Friday, February 15, 2013

Doctor Who A Show Review: Something Screwy

By William G. Muir
In the 50 year history of Doctor Who there have been several things that have become iconic parts of the show. There is of course the Doctor himself, his ship the TARDIS, his home planet of Gallifrey, his travels in both time and space, the fact that he a Time Lord and can regenerate, his companions and such enemies as the Daleks, Cybermen and the Master. But there is one iconic symbol of the show that has allowed the Doctor to get out of more jams than anything else in the past 50 years, the sonic screwdriver.


As in my two previous Doctor Who reviews this one is solely focusing on the action in the television show Doctor Who. I may branch out someday and do reviews on the spinoffs such as Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures, or I might do reviews on the novels, autoplays or other forms of media the good Doctor may appear in. but for now I just want to look at the show. In this article specifically the series since the 2005 return.

Sonic Screwdrivers 2nd-11th Doctors
I don't want to get to bogged down in the history of the sonic screwdriver, that will be a topic for a future review. But I will mention some points briefly, the first being that the sonic screwdriver made it's first appearance with the Second Doctor in the 1968 serial Fury of the Deep. In the original series the sonic screwdriver pretty much was limited to doing the type of things a regular screwdriver could as well locking and unlocking doors and on occasion it detonate a landmine or it even cut out a lock. The show's producers at the time didn't want the sonic screwdriver to become a “cure all”. The Fourth Doctor even once quipped that “Not even the sonic screwdriver can get me out of this one.” (The Invasion of Time)

During the Fifth Doctor's tenure producer Johnathon Nathan-Turner decided the sonic screwdriver had to go. A tool such as the sonic screwdriver was seen more as a hindrance than blessing. A device that could possible do anything would limit scriptwriters to use it to get the Doctor out of any rough situations. This would have a limiting effect on how the writers created ways for the Doctor to overcome conflict. So the sonic screwdriver was done away with (The Visitation) and would not make another appearance in the rest of the show.

The next time the sonic screwdriver would be seen was during the 1996 Doctor Who television movie.

In 2005 when Doctor Who returned to the airwaves the sonic screwdriver was again a part of the Doctor's arsenal. In the new series the sonic screwdriver did become the go to device that producers of the classic series feared it would become. In the new series the sonic screwdriver could be seen to do things like repairing a barbwire fence, scanning alien life forms, boosting the power of a cell phone battery, boosting the range of a cell phone to basically the entire universe, among many more uses. The sonic screwdriver had become so relied upon that they had to introduce limitations. Deadlocks seals and wood seem to be two such limitations.

River's Screwdriver
That is enough back story for this article, there is one thing I want to focus on here and that is River Song's possession of the sonic screwdriver in the two part episode Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. There has been one thing that has bothered me ever since those two episode broadcast. It was only amplified when the 11th Doctor got his new sonic screwdriver. I want to look at the appearance of the sonic screwdriver that River Song has and compare it against the ones the 9th/10th Doctors used and the one the 11th used.

In Silence/Forest the Doctor and Donna detour from there original plans to come to The Library; a planet that had been constructed to house all the books in the universe. We learn that Doctor had received a message from an unknown individual for assistance. It turns out the sender was River Song and she was hoping to get Doctor to meet her at The Library, the only problem was that the message found him before he had ever met her.

10th Doctor's Screwdriver
During the first episode the Doctor pulls out his trusty dues ex machina and adjust the denseness of Proper Dave's spacesuit. Once he had sealed up the Doctor goes to hand off his sonic screwdriver to River, only to have her pull out one of her own to show it to him. When the Doctor ask her what it is she replies that it's not only screwdriver but it is his. Which is to imply that she is holding the same screwdriver that he has in his hand. A little latter on in the same episode the Doctor comments on how the screwdriver River is holding looks like his. This time she replies by telling him that he gave her the screwdriver.

Now on first look we can see that there are similarities between the screwdriver that the Doctor has in this episode and the one River is carrying. The designs are awful close but not close enough for the two of them to be holding the same screwdriver. The Doctor's screwdriver is longer and more slender with an almost silver or platinum hue to it. Whereas once we are given a proper look at the one River is holding we can tell that hers is not only shorter than the Doctors but it is slightly wider and a duller shade of gray as well. Not to mention that it has ring on it that the Doctor's screwdriver does not.

