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Published on March 5th, 2010 | by Laredo Lowtide

Has the Sonic Screwed New Who?

It seems funny that five years after the show’s sweet return in 2005 that the sonic screwdriver, a once proud iconic bastion of Doctor Who’s nostalgic gadgets, would have become such an unpopular and contentious article among the older fan groups.

The Tenth Doctor, sonic screwdriver in use!After 25 years of semi-retirement, the sonic’s return has been criticised by older fans for the sheer weight of its use in the New Series. They object to the Doctor just being able to flick a sonic switch to resolve a technical issue rather than have him resolve a problem through ingenuity (resorting to the kettle, fishing rod and the ever popular ball of string in most cases). It’s seen as a “lazy” device operated by “lazy writers”; a cheap trick used to avoid difficult science issues that clearly the writer has no understanding of – its even been suggested in some fan circles as an indicator of how far Doctor Who has lost its way by avoiding technical resolutions in favour of a sonic “magic wand”.

“Classic” Doctor Who ran one story weekly at around 25 minutes per episode. With such large gaps between episodes – and few ways to repeat a viewing between parts – the show couldn’t be too complex. Budget also meant it had to be careful how many scenes and events too place. So how do you reconcile these issues? You pad the story. Funnily, “padding” has a stigma of “lazy” about it, yet padding out stories with scenes or dialogue that aren’t necessarily plot vital can be bot cost-effective and useful for exposition and recaps.

So old Who wasn’t about getting the Doctor out of the trap quickly, it’s about keeping him in the trap for a while, saving money and filling time. His sonic screwdriver made it too hard to keep him in one trap for long. It had to go.

Now look at “New Who”. Stories are condensed into one episode, reruns available the same week. So padding becomes less of an issue, in fact, these days TV demands the contrary – shows must brim with pace and drama. If a show doesn’t meet those demands, a costly show like Who won’t last long.

So in comes the sonic screwdriver again, a multi-purpose tool that opens the “magic doors” (those points in a narrative that are really no more than a gateway between two scenes, an obstacle of some sort, say, a door) and allows the story to progress quickly – meaning more time for plot and dramatic content.

Many fans sneer at the new audiences – and the casual watchers, but its their investment that keeps Doctor Who profit worthy and viable. Just as Doctor Who of 1963 wouldn’t have worked in 1979, Doctor Who of 1979 doesn’t work in 2010. And to balance the demands of today’s audience, the sonic screwdriver is the Doctor’s best tool in keeping the BBC’s axe, firmly locked away.

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22 Responses to Has the Sonic Screwed New Who?

  1. Paul says:

    Loredo Lowtide’s states:

    “Classic” Doctor Who ran one story weekly at around 25 minutes per episode. With such large gaps between episodes – and few ways to repeat a viewing between parts – the show couldn’t be too complex.”

    Not true. One week is not a particularly large gap between episodes, and during the Davison era, with episodes going out twice a week, it was even shorter. It’s true that info dumps were used to keep viewers up to speed, but as individual stories were longer, that didn’t mean the adventure had to be less complex. Stories like “The Aztecs,” “Inferno,” “The Face of Evil,” “The Caves of Androzani,” to name but a handful, were remarkably complex, and these were stories written for a series that was ostensibly meant for a family audience, which would contain a large child viewership. Other serials put out for an adult audience (“Brideshead Revisited,” I, Claudius etc.) were often far more complex but this didn’t prevent them from being broadcast once a week. There appears to be this attitude that people’s attention spans are so short, that they are incapable of remembering story details from one week to the next, however, I don’t think we are stupider now than we were in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

    “So old Who wasn’t about getting the Doctor out of the trap quickly, it’s about keeping him in the trap for a while, saving money and filling time. His sonic screwdriver made it too hard to keep him in one trap for long. It had to go.”

    The sonic screwdriver first appeared in the 1968 Doctor Who story “Fury from the Deep,” and remained in the series for the next fourteen years, before it was finally destroyed in the 1982 story, “The Visitation.” Prior to the appearance of the sonic screwdriver, the first Doctor, on a number of occasions, used the mysterious powers of his blue signet ring to get out of tight corners, so Loredo Lowtide’s argument that “old Who wasn’t about getting the Doctor out of the trap quickly,” only appears to have applied to seven years of it’s twenty-six year run!

    “Now look at “New Who”. Stories are condensed into one episode, reruns available the same week. So padding becomes less of an issue, in fact, these days TV demands the contrary – shows must brim with pace and drama. If a show doesn’t meet those demands, a costly show like Who won’t last long.”

    Then how do you explain stories like “New Earth,” “The Doctor’s Daughter,” and “The Lazarus Experiment,” that have loads of running down corridors and pointlessly padded scenes?

