Sunday, 6 September 2015

Review: Twelfth Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver Universal Remote Control

Last week Unearthly was invited to Television Centre in London for a hands-on preview of the new Twelfth Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver Universal Remote Control, a much-anticipated product created by The Wand Company.

This isn’t the first time that The Wand Company has taken on the challenge of recreating the Doctor’s famous sonic screwdriver – back in 2012 they released a universal remote control version of the sonic used by the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. That incarnation of the product proved to be immensely popular with fans, going on to sell around 55,000 units across its lifespan (the product has since been discontinued). Now, an updated version is here for the Peter Capaldi era.
The Eleventh Doctor version of the device was also available bundled
with a North American Blu-ray collection

As its name suggests, the product can be programmed to control virtually any device which uses a standard infrared remote, with the capacity to store up to thirty-nine remote control commands across its three memory banks (with thirteen commands stored in each), plus an Any TV Off function which can switch off a TV regardless of the remote’s programming. This means that using various motion-controlled gestures, this replica of the Twelfth Doctor’s sonic screwdriver could be used to control equipment such as televisions, radios, DVD, Blu-ray or CD players, and a host of other devices.

The remote was used to control an iPod dock at our press demo

You’d be forgiven for wondering what the differences are between this and the Eleventh Doctor remote; after all, to all intents and purposes the screwdriver used by both actors on television has remained seemingly identical. But perhaps the most significant change to the product is that it can now be extended with a flick of the wrist, just as the real props from the TV series do. In stark contrast to this, the Eleventh Doctor version didn’t have the capability to extend at all due to limitations in its manufacturing. But now The Wand Company has found a way to produce an extending version, while still ensuring the reliability of the electronic components within (crucially, the electronics themselves don’t actually move within the casing).

Thankfully, this much-requested new feature certainly hasn’t compromised the overall build quality, because it’s immediately obvious just how well-crafted the new version is. This isn’t just a remote control, it’s a stunning 1:1 scale prop replica in its own right. Speaking at the press preview, Chris Barnardo (the co-founder of The Wand Company) said that one of their greatest ambitions was to produce something which lived up to the prop that inspired it. Above all, they wanted realism – and that’s what they have achieved. The Twelfth Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver remote has a beautiful metallic finish to it and feels very durable, while generally looking more polished and refined than the Matt Smith version. The product extends and retracts with a very solid-sounding clunk, and seems to stand up admirably to all the various movements required for its operation.

The remote comes with a range of light and sound effects; with a press of the button, the sonic switches into FX Mode, with twelve different sound effects programmed in. That number is no coincidence – the David Tennant and Matt Smith versions of the remote (the former released in 2013 and still available for purchase) had ten and eleven sound effects respectively. Despite the fact that the new remote doesn’t have the visible “speaker holes” for audio output that could be seen on its predecessors, it actually sounds louder and clearer in direct comparison to the Matt Smith model. An especially fun feature is the inclusion of twelve secret Twelfth Doctor phrases in Morse code – but you’ll have to solve them for yourself…

The remote attaches to the Gallifreyan stand when not in use

As ever with prop replicas, a lot of the appeal is in the presentation, and the Twelfth Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver remote doesn’t disappoint. In addition to a vertical stand featuring Gallifreyan writing, the product comes with an elaborately illustrated user manual. A very clever touch is that as opposed to the traditional “text on white paper” approach of so many instruction leaflets, the user guide here forms part of the set’s deluxe presentation when not in use – and yet, the blue fold-out guide includes all the information the user should ever need, including how to program the remote for use with a new device.

A comprehensive user guide with a creative twist

The Twelfth Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver Universal Remote Control really is an excellent product, succeeding not only as a remote control but also as a beautifully built and presented prop replica. It takes the innovation seen in earlier models and pushes it to new heights – taking on-board earlier feedback (such as the desire for an extending version) and resulting in something which feels genuinely definitive.
The remote control is available from 7 September 2015 at BBC Shop.

With thanks to BBC Worldwide and The Wand Company

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