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A brief history of the Eleventh Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver

by Nick Robatto

These two images show my first go at working out the internals of the sonic. With the deadline looming, I knew I had to get something delivered to set on the Monday morning; if it looked anything like the concept that would be a bonus!

The sliding mechanism was fairly straight forward but working out the mechanism for the opening claws was putting my head in the shed as we say here in Wales!

I was again asked to make two more new Sonics for the upcoming series, starring Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor. This was the first time I had made the Sonic since I left my full time role at Doctor Who and set up Rubbertoe Props. Finally I had the time to mess about with the internal design and make it stronger, something I had wanted to do since making the first Sonic several years back. 

Firstly I added threaded screwed joints on the top and bottom caps and probably the most significant external change was that the end caps were made as one piece without the hinged lid and redundant red button.  I also replaced the grubcsrew on the white section with a slightly larger black grub screw.

 

The picture on the left shows the box I delivered to the art department for this series. The top and bottom sonics are the newly made and the middle is an existing sonic from past series. 

The finished Sonic was completed late on Sunday night. It worked well; the silver section slid up and down when pushed open, the swirly green resin technique looked great with the green LED lighting it up, and the activation button was neatly tucked away in the end cap. 

 

But was it actor proof? Without the time to test and develop the design, only time would tell......

 

As most prop makers have learned by bitter experience, give some actors a rubber ball and they could probably break it!!

In the summer of 2009 it was decided that the new doctor, to be played by Matt Smith, would be given a newly designed Sonic Screwdriver. Initially we knew the production department wanted something bigger and chunkier; more along the lines of the Master's Sonic Laser. Concepts were drawn and discussed for many weeks. The picture on the right shows some of the earliest ideas; you can see the influence of the Tennant sonic in these early concepts. These were drawn by Dan Walker, who went on to design the final concept for the 11th Doctor's Sonic.

With only one week before filming began, I was given the concept pictured on the left. The brief was to make the new Sonic as close as possible to the concept drawing and roughly the same size as I had made the Masters Laser Screwdriver. It was to be pushed open using the thumb and the end then to rotate/spin. The first part of the proposed action was possible in the time frame, but the rotating part, well, as the saying goes, anything is possible, but miracles take a little bit longer!

 

The folllowing week consisted of hideously early mornings, late nights and working all weekend. I had to disregard the request to make the sonic spin as there simply wasn't time; instead I concentrated more on the open sliding movement and the claw mechanism.

On the first Monday morning of the shoot I was required to take the Sonic to a local beach, now renamed 'Bad Wolf Bay' by Doctor Who fans.

I handed the Sonic over to standby props and quickly explained how to handle it and battery changing. 

Props handed it to Matt; it was his first day of filming. He had a look and a bit of a play, then promptly pulled it apart into two pieces!

A quick tightning of a certain grub screw and we were good to go again. 

I also witnessed on that day, (to my quiet horror), the first time Matt decided to extend the sonic with a flick of his wrist. Admittedly it looked great, but I knew it would have consequences!

 

During the next two weeks I was required to make another three sonics and I had to make them strong enough for the new flicking movement. Brass rivets were introduced to keep the copper struts on, more grub screws were added to secure the top collar. The decision was also made to add an additional button to the mid section so Matt could hold it more comfortably; so a small micro switch was added into the leather section. Also at this point an internal dampner was added to absorb the impact of the flicking movement, and the opening movement was reduced from 2 inches down to 1 inch.

Over the next couple of series' the Sonics were well used and I would regulary need to give them a service and polish. Of the four filming props used, two were fully opening versions and the other two were secured in the closed posistion. At one point one of the closed sonics was used to make the sonic cane. Initially the cane was intended to be made from scratch but in the end there was only half a day to make it as the shooting schedule was changed, so the decision was made to use one of the two closed sonics.

Other pictures below show the Sonic prop which was half eaten by a shark. This was a new build and fairly straight forward as fortunately the shark bit off the end with all the complicated bits!

At some point BBC worldwide purchased the very first Sonic for display. It resides at the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, where it still lives now next to the sonic cane and other past models of Sonics. 

In 2010 I was commisioned to supply prototype Sonics to US based company QMX.  These prototypes were not just Matt Smiths Sonic, but also the Tennant Sonic, RIversong's Sonic and the Master's Sonic Laser. I delivered these to the San Diego Comic Con where they were unveiled for the first time. The following year I produced a small run of the Matt Smith Sonic for QMX. These were made entirely by my own fair hand and this was the first time a replica had been offered of the 11th Doctor's Sonic. Making all the parts by hand that many times is not something I would like to do again. (I found by the end of it I was making Sonics in my sleep!). However the Sonics I made for QMX are unique in the world of prop collectables, in that they were all entirely made by hand by the maker of the original prop. They have my blood (quite literally at one point, but that's another story), sweat and tears poured into them and hopefully they will hold their value as unique and rare pieces of Doctor Who history.

 

It was at this time I decided to finish full time work with Doctor Who and start my own prop making business. I continue to make props for Doctor Who, but I now have the flexibility to do work for many other productions, plus I get to have more time to spend with my young family.

And so, a year and a half after the launch of Rubbertoe Replicas and after receiving at least one email every day asking if we will make the 11th Doctor's Sonic, we are now happy to be able to offer a hand assembled sonic with all metal parts CNC'd here in South Wales, UK. All the rest of the bits we still make by hand. You can rest assured these sonics are truly 100% screen accurate to the MOST RECENT SCREEN USED SONICS.

I also took this opportunity to modify the internals of the Sonic. Previously, a series of brass tubes which fitted inside each other kept the sliding section central. I have now replaced these with a solid aliminium rod which moves inside the main body. Doing this has opened up the space inside the Sonic body, which in turn helps to keep the trailing electrical wire from catching and wearing through.

 

So now after several years and recent modifications, I have created a sonic that's durable, pretty hard to break and (dare I say it) actor proof!

Screwthreaded construction!

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