    “So in comes the sonic screwdriver again, a multi-purpose tool that opens the “magic doors” (those points in a narrative that are really no more than a gateway between two scenes, an obstacle of some sort, say, a door) and allows the story to progress quickly – meaning more time for plot and dramatic content.”

    As ex-script editor Chris Bidmead has pointed out, why have those obstacles there in the first place, if all the Doctor has to do is point his sonic screwdriver for them to go away? Surely, what we are really getting are meaningless obstacles put in the Doctor’s way purely to fill up time, and pad the episode out.

    “Many fans sneer at the new audiences – and the casual watchers, but its their investment that keeps Doctor Who profit worthy and viable.”

    As the BBC is a state owned corporation, sustained by a license fee, what does “profit” have to do with anything? The BBC should be there to make quality programming, not to simply make a fast buck by catering to the lowest common denominator.

    “Just as Doctor Who of 1963 wouldn’t have worked in 1979, Doctor Who of 1979 doesn’t work in 2010. And to balance the demands of today’s audience, the sonic screwdriver is the Doctor’s best tool in keeping the BBC’s axe, firmly locked away.”

    As the Doctor in the 1979 series used a sonic screwdriver, I’m not really sure what this comparison is supposed to suggest. Surely Loredo Lowtide can’t be implying that a story like “The City of Death” is, in some way, incomprehensible to a 2010 audience? DVD sales, and its recent high ranking in the DWM poll would suggest otherwise. As for the threat from the BBC’s axe, what is most likely to finish the series off is an over reliance on special effects to the exclusion of good storytelling, because it is the effects work that eats up the majority of the budget, and with the show now being made in HD, the cost of those effects is going to sky rocket.

  2. Laredo Lowtide says:

    I’ll offer a brief rebuttal give you’ve been so candid.

    As for the complexity of the stories – I disagree. Generally Who has never been a complex beast. It neither had the time nor budget. The guest characters were never complicated, the motivation of character (good/evil) was always succinct. I will agree Caves offered a more complex storyline, as did Ghost Light, and the latter suffered from a legacy of being unfathomable, until its video release when people saw it as a whole.

    I wasn’t suggesting that audiences were dumb, merely that it stands to reason if you have a 20 minute story spanned by seven days before its picked up again, there are limitations to how complex you can make a plot.

    As for the screwdriver being only used for a relatively small tenure – that’s precisely my point, it was considered to work contrary to the show’s requirements, it made it too easy to get the Doctor out of situations when the show needed to keep him in them (and thus save budget on using setpieces and greater dialogue).

    As for your comment on the BBC. Like it or not, a show has to be seen as viable – if it costs more than it returns, there is a serious question as to whether a show is using up resources that could be used to make 3 other shows for the same price.

    As for your final point. It’s not about comprehension, it’s about whether old shows would work as effectively outside their era, given they both look to reach out to “family audiences”, and whether you like it or not, family audiences have changed – just as they did between 63 and 79.

    I’ve sat girlfriends in front of City of Death (as it was always a fav of mine), and they’ve found it too slow and wandering (which given it was meant to be watched over 4 weeks isn’t too surprising), yet have been hooked to the new show.

    The bottomline is I think while fans like yourself cling to the notion that Doctor Who was better before it’s return, the fast majority wouldn’t agree with you. Not because it was bad before, but because it catered to a different audience. And to have the show cater effectively to this new audience, the sonic helps the show remove what isn’t as popular to allow the aspects that are, to thrive – and that is fast action and drama.

    And for the record, I’m a massive fan of both old and new, I just think us older fans have to accept that the way Who is done now has been the correct approach and the argument over the sonic being a “lazy” tool is clouded by ill-informed observations.

    Thanks for your honest feedback.

  3. GeoffreyS says:

    Whatever their “cost” the screwdrivers are an important part of the Doctor Who cannon now, as throughout the the years it has been a defense against the Darius and the Master. Battles in the past would have been a little off in my opinion if the good Doctor had had to face off agaist the Laser Screwdriver with out one of his own.

  4. Paul says:

    Laredo Lowtide wrote:

    “I’ll offer a brief rebuttal give you’ve been so candid.
    As for the complexity of the stories – I disagree. Generally Who has never been a complex beast. It neither had the time nor budget.”

    I disagree. It’s had plenty of time, and the budget is not an issue when it comes to writing complex characters.

    “The guest characters were never complicated, the motivation of character (good/evil) was always succinct.”

    Again, I disagree. To give just one example, was Calib from “The Face of Evil” a good guy, or a bad guy? The Doctor at one point calls him a “rattlesnake”, but Calib survives to the end of the story, and is finally positioned to hold a great deal of political power.

    “as did Ghost Light, and the latter suffered from a legacy of being unfathomable, until its video release when people saw it as a whole.”

