movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson
Tue May 28 2013, 08:40am | 11 comments
Bob the Angry Flower has something he would like to get off his chest about the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver:
Click over for the rest of Bob’s rant.
Get more of Bob’s ire at Bob the Angry Flower.
Thanks to RogerBW for the heads-up.
(If you stumble across a cool Doctor Who thing, feel free to email me with a link.)
Jamie made a similar point in ‘The Dominators’ (though in more deferential and polite language), to which the Doctor replied that the sonic screwdriver is much more than just a screwdriver…
I propose a compromise: for every time the Doctor uses the sonic to open a door, scan the room, transmit a message, manipulate a computer, pretend to be a weapon, or actually be a weapon, we ALSO have to see him use it to screw or unscrew something. Each script must have a 1:1 ratio of these actions, or maybe 3:1 to start until we redress the outstanding balance. Fair?
It’s happened before, of course – this is why John Nathan-Turner had the sonic screwdriver destroyed in The Visitation.
I think I’d be more annoyed if the Doctor was stopped by a locked door or locked computer. The screwdriver does cut through the red tape that scifi plots can throw at you. But it does get used in some bizarre ways sometimes. Soldering a chain mail fence in the Doctor Dances?! Untying rope from a distance in Partners in Crime?!
I disagree. It is too a magic wand. And a tricorder.
It does whatever the wizard (read: the Doctor (read: the writer)) wants or needs it to do in any given situation, and provides whatever expository is wanted or needed. It’s only inherent limitations (can’t open “deadlocks”, doesn’t “do” wood) are based on some arcane set of rules (read: what the writer didn’t want it to do at that moment).
Complaining that the sonic screwdriver is a plot device is like complaining that the Doctor is portrayed by an British actor. No fuckin’ shit, Sherlock! But it’s at least a consistent plot device. He always has it, he always uses it. If it doesn’t work, there’s a specific reason why. And if it suddenly went away, then every problem it solves would either be avoided by the writer, or solved with some other plot device, like impossible knowledge or Gallifreyan kung-fu or a question mark handled umbrella.
Something like what Dr. Rocketscience said: the purpose of things like the sonic screwdriver and psychic paper is to allow the Doctor to circumvent tedious obstacles that don’t make for interesting television but really ought to logically be there (such as a locked door on the Evil Lab, or guards at the military base who demand ID). Basically, they’re there to allow the Doctor to avoid getting into uninteresting trouble en route to getting into interesting trouble.
The problem is that this means any problem that can be solved by using the sonic screwdriver or psychic paper is definitionally an uninteresting problem. Case in point is the way the monsters chasing the little girl in “Rings of Akheton” go from “mildly creepy, but nothing we haven’t seen before” to “rubbish” the instant the Doctor is able to hold them off with the screwdriver.
So, I’d say, “yes, the sonic is a magic wand that does whatever the writers want it to and fails whenever they want it to,” but I’d add that this places a requirement on the writers to make it work or fail at the right points in the story, and they haven’t always done that.
To be entirely fair, we do seem to have been provided with a lot of shots of the Doctor tinkering about in the TARDIS internals using the sonic screwdriver as if it were a screwdriver. I assume that he is manipulating the dimensionally transcendental sonic screws – have you seriously ever wondered about the geometry of the connectors needed to join the surfaces of two spaces that are bigger on the inside than the outside??
“And if it suddenly went away, then every problem it solves would either be avoided by the writer”
The point of the comic is that this is probably what they should have done in the first place.
When I say “avoided”, I mean it as in, “Jeez, why didn’t [the bad-guy-of-the-week] just lock the friggin’ door to [the room with the macguffin]”.
I should probably also note that I’m not a huge fan of Bob the Angry Flower and it’s “I’m soooooo much more clever than everybody” brand of humor.
Of course, every Doctor Who monster ever seems to have a fetish for just standing there, looking menacing, when they should just be leaping forward and beheading the Doctor before he starts verbally hogtying them. So you can’t really single out the Rings of Akheton monsters for that.
Right, buuuuuuut…the SS can’t just be an all-purpose plot device/deus ex machina. It should have *some* limits. I have no problem with the screwdriver being used as in any way that “opens doors” for the Doctor, literally or metaphorically (so, for instance, being used to hack into a computer is fine) and having it be a tricorder doesn’t bug me. But seeing it used as a weapon is pushing it (I suppose you could argue that if it emits a burst of sonic energy it would potentially cause a moment of pain or distraction to an enemy, but that’s it) and I think during the Davies/Tennant run he used it as a thing that could heal up wounds, which is ludicrous. The Moffat era has definitely been better about that.
The thing is, the Doctor has a box with INFINITE SPACE, surely he can use it to store whatever specialized equipment he needs, so it’s not even neccessary to use the SS for everything. One of my favourite bits in the Moffatt/Smith era is in “Vincent and the Doctor” when he drags out that complicated rearview mirror arrangement so he can see the chicken-monster. More of that kind of thing, please!
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