The episode wants us to believe that we are looking at the same screwdriver at two different points in its history, but clearly we are not.

The paradox here is that River clearly recognizes the screwdriver of the 10th Doctor. But there is no way that should be. This episode is the first time the Doctor has ever met River. As fans of the show very well know their relationship does not run parallel to each other. They keep bumping into each other at different points in their perspective time lines. Their lives are running in opposite directions.

River's comments during this episode indicate that she has never before seen the Doctor in this incarnation. This is the only time, we can infer, that the 10th Doctor and River Song ever meet each other. We see no other meeting between the two before the 10th Doctor regenerates, and there is no way that River could pump into him later (spoiler alert) because River dies at the end of this episode.

11th Doctor's Screwdriver

Why should any of this matter you say? Why am I wasting my time writing this article? Well I will tell you why. There is no way that River Song should have recognized the Tenth's Doctor's sonic screwdriver. The 11th Doctor is the first one she ever meets. And by the time she does meet him the sonic screwdriver he had in his 9th and 10th incarnations is no longer working. It was destroyed by the Atraxi in the Eleventh Hour.

Not to mention that we learn in the The Big Bang that the same sonic screwdriver in different points in it's time line will give off sparks when they are close together. We see River's screwdriver and Doctor's side by side at one point in Forest of the Dead and never once did they spark.

So what is it that we have here, three different sonic screwdrivers both the River's and the 9th/10th Doctor's that look quite a bit similar, and the 11th Doctor's screwdriver that looks nothing like the other two. Now we know from the Eleventh Hour that the Doctor's TARDIS is responsible for making the screwdrivers.
So we are suppose to believe that the TARDIS designed the 11th Doctor's screwdriver (along with how many other incarnation that River knew before she met the 10th Doctor) but that it went back to a previous design and modified it. Why would the TARDIS have done that? In the new series we have seen that TARDIS does complete resigns of it's control room, not recycling one aspect of former control rooms. So why would it recycle screwdriver designs when it hadn't done that in the past either?

There is one more thing about River's screwdriver that bothers me. The compartment with the neural relay in it. When did the Doctor go back and get it? At no time during the ending scenes of the Forest of the Dead did we see the Doctor go back to River's body and collect it. No instead we get a scene with the Doctor snapping his fingers to open the TARDIS door. Sure he could gone and got it off screen but there nothing that ever indicates that Doctor did that.

Unless you assume he must have because in the future he gives River the screwdriver so that he could upload her into the Library's computer. Yet in The Big Bang we see the Doctor skipping around in time so that he give Rory the screwdriver to save Amy with, leave notes for young Amelia so she would go to the museum and even steal a soda from Amelia in the past to give to her in the future. The Doctor had to be told to do these things. So we can't automatically assume that just because the Doctor did something once that he will repeat it keeping the loop going.

And where did he store the neural relay for all those years. It couldn't have been the sonic screwdriver that he had when he first met River, we see it get destroyed. But it had to be stored somewhere or else the signal would have degraded beyond any usable capacity. When you are watching the Forest of the Dead for the first time you come to the conclusion that the Doctor must have retrieved the relay and stuck it in the screwdriver so that future him would give it to River, and that along the way he made modification to that screwdriver.

But we know that this can't be because that screwdriver was destroyed.

One last thing, how does the screwdriver have the power not only to keep the relay signal from degrading, but to also power all the new functions that that it has. In the Library we see the Doctor's screwdriver is being interfered with by the Doctor Moon. Yet not only does River's screwdriver have the necessary power to run all these features and keep her alive (neural relay) but it has the juice to over come the affects of the anti-virus software as well. How?

In conclusion this is an example of a show that failed to pay attention to it's own continuity. But unlike other shows that play fast and lose with there show's back story Doctor Who can get away with it. In a show about time traveling events of the past are going to be changed. Very few things are written in stone. Like the Doctor said “history can be rewritten.” And because of this fact we love the show. Events don't have to follow the logical progression of cause and effect. Like the Doctor escaping the Pandorica you can have the effect proceed the cause. You can even have screwdrivers that aren't the same but clearer are. It is all just one big ball of wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey.


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