    “Ghost Light” was a story written very much for a fan audience who owned video recorders, and were likely to watch the story 158 times, if not more.

    “I wasn’t suggesting that audiences were dumb, merely that it stands to reason if you have a 20 minute story spanned by seven days before its picked up again, there are limitations to how complex you can make a plot.”

    Not at all. Have you ever watched “The Singing Detective”? This is an extremely complex tale, taking place in three separate time zones, one of them fictional, but again, each episode was broadcast once a week, with no repeat, and the audience were expected to, and in fact were capable of, following the plot. Why should things be different now? I’ve recently been watching “Caprica,” and although there are plotlines that continue and develop from episode to episode, I don’t feel the need to watch the episodes over and over again to follow what’s happening.

    “As for the screwdriver being only used for a relatively small tenure”

    No, it’s the other way round. The sonic screwdriver appeared in Troughton’s series five, and continued to appear right up until Davison’s first season. That’s fifteen seasons where the Doctor had a sonic screwdriver.

    “- that’s precisely my point, it was considered to work contrary to the show’s requirements, it made it too easy to get the Doctor out of situations when the show needed to keep him in them (and thus save budget on using setpieces and greater dialogue).”

    I disagree. In “Revenge of the Cybermen,” the Doctor Sarah and Harry, after arriving on Nerva Beacon, walk along a corridor and encounter a locked door. The Doctor explains that the reason the door is locked is to quarantine that particular section. The Doctor gets out his sonic screwdriver and the next few minutes are spent talking about the door, opening the door, and holding the door so it won’t cut the Doctor’s arm off. This is a classic example of the sonic screwdriver being used to fill up episode time, because if you think about it, why is the door locked? There are only four members of the crew left alive on the station and they all know about the quarantine, and as there is certainly no indication that the dead crewmembers are going to rise up, zombie like, and attack the survivors, so why lock the door?

    “As for your comment on the BBC. Like it or not, a show has to be seen as viable – if it costs more than it returns, there is a serious question as to whether a show is using up resources that could be used to make 3 other shows for the same price.”

    How do you judge “returns”? The BBC is not a commercial enterprise. Indeed, this is strictly forbidden under its current charter, as it’s financed by the license fee. So, to be perfectly honest, and no offense intended, your argument here doesn’t make any sense at all.

    “As for your final point. It’s not about comprehension, it’s about whether old shows would work as effectively outside their era, given they both look to reach out to “family audiences”, and whether you like it or not, family audiences have changed – just as they did between 63 and 79.
    I’ve sat girlfriends in front of City of Death (as it was always a fav of mine), and they’ve found it too slow and wandering (which given it was meant to be watched over 4 weeks isn’t too surprising), yet have been hooked to the new show.”

    Equally, I’ve sat girlfriends down in front of “The Robots of Death,” “The Caves of Androzani,” and “The Curse of Fenric,” and they’ve loved every minute of it. I also have a thirteen year old cousin who, whenever he comes by, takes Classic series DVDs off my shelf, sits down and watches them right the way through. He recently watched the whole of “The Invasion” in one sitting. He tells me that he likes the new series, but the old ones are best. So, what does this prove? Absolutely nothing. Anecdotal evidence, is no evidence at all.

    “The bottomline is I think while fans like yourself cling to the notion that Doctor Who was better before it’s return,”

    But that’s not the bottomline as far as I’m concerned. For me, Classic Who is a huge sprawling mess of a programme. Some of it was good, some of it was bad, and a lot of it was banal. Unfortunately, I don’t see much difference between Classic Who and New Who. Like the old series, it’s had its good episodes (“Dalek,” “Human Nature/Family of Blood”, “Midnight” etc.), it’s had its bad episodes,(“New Earth,” “Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel,” “Fear Her,” etc.) and its also had a lot of banal episodes, (“Smith & Jones,” “The Shakespeare Code,” “Planet of the Dead”), my problem is that, for such a high profile show, New Who should really be so much better.

    “have the show cater effectively to this new audience, the sonic helps the show remove what isn’t as popular to allow the aspects that are, to thrive – and that is fast action and drama.”

    I don’t agree. The sonic screwdriver is being used very much the same way as it was being used during the majority of the classic series, and that was a quick fix by lazy script writers. In the episode “Rose” the Doctor disables the Auton arm that is attacked them in the sitting room by using his sonic screwdriver, after clicking through a number of settings. However, if the sonic screwdriver can be used to switch off Autons, why doesn’t the Doctor use it in the cafe when attacked by the Auton Mickey Smith, or when the Doctor was being held captive by the Autons in their underground base? Answer, because it did not serve the plot. The sonic screwdriver, like Anti-plastic, is a convenient plot device, served up when the writer can’t be bothered to think up something more imaginative.

