Doctor Who: The man who makes the sonic screwdrivers for the BBC

DOCTOR Who is a global cultural phenomenon and has legions of fans around the world – but how iconic would the Time Lord be without their trusty Sonic Screwdriver?

Penarth-born Nick Robatto is the man currently responsible for making the Doctor’s trusty gadget for each series of the BBC show.

Mr Robatto also sells officially licensed replicas of Doctor Who props which he makes in a small workshop in Barry.

He has been making props for the BBC since 2004 and has been selling replicas since 2012.

After leaving university in Bournemouth in 2000, Mr Robatto began working for a company in Canton that made small models, such as architecture models.

The company was then hired by the BBC to make the props for the revival of Doctor Who in 2005 – something that Mr Robatto took to exceptionally well.

He credits his time working on architectural models with helping his eye for detail in making small objects.

Mr Robatto said: “I was making houses that were about a centimetre tall and you’vw got to put the windows in it and everything.

“It just gives you a detail and the processes on how to do it.

“Originally, we did everything by hand, like cutting plastic and hardware, but these days we’ve got laser cutters and 3D printers.

“When I bought a laser cutter, that was a revolution and then when I bought 3D printers and got into 3D printing, my job became so much easier.

“But at the same time you still need to understand how to make something before just jumping in and 3D printing parts.”

Mr Robatto started working for the BBC when it set up its own props department and stayed therer full-time for six years.

“I made some amazing things, I was really lucky that I was really good at the small stuff,” said Mr Robatto.

“I was able to use the milling machine and lathe which was the kind of skills you needed to make the sonic screwdriver.

“So, I became the Sonic Screwdriver maker.”

He maintained the Sonic Screwdrivers wielded by David Tennant and Matt Smith’s iterations of The Doctor, as well as the one owned by River Song, played by Alex Kingston, and the Laser Screwdriver brandished by John Simm as The Master.

Mr Robatto then set up his own props company, Rubbertoe Props, and a replica company, Rubbertoe Replicas, which is the only company licensed by the BBC to produce Doctor Who replicas.

As well as the screwdrivers Mr Robatto has built props such as the TARDIS console panel and various ray guns.

As well as Doctor Who, he has worked on shows such as Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Red Dwarf, Merlin and Sex Education.

Mr Robatto takes part in various Doctor Who conventions and often visits the USA.

“Usually every February I go to Los Angeles and there’s a Doctor Who convention called Gallifrey One and I would just go over there and do a few talks, a few demonstrations, take orders, and then try to spend like the three days at the convention,” said Mr Robatto.

“Over there, the fans are a lot more passionate and there’s more of them.

“I don’t know what it is about the Americans, when they like something they just go for it.”

Outside of making props, Mr Robatto has found a new love of pottery and was named “potter of the week” on Channel 4 show The Great Pottery Throw Down.

Mr Robatto said: “I predominantly make other people’s designs and I always wanted my own creative output.

“I’ve always wanted to take do pottery and when lockdown started I was chatting to an old friend, and he said he’d taken it up and he had no wheel.

“So I was like ‘oh, let me let me have the wheel’.”

Mr Robatto’s children encouraged him to enter the show as the family are all fans of it.

To his surprise, he managed to get through all the auditions and appears on the series.

He has progressed to such a point now that he is considering selling some of his pottery in the future.

Mr Robatto considers himself very lucky to be doing a job he loves in a place he loves.

He said: “as far as jobs go, I think I’m very lucky as I’ve got a great job.

“I love living in Barry as well, it’s amazing.”

For now, Mr Robatto is looking forward to the future of Doctor Who and is excited for the return of writer Russell T Davies on the forthcoming season, following Jodie Whittaker’s exit as the Time Lord later this year.

“It’s interesting because they’re going to be revamping [Doctor Who],” said Mr Robatto.

“Russell T Davies is coming back, which I am excited about.

“I’m expecting some exciting things to come from it.”

You can visit Rubbertoe Replicas here to check out the replica props and custom designs on offer.

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