There’s a sound Doctor Who fans will make when they first pick up the new Eleventh Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver universal remote control – halfway between an “Ooh!” of pleasure and an “Ah!” of revelation.
The heft in the hand; the smooth grip of the bakelite handle; the solidity of the metal frame: this is a quality replica. If it wasn’t a TV remote control, most Doctor Who fans would still want one. But it is…
If you want a really detailed description of the make-up the Sonic, you’ll have to check the blueprint that comes inside the box. It breaks the materials down to their atomic level (not to mention telling you the length and width of the Screwdriver in light years). But suffice it to say that Nick Robatto, who built the original Eleventh Doctor’s screwdriver, called this replica “99% accurate” (although The Wand Company, who make it, modestly tell me “95% would probably be a more honest figure”).
Working from bottom to top: a copper-plated base houses the on/off button, which also swaps between modes (FX, practice and remote control). The handle is made of a Bakelite-style thermoplastic that looks like it might come from an old light fitting or a ceramic conductor. A band of soft, black leather-look material sits between the handle and the main cylinder, which is more shiny copper fitted with brushed metal struts that end in the Sonic’s “pincers”. They don’t move (in a metal replica priced at just 60 quid that was never going to happen) but the green tip has been given a cloudy finish reminiscent of a well-used 1950s valve. Inside are two LEDs, allowing for different brightness of the green light, plus the infra-red transmitter.
The overall effect is pleasingly steampunk: solid retro components fitted together to create a high-tech device – just like the console of the Tardis.
The Sonic features four original Sonic Screwdriver effects, including the Eleventh Doctor’s (of course) and my personal favourite, the tight electronic drilling sound of Patrick Troughton’s original model. Among the other echoes of Whovian history, are six words in the alien language of the Foamasi.
The guided setup mode uses spoken prompts to teach you how to correctly perform each of the gestures that elicit the effects, and how to add the commands that will remotely control your TV and other devices.
They’re all good quality, authentic-sounding samples – although, if there’s much background noise you might wish you could turn them up a bit (while non-Who fans will probably be glad you can’t).
The Sonic Screwdriver controls your electronic gadgets – TV, Blu-ray player, whatever – using a series of gestures, such as flicks, taps and rotations. Three memory banks of 13 gestures mean you can load up to 39 different commands for use with numerous remote-control devices (you could split banks of gestures across multiple pieces of hardware, or reserve a bank for each and switch between them).
I tested it out on a docked iPod/mini hi-fi and found that, once I got my eye in, it worked very well. There is something extremely satisfying about skipping through tracks from distance with the flick of a Sonic Screwdriver, and possibly even more so in rotating it as a virtual volume knob. Be warned, though, this much control could give you a bit of a power complex. My new theory is that this is what turned The Master bad…
Programming the Sonic to control your own devices is a simple enough process – you just point the existing remote control at the sonic’s infra-red tip and click. A spoken prompt will tell you if it’s been recognised. No, it doesn’t always take first time and, yes, if you’re programming it with commands for a number of devices it could take you a while. But a) what else are you going to do on Christmas Day afternoon and b) you won’t care, you’re playing with a Sonic Screwdriver!
Secrets and extra features
The Sonic may not be available until late summer – and many people will be hoping they get one for Christmas – but it boasts its fair share of Easter eggs too…
First up there’s the Screwdriver itself. Leave it switched on when you’re not using it and it will intermittently bleep out a randomly selected piece of morse code from a database of 11 sequences, each representing a Who-related message. The really geeky part? A new message is delivered every 1,963 flashes of the Screwdriver’s tip…
The makers have had a lot of fun with the Sonic’s packaging and accessories too. The blueprint I mentioned earlier contains all kinds of lovely science-wiencey stuff – from the degree to which the Screwdriver’s existence distorts time (9.9 femtoseconds per million years, since you ask) to the nutritional make-up of a fish finger – while etched on the Sonic’s presentation stand you’ll find some words of wisdom in Gallifreyan.
Oh, and don’t worry if a rival Time Lord gets their hands on your Sonic Screwdriver. The button on the base lets you set a three-digit PIN that will make it inaccessible to anyone else (just don’t let them find out that removing and replacing the batteries clears the PIN).
Where, when and how much?
The Sonic Screwdriver is released on 31 August, with Firebox and Forbidden Planet getting first dibs for 60 days before it starts appearing more widely.
It retails at £59.95, which is the sort of price you might expect to pay for a replica this good even if it didn’t have the remote control functionality. Serious Who fans are going to be snapping these up.