    GeoffreyS wrote:
    “Whatever their “cost” the screwdrivers are an important part of the Doctor Who cannon now, as throughout the the years it has been a defense against the Darius and the Master. Battles in the past would have been a little off in my opinion if the good Doctor had had to face off agaist the Laser Screwdriver with out one of his own.”

    The laser screwdriver only appeared in one story, and that was “The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords.” A much better answer to the Master’s laser screwdriver would have been a handgun, which was, ironically, used to dispatch the Master at the end of that particular story.

  5. grantwebb says:

    Tricky thing this.

    I like the sonic screwdriver, and do occasionally yawn at the use of it.

    However, as the Christopher H Bidmead era showed when the sonic screwdriver was replaced with little tools, devices and ‘clamps’ – they all essentially had the properties of the sonic screwdriver, yet was the sonic screwdriver in a differnet shape.

    Whats the difference at the end of the day if the Doctor can whip out the sonic to asses the situation, rather than get his ‘High frequency maniplaution sensor’ machine.

    Nobody can win this one, really.

  6. thesunneversets says:

    A point that seems to be being glossed over in this debate is that the Old Who sonic and its New Who counterpart are the same device in name alone. The Old Who sonic could at a pinch be used to remotely detonate landmines, but when it came down to it WAS a screwdriver – used to unscrew things. The new sonic with its ten million settings is nothing more or less than Harry Potter’s magic wand. Need to incapacitate an alien attacker or blow up a spaceship in orbit? Just point the sonic at it and hey presto. Or that’s the way it’s often seemed since 2005.

    I think the argument that modern TV is so fast-paced that it needs a magic wand to quickly tie things up in minute 49 of the episode is a bit silly: last time I looked a lot of quality TV programmes were functioning quite well without putting magic wands in the hands of the characters. Just because Who is allegedly “science fiction” doesn’t mean it should be held to different standards: the sonic is a labour-saving device for the writers, more than the Doctor, and just because Russell T Davies found it incredibly convenient as a way of avoiding having to do any of the tight plotting he evidently loathed, doesn’t mean it was a good thing.

    Give the Doctor something he can use to break into places he shouldn’t technically be, by all means – but what’s wrong with the psychic paper for that purpose? Kill the screwdriver, is my vote; the new model is ten times worse than the all-conquering robot dog of the Graham Williams era.

  7. Paul says:

    thesunneversets wrote:    

    “A point that seems to be being glossed over in this debate is that the Old Who sonic and its New Who counterpart are the same device in name alone. The Old Who sonic could at a pinch be used to remotely detonate landmines, but when it came down to it WAS a screwdriver – used to unscrew things. The new sonic with its ten million settings is nothing more or less than Harry Potter’s magic wand. Need to incapacitate an alien attacker or blow up a spaceship in orbit? Just point the sonic at it and hey presto. Or that’s the way it’s often seemed since 2005.”

    Well, to be perfectly fair, the old sonic screwdriver was also used on occasion as a get out of jail free card. As you point out, in “The Sea Devils,” the sonic screwdriver is used to detonate landmines, however it’s also used to detect the mines in the first place (come to think of, what’s that mine field even doing there?) and in “Carnival of Monsters,” it’s used to explode marsh gas! However, you are quite right in pointing out that in New Who the sonic screwdriver has “ten million settings” and has been used to remote activate teleports, deactivate Autons, control Cybermen and even repair barbed wire.

    “I think the argument that modern TV is so fast-paced that it needs a magic wand to quickly tie things up in minute 49 of the episode is a bit silly: last time I looked a lot of quality TV programmes were functioning quite well without putting magic wands in the hands of the characters. Just because Who is allegedly “science fiction” doesn’t mean it should be held to different standards: the sonic is a labour-saving device for the writers, more than the Doctor, and just because Russell T Davies found it incredibly convenient as a way of avoiding having to do any of the tight plotting he evidently loathed, doesn’t mean it was a good thing.”

    Yes, I agree. Again, as Bidmead points out, RTD’s defense of the sonic screwdriver is totally spurious.

  8. sdbro34 says:

    Seriously, everyone should just relax and recognise that Doctor Who is entertainment, and primarily it is for kids. Most of us are presumably fans because we watched it as kids, and what kid doesn’t love the Sonic Screwdriver?

    OK, it can be overdone but it’s a device and a bit of fun too. What about the TARDIS, which can apparently do everything too?

    Christopher Bidmead is hardly the bastion of successful television; that is not to say I think his reign as script editor wasn’t good – season 18 had some great stories.

    However, the reality is Doctor Who as designed to suit Christopher Bidmead or hardcore fans, is a show that wouldn’t survive.

    Ultimately, the reason Doctor Who is back and so successful is because it has a great balance between entertainment and depth; sometimes it tips more into one or the other, but at the end of the day it’s great TV.

