Sonic screwdriver to be added to the OED
“What are you going to do, build a cabinet at them?”
It’s blue, much bigger than it looks from the outside, and ‘the gateway to everything that ever was or ever can be’. If this were the Whoniverse, I’d be talking about the TARDIS; as it is, if you were looking for a real-world equivalent to the Doctor’s dimensionally transcendent time and space machine, the Oxford English Dictionary might be as close as you’re going to get.
As well as showing you the whole of the past (and much of the present) of the English language, the OED can now give you a glimpse into its own future, when another of Doctor Who’s most iconic contributions to science fiction and British culture will be joining the Dictionary’s existing entries for TARDIS, Dalek, and Cyberman: the Doctor’s multipurpose tool and get-out-of-jail-free card: the sonic screwdriver.
Although the revised, third-edition text of the OED entry for sonic adj. won’t be published until June, we can travel forward in time to take a sneak peek at this Whovian entry ahead of Doctor Who’s series 10 premiere, ‘The Pilot’.
The Doctor’s sonic device has been through many redesigns and refits since its debut in the 1968 Second Doctor story ‘Fury from the Deep’, when it was used to open a hatch on a gas pipeline, and closely resembled a pen torch. Over the years it’s opened countless doors, hatches, and ventilation grilles, has been used to detonate mines and to ignite clouds of marsh gas to ward off marauding Drashigs, to intercept transmat beams, to cut and fuse metal, as a medical scanner, and as a remote control. This versatile tool has also served as a hard drive capable of holding the entirety of a human personality, and a computer that spent hundreds of years calculating the sonic wavelengths needed to disintegrate a wooden door that turned out to be open all along. It was destroyed by a Tereleptil renegade just before the Great Fire of London during the Fifth Doctor’s era, only to return, bigger and more useful than ever, in the revived series in 2005.
Outside of the Whoniverse, the sonic screwdriver has become a type of ultimate tool of the future, and has inspired real-life attempts to mimic the Gallifreyan technology, including a large tabletop machine created by Dundee University scientists, which is capable of lifting and turning objects using beams of ultrasound.
The sonic screwdriver won’t get you out of every tricky situation (as the Fourth Doctor had to admit) but it definitely worth having in your TARDIS toolbox, and, pretty soon, it’s going to be available in that other big blue cabinet of endless curiosity, the OED.