needless sonic-waving in the future.

Mark Gatiss Peter Capaldi and David Bradley in Doctor Who Christmas Special

This was not the case. The rest of Matt Smith's tenure in the TARDIS was no lighter on the wanton screwdriver pointing and the habit was later passed on to both Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor and Jodie Whittaker's Thirteenth, however, the trait is especially out of character in the case of these two Doctors.

The War Doctor strongly hinted that he felt Ten and Eleven's obsession with their sonics was due to them both being young whippersnapper Doctors with their trendy shoes and teenage companions, and that he (in his old age) had grown out of such nonsense. Peter Capaldi's Doctor, however, doesn't fall into that bracket, and should also be beyond the whole screwdriver-pointing business. Similarly, the current incarnation of the Doctor is one of the most peace-loving Time Lords to front Doctor Who for quite some time, so why would she be prodding any kind of implement towards an opponent?

The real-life reason for this all-too-common Doctor Who quirk is fairly obvious. The modern series takes a far more action-orientated approach and deliberately paints the Doctor in the mold of a traditional hero compared to the old days. Since it's against the Doctor's code to wield a gun or a sword, the screwdriver is used in lieu of a proper weapon to allow the lead actor to hit all of those necessary action poses that look great in trailers and on merchandise. In narrative, however, the screwdriver pointing continues to feel odd and out place, especially after Doctor Who's acknowledgement of the problem in "The Day of the Doctor." When the Doctor begins aimlessly waving their sonic screwdriver at enemies nowadays, it's impossible not to revisit the War Doctor's immortal words: "They're screwdrivers, what are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at them?!"

More: Doctor Who: Why The Doctor Became Half-Human (& How It Was Retconned)

Doctor Who season 12 premieres in 2020 on BBC and BBC America.

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