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Sonic Sunglasses Throw Shade at the History of ‘Doctor Who’

‘Doctor Who’ enjoys pushing the envelope, making its viewers think. Having the past intersect with the future in the wibbily wobbly timey wimey way we have come to know and love. But there are some things that just should never change.

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as the Doctor and Clara Oswald in Doctor Who Photo: BBC

“I’m all about wearable technology!” Who comes up with this stuff? Stop. Don’t answer that, I know the answer and it doesn’t make it any less offensive. Steven Moffat has a long-standing reputation of rewriting major aspects of Doctor Who history and he isn’t slowing down anytime soon

Five episodes into season nine and, while I have pushed my fair share of buttons on how he manhandles the show with his favorite characters, that won’t go away. His grandiose plot points that collapse in an illogical pile of dust when poked too hard, nothing has been so offensive as the loss of the sonic screwdriver.

His response a few weeks ago to the initial black-lash was your typical “I do what I want” sort of trolling that fans of the show have grown to resent more than the choices that caused the initial feelings.

“Sometimes you have to be heretical…Sometimes you actually have to embrace the heresy. And I just thought, really on a whim, why would the Doctor feel wedded to a screwdriver? Maybe he fancies varying it for a while, maybe he’ll pop his sonic glasses on instead.”

No man should have so much power that they can just eradicate an object for no better reason than because he feels like it. “It’s fun to be naughty,” he added. “I know some people are incredibly irate about it…But just to show that we can — why not?” Just because it’s controversial doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. The question isn’t why not? It’s why do it all? The sonic sunglasses aren’t fun. They’re infuriating.

As far as Moffat is concerned, these choices don’t really hurt the show. And maybe he’s right. Maybe in another 25 years at the 75th special it will be like in season two episode ten “Love and Monsters” we won’t speak of it! Maybe by then, the good characters and story lines and homages to the various incarnations of the Doctor and his companions will outweigh the bad, I certainly hope so.

But we don’t actually have the luxury or hoping in the TARDIS and finding out if that’s the case. So while Moffat is probably right these choices don’t really hurt a show that has the past it does, the presence it’s having now and the future that’s completely open for reinterpretation, hopefully by someone who actual respects the material, these choices hurt the fans.

More specific, I am hurt. And say what you will about that. That the intent is for me to whine about Moffat, that I already have enough of a bias, that I’m just sour and I’m abusing the fact that I have a space to complain. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong about these things. My disdain for the sonic sunglasses is long documented in my weekly recaps (I think I threatened to burn everything at their initial appearance). But it’s also not a fair assessment of where I’m coming from. I’m hurt because the loss of the sonic screwdriver is not about me or my feelings. It’s about how the loss of an iconic piece of Doctor Who. It’s akin to the Doctor losing an appendage and because, like all Moffat things, where they are just suppose to accept the sonic sunglasses because they’re cool.

Peter Capaldi as the Doctor in Doctor Who Photo: BBC

Except the cool factor has already been sold on bow ties and the irony was in the fact that bow ties are not or weren’t cool until the Eleventh Doctor made them that way. The Doctor can wear sunglasses all he wants. They just don’t need to be sonic. And trying to substitute the sunglasses for the screwdriver misses the entire point of the latter. It’s not about being cool. The Doctor has a time machine wrapped in a spaceship that’s bigger on the inside! He’s already plenty cool whether he’s in a three piece suit, a leather jacket, converse or an enormous scarf!

Sonic sunglasses might protect Moffat from the glare of fans during each episode but they are completely bereft of the actual significance of the sonic screwdriver so bear with me as we take a little trip down memory lane. An ‘In Memoriam’ if you will of the sonic screwdriver.

The history of the Sonic Screwdriver

The Doctor and his TARDIS are quite possibly the oldest love story within the show. It’s an epic kind. They ran away together and in the end it’s always the two of them, the mad man inside his Blue Box. And I’m fairly sure even he wouldn’t have it any other way. But there was always a third member of that team. Not so much apart of the love story but apart of the Doctor himself.

Tommy Pickles in Rugrats Photo: Nickelodeon

The sonic screwdriver is so iconic that other shows picked it up it in various incarnations. Tommy Pickles of Rugrats has his own screwdriver that often aided the escape from the playpen and then acted as an all-purpose gadget on the innumerable adventures he and the other babies got up to. It was equal parts toy and equal parts tool.