  9. grufaine says:

    What about the idea that the Doctor can be seen as an action hero who has some really cool gadgets, and has a couple neat powers like, regeneration?

    It’s like condemning Green Lantern for using his power ring. (Except that the power ring can do a lot more things than the sonic screwdriver…) New Who has turned the screwdriver into something almost as essential as the TARDIS, which I think is fair. And easier to use for merchandise. (If you combine the TARDIS and Sonic Screwdriver together, it pretty much gets closer to the power ring. Haha. Translating languages, space travel… But the power ring sill does more… But can’t do time, of course. Anyway…)

    Speaking of merchandise, I could better understand criticizing things like the “sonic lipsick” or “sonic pen.” That’s just shameless merchandising. Like Spider-Man’s Spider-Mobile…

    I pretty much just look at it like, at least in terms of new Who, the screwdriver is one of the doctor’s “superpowers.” Which I don’t mind…

  10. Paul says:

    sdbro34 wrote:
    “Seriously, everyone should just relax and recognise that Doctor Who is entertainment, and primarily it is for kids.”

    How is that a justification for anything? It’s rubbish because it’s for kids? Why should kids be so ill served? And also, what kids TV show goes out on a main channel at seven O’clock on a Saturday night? Doctor Who is supposed to be made for a family audience, which means that adults should be able to enjoy it as well, and not be bored out of their heads.

    “OK, it can be overdone but it’s a device and a bit of fun too. What about the TARDIS, which can apparently do everything too?”

    99% of the time the Tardis dematerializes in one time and place, and reappears in another time and place, and that’s usually it. If the Tardis suddenly sprouted a huge pair of robots legs, and and arsenal of guns and started running about shooting everyone, so as to lazily resolve a plot thread, then I’d have a problem with that.

    “Christopher Bidmead is hardly the bastion of successful television; that is not to say I think his reign as script editor wasn’t good – season 18 had some great stories.
    However, the reality is Doctor Who as designed to suit Christopher Bidmead or hardcore fans, is a show that wouldn’t survive.”

    How was Bidmead a design to suit hardcore fans? The only real difference between season 18 and New Who is that the plots and characters were better. Aside from that, they both featured rubber monsters, the Master, regeneration and sexy girl assistants.

    “Ultimately, the reason Doctor Who is back and so successful is because it has a great balance between entertainment and depth; sometimes it tips more into one or the other, but at the end of the day it’s great TV.”

    Depth??? The reason why Doctor Who is a success is because even when done badly it still has a great central idea and has some great iconic monsters, but no way are we in any kind of Golden Age here, the writing, on the whole, is atrocious, and aside from reusing old monsters and old story idea, New Who contains very little that is actually new.

    grufaine wrote:  
    “What about the idea that the Doctor can be seen as an action hero who has some really cool gadgets, and has a couple neat powers like, regeneration?”

    I think you mean superhero, but all that’s been done to death with a lot of big budget, but mostly lame, Hollywood films. Why do the new producers feel they have to copy everyone else? Many times I’ve seen Harry Potter on the front of a magazine and thought it was David Tennant brandishing his sonic screwdriver, but what is the point of that? Are they trying to say, “If you like Harry Potter, then you’ll love Doctor Who?” Don’t they have any faith in their own product?

    “It’s like condemning Green Lantern for using his power ring. (Except that the power ring can do a lot more things than the sonic screwdriver…) New Who has turned the screwdriver into something almost as essential as the TARDIS, which I think is fair.”

    How can turning the sonic screwdriver into a lazy plot device be fair?

    “And easier to use for merchandise.”

    So you’re saying its use is justified as a huge money making exercise? And again, how does that justify the sonics overuse as a plot convenience? And that’s really the core of the problem, not that the Doctor has a sonic screwdriver, but the fact that, as someone else has pointed out on this thread, it seems to have ten million settings and very few of them have anything to do with the device being “sonic” or a “screwdriver.”

  11. castellanspandrell says:

    If I was the Doctor, I’d have a sonic screwdriver.

    I’d be used to getting locked up a lot, and would need one to get on the other side of the door.

    I wouldn’t expect it to be able to resonate concrete, however, or to rescue a dying woman and keep her head alive in a paving slab, among other impossibly extravagant uses.

    Problem is, the seeds have been sown now, so whether we like the overuse of the device or not, we’re stuck with it. If it gets destroyed, the question would be: ‘Why doesn’t he just get another one?’
    And when the Dr finds himself stuck, the question is: ‘Why can’t he just use the sonic screwdriver?’

    Admittedly, writers can insert dialogue to suggest that ‘Not even the sonic screwdriver can get me out of this one.’
    But if I hear a character mentioning a ‘deadlock seal’ one more time, I’ll shoot a puppy.

