30 September 2013

Sonic Offenders—By The Numbers

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Everyone knows that in the new series, the sonic screwdriver might be a bit over used... just a little. But the closest anyone gets is, "Moffet writes too many sonic uses for Eleven." or "Davies never let Ten put the thing away." But is it really true that these two are the worst of the bunch? Or could there be other writers which are more horrendous? Merely counting the number of uses is only one aspect of this problem and doesn't reveal the whole truth. Not only do you need to count the number of sonic uses written but you also need to take into consideration just how many hours/minutes a writer submitted to the show. Ahh, you need their ratio of uses/{story time}.

The dataset uses the writers from the shows Doctor Who [classic and new], Torchwood, and The Sarah Jane Adventures. All sonic devices from all these shows are included [i.e., the Doctor's sonic screwdriver [et. al.], River's sonic screwdriver, Ms Foster's sonic pen, Sarah Jane's sonic lipstick, Jack's sonic blaster, etc.]. It does not use the Master's laser screwdriver [it should be obvious why]. A complete article and list will appear in a forthcoming entry. Don't you love coming attractions.

So maybe they are the worst offenders and maybe they aren't. I invite you to Take a look at the numbers and then decide.

The Charts

Let's start with a simple one, the one everybody normally thinks of. That is, which writers are guilty of writing excessive numbers of sonic screwdriver uses. Of course we know the answer for the top two slots—Davies and Moffat are a given there.

Top Ten In Writing Sonic Uses

Top Ten Offenders of Sonic incidents
Writer# sonic uses writtenFailures
Russell T Davies1709
Steven Moffat16715
Phil Ford742
Gareth Roberts463
Chris Chibnall460
Mark Gatiss311
Toby Whithouse264
Helen Raynor224
Neil Cross192
Stephen Thompson180

The top slots are populated with writers from the new series. Seeing that when the show came back, the sonic had an even bigger comeback. Christopher Eccleston in 10 stories/13 episodes had as many sonic uses as Tom Baker [the Fourth Doctor] had in all seven of his seasons. But this chart really doesn't tell us much except that many of the writers for the new series are, in essence, screwdriver crazy.

Davies tops the charts due to the totally excessive use of the sonic lipstick used by Sarah Jane. But then again, all the writers on SJA were over-active lipstick users...

Most Prolific Offenders

So what do you need to know in order to find the most prolific offenders? The number of uses is useless without comparing it to some other reference point. It needs to be charted against something to show whether a writer's number of uses is out of whack. This can't be the number of stories/episodes because stories/episodes are different running length and in the case of this analysis, two-parters are considered as single stories, as are the multi-parters from classic Who. No, stories/episodes won't do. Instead, it was decided to work with the total amount of time that their writing was shown on screen. That removes the problem of the classic Who stories be three, four, six, or even twelve parts. Time is time no matter how many stories it encompasses.

So writing a lot of story time with lots of uses is where we're headed. So I calculated the amount of time each writer contributed which enabled this next table putting the numbers from the first table [number of sonic uses written] into perspective.

Top Ten Prolific Writers
WriterHours of show written# sonic uses written
Russell T Davies36.85170
Robert Holmes [C]29.369
Terry Nation [C]25.1613
Malcolm Hulke [C]24.3310
Steven Moffat21.20167*
Bob Baker [C]15.2815
Dave Martin [C]13.6811
Terrance Dick [C]13.235
Gareth Roberts12.9846
Phil Ford12.5474

[C] denotes writer for classic Who

* I expect this to change as of 23 NOV 2013


NOTE : The above table has been reordered to show descending order by number of story time written.

Ahh, that seems to change things quite a bit. Davies and Moffat is still at the top but six of the other slots are filled with new people, many of the writers from classic Who. I find it interesting that Russell T. Davies wrote only seven more hours than Robert Holmes yet Davies' sonic use number is over 18 times larger. It's nice when the numbers tell their story.

The number of classic Who writers also shows how much of the show was contributed by classic Who writers. Are you surprised by the amount of story time contributed by Terry Nation? And how many of you recognize the names Bob Baker and Dave Martin? It's surprising that those two actually wrote more than Terrence Dicks. Being a script editor was not factored in to these calculations. If it was Robert Holmes might just be most prolific writer.

But even this doesn't necessarily tell us who the biggest sonic offender is. We need to do another calculation on this information first.

Highest "Sonic Uses/Storytime"

A big consideration has to be just how much story time did each writer contribute compared to the amount of sonic uses they wrote? I had the hours each writer contributed, and yes, it was a massive undertaking but necessary for this analysis. And it wasn't just the stories In the new series there were many other little tidbits, especially during Moffat's reign. So the TARDISodes from Ten's first season and all the little Minisodes from Eleven's time. I was surprised how much it actually tacked on to some writers.

So after all the times were compiled I was able to get an accurate measurement of who might be considered the worst offender by finding out the ratio of story time written / number of sonic uses.

Ten Ten Offenders Uses/Time
Writer# sonic uses writtenHours of show writtenMinutes / sonic uses
Neil Cross191.480:04:41
Clayton Hickman10.080:05:00
Stephen Thompson181.520:05:05
Phil Gladwin50.480:05:45
Neil Gaiman151.530:06:07
Toby Whithouse263.160:07:18
Stephen Greenhorn121.50:07:30
Keith Temple60.750:07:30
Steven Moffat16721.20:07:37
Mark Gatiss314.50:08:43

Moffat still reigns as writer the most uses but with the number of hours of story time he's written, story time/sonic, his use ratio is actually a lot lower than you might think. I know for all you Moffat dislikers out there, this isn't what you want to hear. But there are the numbers. Seems like Neil Cross, with a ratio of a sonic use for every 4 minutes 41 seconds of story time is our worst offender. Moffat is almost twice that ratio clocking in at one use for every 7 minutes 37 seconds. That's still pretty bad, but you can see there are eight writers with worse scores than Moffat. As much as it saddens me to say, Moffat is by far NOT the worst sonic offender.

Highest Failure Rate

And just because I had the data available, I figured I'd find out who was the most prolific writer in terms of having the screwdriver fail. Well, we have to go back to the early days of Who to find Malcolm Hulke. He is not the person who would have come to mind to top this chart, but you never know. He is the only writer from classic Who to appear on this chart.

Highest Failure Number
Writer# sonic uses written# of failuresFailure %
Malcolm Hulke [C]10220%
Helen Raynor22418.2%
Toby Whithouse26415.4%
Steven Moffat167158.9%
Gareth Roberts4636.5%
Russell T Davies17095.3%
Neil Cross1925.3%
Mark Gatiss3113.2%
Phil Ford7422.7%
Terry Nation1332.3%

[C] denotes writer for classic Who


So once again Moffat does not achieve the number one spot ending up fourth. But then again, I never remembered the Doctor's screwdriver failing that much in the episodes he wrote. Still, fourth position is still in the top ten...

And In Conclusion

So what did I learn while compiling the information for this dataset? I learned that this information was not to be found all in one place. I needed to watch [or at least scrub through] every episode which could have had a sonic use. It needed to be compiled and finally beat into submission till it gave up it's answers.

So what did you learn? Given the numbers shed some light on the facts about the Doctor's screwdriver I hope you learned something too.

In the weeks ahead I will be putting more charts and graphs together and, hopefully, a few more networks to give this more of a visual display. Cause it's always easier looking at pretty pictures than columns of numbers.

Till next, take care.

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