Who doesn’t like a TV prop, that you can buy? Not only that, a TV prop that actually does something cool. The BBC’s long-running, family-friendly, sci-fi series Doctor Who has featured a Sonic Screwdriver on and off since 1968. To date, there have been 13 Doctors, and due to the flexibility of the concept, the options available to the writers and actors are virtually limitless. It’s a story that might never end. The ‘Sonic’ is unique to the actor playing the part of Doctor at the time, and it has various functions that play out during the Doctor’s many varied story lines. Think of it like an officer’s Swiss army knife, but much cooler.
The options for merchandise is as seemingly limitless as the show’s various plots and in 2012, The Wand Company introduced a ‘toy’ version of the 11th Doctor’s Sonic, quickly followed by the 10th Sonic, due to public demand. Did I mention that Doctor Who has a strong and loyal fanbase?
Unlike the Doctor him/herself, the Sonic toy doesn’t regenerate, when the battery eventually expires. And since many of the early screwdrivers are over 8 years old now, many have simply become ornamental, rather than fully functional. Thankfully, due to nostalgia, I suspect that many have avoided the scrapheap and are languishing in drawers, waiting for a battery transplant.
This time in the workshop, I take a 10th Sonic back in time for a reboot, fitting a fresh LiPo battery to bring it back to life…
Make and model: The Wand Company, 10th Doctor Who, Sonic Screwdriver
Fault reported: Not holding any charge (flat battery)
Cost of replacement machine: £20.00 if you can find one working
Manufacturer support (in the UK): 8/10
Cost of parts (for this repair): £5.99
My time spent on the repair: 1 hour
Tools needed: Small knife, spudger, pliers, small screwdriver, soldiering iron etc
Sundry items: None
Cleaning materials: Silicone spray
Repair difficulty: 5/10 (fiddly)
Beverages: 1 strong coffee
Biscuits: None, but 2 slices of cheese on toast, with a dab of Encona hot sauce
A customer got in touch to ask if I could replace a battery on his Sonic as it wasn’t taking a charge. When plugged in, the green light would operate, meaning that the battery was full. As soon as the USB cable was removed, the light went out and the screwdriver was dead.
One of the hardest jobs at FixItWorkshop, is locating the correct spare parts. There are so many variables affecting the supply of spare parts, that it is an essay in its own right. Some brands have a strong presence in the country you reside, which can make sourcing parts straightforward. Others act on behalf of a manufacturer far away, which can make obtaining parts more of a challenge. Actually, distance is less of a thing these days, but often, with so many products available online or on the high street, there is an extremely complicated supply chain with twists and turns that make locating parts an art. It’s a constant issue that has to be balanced with the viability of a repair.
So, to start with, I contacted The Wand Company (www.thewandcompany.com) who were extremely helpful and provided full battery replacement instructions and really understood what I was trying to do. The only snag was that they were not aware of a suitable replacement battery as the original battery maker no longer supplied the battery used in their product. Even supportive companies such as The Wand Company face supply challenges, and have to make sensible decisions when it comes to ongoing support. They kindly provided photos of the original battery specification by email, which saved me time.
Using the power of the Internet, I then decided to search a variety of UK and Chinese battery supply websites, which drew no results. The size of the original LiPo battery fitted made the sourcing of alternatives difficult. Seemingly, all of the ‘nearly correct’ battery alternatives were either the wrong size or slightly out of specification. For months, I had several threads running with a couple of suppliers before placing an order via aliexpress.com. A battery intermediary seemed to have the correct battery size, with a slightly better performance (but complying and or exceeding original specification) battery. However, despite two attempts at shipping, this order fell through. I’m not sure if it was Covid or Brexit that affected shipping. I’ve used cliexpress.com many times before, without issues. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.
At this stage, several months has elapsed.
Sometimes ‘projects’ like this must be put on the back-burner or you can dwell on the problem for too long, which can affect one’s mojo. The thing I’ve learned over many years is to be up front with customers and all other stakeholders, so that they can decide if they want to wait any longer, it’s the right thing to do.
I buy from many parts suppliers weekly on eBay and by pure fluke, happened to be browsing batteries for another item, when I spotted a LiPo battery which might do the trick for the Sonic. A gaming headset item, with similar dimensions and a slightly higher amp hour rating. At just under £6, I had to take a chance.
The battery arrived from overseas, despite being sold by a UK seller and I got to work quickly.
The Sonic ‘clips’ together. There are no screws. When taking something apart like this you need the obvious tools such as small screwdrivers, a sharp knife and spudger, but the most important item you need in your kit bag is ‘mechanical sympathy’. If something feels like it’s going to break, then it probably is. The Sonic is delicate and has many moving small plastic parts that can break easily. The main challenge is to do no harm to the casing. It’s nail-biting stuff, working on something like this.
With the Sonic apart (finally- phew) I was able to see the original battery, which was stuck on to the tiny printed circuit boards (PCB). It had two tiny wires soldered on to the PCB, which would be tricky to re-attach. This toy had been made with delicate instruments and expertise.
So, the first thing to do was to remove the battery which involved very careful cutting of the adhesive. It was like performing surgery, I’m sure!
Next, de-solder the existing wires. Just a dab with the soldering iron and the wires freed easily. Phew again. The battery I’d bought, although not original specification, fitted well with a touch of hot-melt glue to keep it secure. Just a quick-dab solder for each battery wire connection, and I was ready to reassemble.
I don’t think I mentioned that by this stage, I had been taking LOTS of photos on my phone as the parts had to be taken apart and then put back together again in a strict order. No cutting corners with this design.
With the Sonic back together, it was time to apply power to the USB connection for an hours’ charge (or so). The red light illuminated indicating a battery charge was in progress. After the hour, the light changed to green, indicating a fully charged status. Job done. The Sonic was back in business, ready to travel back (and forward) through time. Time to put the kettle on.