  12. grufaine says:

    I think it’s fair to compare the Doctor to a superhero in general. The episodes have always felt like comic books from their respective eras. (I remember watching Sontaran Experiment particularly and thinking “Feels like a bronze age comic”)
    I would never compare Harry Potter to Doctor Who, and haven’t seen the comparison ’till now, but that might have something to do with being in the US, I’m guessing. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen the screwdriver make people float or blast people 5 feet back. haha
    You could probably stick any one-character-centric sci-fi/fantasy story and say “If you like ___, you’ll like Doctor Who”

    And I just think it’s fair to give an otherworldly character an otherworldy gadget. (The psychic paper seems more lazy than the screwdriver, but they don’t seem to use it nearly as much anymore) I’d agree the barb wire thing was going a little far, though.
    But the primary use usually seems to be opening and fixing. And there’s augmenting and detecting… I think he dimmed/brightened lights once. The only time I ever remember feeling like it was overdone was when they used it to mend barbed wire.

    I’s merchandisable because it’s cool. Simply put. Who doesn’t want an object that can be useful in all kinds of situations?
    It’s when you start giving Sarah Jane sonic lipstick and Miss-adipose-lady a sonic pen that it starts getting lame and cheesy.

    It’s used conveniently, but apart from mending barbed wire, I don’t really have any issues with it. -shrug-

  13. Paul says:

    grufaine wrote:    

    “I think it’s fair to compare the Doctor to a superhero in general. The episodes have always felt like comic books from their respective eras. (I remember watching Sontaran Experiment particularly and thinking “Feels like a bronze age comic”)”

    Well, I’ve never been one for comic books, so perhaps that aspect of the character just past me by, but for me the Doctor was never a superhero, he didn’t have fantastic strength, or x-ray eyes, or could fire thunderbolts from his fingertips, he was just this guy who travelled around in a time/space machine, and used his wits to defend himself, not superhero powers, or magic wands, or preternatural powers. The Doctor was different, and I think it’s a pity we’ve lost that.

    “I would never compare Harry Potter to Doctor Who, and haven’t seen the comparison ’till now, but that might have something to do with being in the US, I’m guessing. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen the screwdriver make people float or blast people 5 feet back. haha
    You could probably stick any one-character-centric sci-fi/fantasy story and say “If you like ___, you’ll like Doctor Who””

    Russell T. Davies really can’t shut up about Harry Potter and J.K Rowling. He’s tried to get her to write for the show, and has referenced her in the series, there was even some plan to get her to star in a Xmas special as herself. It’s all very tedious.

    “And I just think it’s fair to give an otherworldly character an otherworldy gadget. (The psychic paper seems more lazy than the screwdriver, but they don’t seem to use it nearly as much anymore) I’d agree the barb wire thing was going a little far, though.
    But the primary use usually seems to be opening and fixing. And there’s augmenting and detecting… I think he dimmed/brightened lights once. The only time I ever remember feeling like it was overdone was when they used it to mend barbed wire.”

    How about the time in “The Age of Steel,” where the Doctor’s crouched down by some bins and a group of Cybermen come and stand nearby. Suddenly the Doctor activates his sonic screwdriver, and the Cybermen march off. If the sonic screwdriver has a setting that controls Cybermen, why doesn’t he use it later when he’s a prisoner in their base? Why doesn’t he use it on the Cybercontroller, when it’s pursuing him up a rope ladder, instead of using the device to cut the rope? In “The End of the World,” the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to reverse the settings on a teleport so that Cassandra is brought back to the space station. But if the device is sonic, how was it able to send a signal through the vacuum of space to another space craft? It’s not just the fact that it’s used as a magic wand, it’s also the fact that its use is totally inconsistent.

    “I’s merchandisable because it’s cool. Simply put. Who doesn’t want an object that can be useful in all kinds of situations?
    It’s when you start giving Sarah Jane sonic lipstick and Miss-adipose-lady a sonic pen that it starts getting lame and cheesy.”

    The only difference between the sonic lipstick and the sonic screwdriver, are the words “lipstick” and “screwdriver,” other than that they perform exactly the same function.

  14. Paul says:

    Paul wrote:

    “In “Revenge of the Cybermen,” the Doctor Sarah and Harry, after arriving on Nerva Beacon, walk along a corridor and encounter a locked door. The Doctor explains that the reason the door is locked is to quarantine that particular section. The Doctor gets out his sonic screwdriver and the next few minutes are spent talking about the door, opening the door, and holding the door so it won’t cut the Doctor’s arm off. This is a classic example of the sonic screwdriver being used to fill up episode time, because if you think about it, why is the door locked? There are only four members of the crew left alive on the station and they all know about the quarantine, and as there is certainly no indication that the dead crew members are going to rise up, zombie like, and attack the survivors, so why lock the door?”