And while the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver was arguably more effective than Tommy’s at everything but wood the reason for the choice of all things, a screwdriver is so important to who the Doctor is that it’s actually shocking Moffat ever thought it would be okay to give up.

Captain Jack Harkness is quoted in season one of New-Who, in an episode written by Steven Moffat no less, asking the question on all our minds, “Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks ‘Ooh, this could be a little more sonic’?” the Ninth Doctor responded, “What? You never been bored? Never had a long night? Never had a lot of cabinets to put up?” This of course was sarcastic. But it’s also extremely telling. In that same episode the Doctor replaces Jack’s gun with a banana. And while it’s an excellent source of potassium and also a ceaselessly hilarious moment it functions as an explanation of everything the Doctor stands for.

Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper & John Barrowman as the Ninth Doctor, Rose Tyler and Captain Jack Harkness

Jack isn’t just asking why a sonic screwdriver? He’s asking why not a sonic gun? Why not something deadly? Why waste all that time and brainpower to create something that is kind of sort of mostly useless especially against an all powerful wooden door, unless under the right circumstances? And the answer, while obvious is not just because the Doctor is anti-gun.

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor in Doctor Who Photo: BBC

Instead of creating something that could cause destruction, the sonic screwdriver fixes things. Much like a doctor does. Much like the Doctor does. It asses the damage and looks to remedy it. It’s a tool that a peaceful man who ran away from home a long time ago created, when he was bored. And for a show that often asks exactly who that man is. For a show who’s response is often “just the Doctor” this is the answer. He’s a tool in the cog of time, a small constellation in space. He’s a Time Lord and he saves people and his screwdriver helps him.

So while Moffat clearly on a whim decided that the Doctor would not be wedded to a screwdriver, the sonic sunglasses do a great disservice and it is a grievance that cannot be forgiven. The Tenth Doctor could not even get the words out to tell Rose he loved her but the moment his sonic breaks he’s able to say the phrase just fine! When a new doctor comes along people wonder what the screwdriver will look like. What color will it be? What new ability will it have? It’s a funny conversation when the whole thing doesn’t even look like much. But it’s everything. So it spoils the lining of a jacket? That’s a small price to pay when you hold more than the power to travel through time and space. The sonic screwdriver is the power to heal and it’s loss makes him ineffective.

The Viking warriors demolish the infernal sonic sunglasses and we rejoice!

Sonic sunglasses not only look useless with their ordinariness, they were easily destructive and after their swift demise in “The Girl Who Died” by the Vikings, what was even the point? The Doctor was more effective than he has been all season without them and it was arguably the best episode so far in series nine.

As Whovians we’ve become accustomed to change. Companions come and go. The TARDIS control room gets a redesign every few years. Even the Doctor’s face changes, his entire personality assumes a completely new form and we go through various stages of grief with all of that but we come to accept it because it’s the nature of the show. We know what we’re getting into when we fall in love with a Doctor and/or a companion and while we’re never truly prepared for regenerations the show goes above and beyond to make the point that this new face is the same person as all the other faces before him. That all the things we love about one Doctor are still there. That we can always love that Doctor but we can also find some space in our heart (or hearts) for this new one. But there are things that make this kind of transition easier. And without that, without the little pieces of evidence that this is the same Time Lord, it alienates everything Doctor Who is about.

“One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.”

While this is the First Doctor’s farewell to Susan I use it now to remind us and myself that the Doctor will eventually find his way back to the sonic screwdriver. It might be a while or perhaps we’ve seen the end of the sonic sunglasses though something tells me the Doctor has a very convenient spare pair hidden somewhere. It’s not the same and I desperately want the sonic screwdriver back more than any character I’ve ever hoped to see return! Moffat does give us his own form of hope to cling to but I have been slighted by him too many times to trust it, “I’m sure the screwdriver will show up again someday,” so I will sit and I will wait for things to be set right. A job that only the sonic screwdriver can fix.

Do you miss the sonic screwdriver? Did you sign the petition? Do you like the sonic sunglasses? Share with us your thoughts in the comments!

Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9/8c.

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