    I was walking around Tescos yesterday and the answer to this question suddenly came to me, so I hope no one minds me answering myself here.:)

    The reason the door is locked is because the remaining crew of Nerva Beacon were trying to stop the “plague” from spreading, and had sealed off sections of the Beacon where the “plague” had struck. This meant sealing up areas that contained ostensibly healthy crew members who had, nevertheless, been in contact with victims of the “plague,” and therefore, could be seen as possible carriers. The door is also alarmed, and when the Doctor opens it with his sonic screwdriver, two surviving crewmen, Lester and Stevenson, charge into the room carrying machine guns. Clearly, their concern was that infected crewmen had somehow breached the quarantine area, and their intention was now to shoot them down (when they later find Warner suffering from the “plague” Stevenson also attempt to shoot him). The fact was, however, that there wasn’t any “plague,” and the deaths were actually caused by poison, injected into the victim by the bite of a Cybermat.

    The upshot of this is that healthy and defenseless crewmen were locked into a section of Nerva Beacon, where they were then systematically picked off by the Cybermats. This is quite a gruesome subtext, isn’t it? And it also requires the viewer to do a little detective work to discover it. So much for the idea that classic Who “couldn’t be too complex”.

    This little scene also addresses Laredo Lowtide’s assertion that “The guest characters were never complicated, the motivation of character (good/evil) was always succinct.” Commander Stevenson is a guest character, and he bravely helps the Doctor in his battle with the Cybermen, and yet he would also have been the man responsible for giving the orders to seal off parts of Nerva and leave the crewmen behind the bulkheads to die.

    You could say, “Well, Stevenson didn’t know it wasn’t a plague, and he may well have been acting out of fear, and a desire to protect the four crew members who were clearly uncontaminated.” However, his actions still inadvertently aided the Cybermen, and to save three men and himself, Commander Stevenson needlessly sacrificed the lives forty-seven others.

  15. thesunneversets says:

    Comparing the Doctor to a superhero is by no means unfair, and I like DC comics and the Green Lantern… but isn’t the problem with the Green Lantern’s power ring the way it ups the stakes? You couldn’t have the Green Lantern foiling a simple bank robbery because it would be too easy for him, and his device whose powers are limited only by his imagination. Henceforwards, all threats to the Lantern have to be on a sufficiently cosmic scale to challenge him in some way, or else the readers yawn and lose interest.

    Likewise the Doctor. In Season 1, the Doctor could be under legitimate threat for 3 episodes from a bunch of half-witted cavemen. It’s difficult to see how our modern, magic-wand-toting action hero wouldn’t escape from the predicaments of early Who in a single bound each time. And so we get ever more catastrophic, universe-threatening season finales, because otherwise it appears to the audience that “pssh, the Doctor dealt with much worse than this last season”. It’s a slippery slope and I hove Moffat finds some way of dialing it back, or else HIS successor is really going to be screwed!

  16. Paul says:

    Universe-threatening season finales leave me fairly cold. Davros wanting to destroy the multiverse has about the same effect on me as Davros wanting to destroy London, the scale is too big to care about, and you know he’s going to fail anyway.

    Also, most of these blockbuster stories are really dumb, and some of them, like “The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords,” look horribly cheap and tacky. I think the 1963 story about the cavemen was far more interesting, as there really was a feeling of jeopardy.

    RTD, during a number of his podcasts, has stated that he considers the bits of story between the special effects as just filler, whereas, it seems fairly obvious that it’s the drama that makes the special effects special, and if the story is poor, no amount of cheap CGI is going to improve it.

  17. castellanspandrell says:

    “Universe-threatening season finales leave me fairly cold. Davros wanting to destroy the multiverse has about the same effect on me as Davros wanting to destroy London, the scale is too big to care about, and you know he’s going to fail anyway. ”

    -The problem for me is that, in RTD’s end of season epics in paticular, they threaten something portentous yet vague and I’m often left unsure whether the portentous-but-vague calamity actually happened or not.

    I’m still not 100% about ‘the coming darkness’ at the end of S30, or the darkness in The End of Time, and it actually was. Come to that, I’m still not 100% sure what ‘The End of Time itself’ actually means.

    At least in ‘Logopolis,’ by a writer who’s been slated in this thread, the universal threat was a bit more tangible, even if it did involve the Master holding the universe to ransom with a tape recorder.

    “Comparing the Doctor to a superhero is by no means unfair” – it isn’t unfair to compare him to one in respect of his portrayal at times in recent seasons, but it’s arguably unfair that he’s been made more superhuman by writers, which has taken the character beyond his original remit.

    As I understood the Dr in the past, he didn’t have much in the way of extraordinary powers other than his capacity to regenerate, and even that won’t always work (which has also been highlighted in recent Who). His high intelligence, knowledge and experience are attributable to his long life, the fact that he’s from an advanced society and his many travels across the universe.

    However, that seemed to change around the end of the McCoy era. I’m thinking particularly of the Dr being ‘more than just a Time Lord,’ and I remember feeling I was being cheated when he used a ‘Vulcan death grip’ thingy on Mordred in ‘Battlefield.’

    I accept that we have to accept certain changes to the character. He didn’t always have two hearts or the ability to regenerate, but those and other changes were incorporated over time. I just don’t want him to be too powerful. The sight of him nearly being thrown off the train by a desperate bunch of plain old humans in ‘Midnight’ was curiously refreshing. It presented a realistic challenge that not even his trusty old sonic screwdriver could get him out of!

  18. castellanspandrell says:

    Sorry, per the above, read ‘…and what it actually was.’ And ‘particular!’

    Wish we could edit these after posting!

  19. Paul says:

    That was a good post castellanspandrell.I have no idea what ‘the coming darkness’ meant either. It probably meant nothing at all in the end, just more hokum from the much abused pen of RTD.

  20. castellanspandrell says:

    All of this stuff about the screwdriver leads to a wider issue, which is that Dr Who isn’t really about science any more, but about magic.

    The series started life as an intended ‘educational’ drama for children, hence the purely historical episodes. The introduction of the Daleks (against series creator Sydney Newman’s wishes)changed all that, but even the early SF stories in Who such as ‘The Mutants/The Daleks/Whatever you want to call it’ tried to relate to proper science in some way with name checks for static electricity and mercury fluid links.

    How many genuine SF stories appear in Dr Who now? It’s become more of a pulpy mishmash of modern movie styles, and if anything, magic predominates – new age magic.

    The Daemons and Masque of Mandragora both dealt with the theme of science vs superstition, with science coming out on top thanks to the Dr. But in the McCoy era, there was a significant shift. Witchcraft is shown to facilitate time travel in ‘Silver Nemesis.’ And at the end of ‘Greatest Show in the Galaxy,’ the Dr defeats the Gods of Ragnarok by producing a magic sword out of nowhere and chucking it at them.

    That sword has been passed like a baton to 21st century Who, where magical solutions help the Dr overcome (admittedly vaguely) scientific problems. How to save a dying victim of the Abzorbaloff? Dig out your sonic screwdriver and ask Elton to fetch a spade.

    The Dr is no longer a scientist, he’s a magician, and the sonic screwdriver is his magic wand.

  21. Byron says:

    Speaking as a long-term Doctor Who fan (30+years) who has seen every available episode from An Unearthly Child onward and was genuinely obsessed in the 70s and 80s, I find it difficult to understand why the new Who would be compared unfavorably to ‘classic’ Who. Certainly there have been missteps, particularly in the recent series of specials but, overall, new Who has a drive and an emotional component that makes watching even the best of classic Who a more soporific experience. Does the Pertwee Doctor saying goodbye to Jo Grant or Tom Baker’s Doctor cavalierly dumping off Sarah Jane have anywhere near the impact of the departure of Rose, Martha or Donna? Even the Hartnell Doctor leaving his granddaughter Susan behind was only mildly upsetting and then forgotten. New Who is a different creature that uses old Who as its mythology and retroactively confers a depth upon it that was not present in the original. To expect the new writers and actors portraying the Doctor to stick to the template of classic Who is to push them into a 1-dimensional corner. Don’t get me wrong, you can have my copies of Terror of the Autons and Pyramids of Mars when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers but I’m still looking forward to the, relative, complexities of new Who.

  22. Celtic Lady says:

    I may ruffle a few feathers with my comments here, but they come from the heart of an relatively new Whovian. My journey with the Doctor began with David Tennant and Catherine Tate and I fell in love with both of them as well as the Doctor Who saga in general. It was difficult to let go of Tennant and Tate when the series ended, but I gradually came to accept and appreciate Matt Smith and “Amy Pond” as well. But before I could do that I had to take a trip back to Billie Piper and the Doctor before. I fell in love with that series as well. I have gone back a little farther and plan to explore more of the past shows, but I love the modern day episodes. I must agree with Byron who posted before me. They both have their time and place. My children and grandchildren are newly converted Whovians and if they are a fair sample of those newer fans, I believe they might become lost with the science of the older versions. This is no fault of those who love the science. I love science myself, but it may have somewhat restricted fans who just simply didn’t understand it. I cannot say this for certain as I have not yet delved that deep into the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s yet. However, even when I do, I feel my heart will remain with Rose, Martha and Donna as well as the greatly missed older Sarah Jane Smith! (Elizabeth Sladen’s death was unexpected and painful for all, old and new.)

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