Doctor Who: The man who makes 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 his trusty sonic screwdriver?
Penarth-born Nick Robatto is the man currently responsible for crafting the Doctor’s trusty gadget for each series of the BBC show.
Mr Robatto also sells officially licensed replicas of Doctor Who accessories that he makes in a small workshop in Barry.
It has been making props for the BBC since 2004 and selling replicas since 2012.
After leaving Bournemouth University in 2000, Mr Robatto started working for a company in Canton which made small models, such as architectural models.
The company was later contracted by the BBC to manufacture the props for the revival of Doctor Who in 2005 – something Mr. Robatto did exceptionally well.
He credits the time spent working on architectural models with helping his eye for detail in crafting small objects.
Mr Robatto said: “I was making houses about a centimeter high and you have to put the windows and everything in there.
“It just gives you a detail and the processes on how to do it.
“Originally we did everything by hand, like cutting plastics and hardware, but now we have laser cutters and 3D printers.
“When I bought a laser cutter, it was a revolution, 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 you jump in and 3D print parts.”
Mr Robatto started working for the BBC when it set up its own props department and remained there full-time for six years.
“I’ve done amazing things, I’ve been very lucky to be really good at the little things,” Robatto said.
“I was able to use the milling machine and the lathe, which was the kind of skill you needed to make the sonic screwdriver.
“So I became the sonic screwdriver maker.”
It maintained the Sonic Screwdrivers wielded by David Tennant and Matt Smith’s iterations of The Doctor, as well as one belonging to River Song, played by Alex Kingston, and the Laser Screwdriver wielded by John Simm as The Master.
Mr Robatto went on to set up his own prop company, Rubbertoe Props, and a replica company, Rubbertoe Replicas, which is the only company licensed by the BBC to produce Doctor Who replicas.
In addition to the screwdrivers, Mr. Robatto built accessories such as the TARDIS console panel and various ray guns.
As good as Doctor Who, he has worked on shows such as Torchwood, The Adventures of Sarah Jane, red dwarf, Merlin and Sex education.
Mr. Robatto participates in various Doctor Who conventions and often travels to the United States.
“Usually every February I go to LA and there’s a Doctor Who convention called Gallifrey One and I was just going there and doing a few talks, a few demos, taking orders, and then trying to get through like the three days at the convention,” Robatto said.
“There, the fans are much more passionate and there are more of them.
“I don’t know what it’s like for Americans, when they like something, they go for it.”
Outside of making accessories, Mr. Robatto has found a new love for pottery and was named “Potter of the Week” on the Channel 4 show The Great Pottery Throw.
Mr. Robatto said, “I mainly do other people’s creations and I’ve always wanted my own creative output.
“I’ve always wanted to make pottery and when the lockdown started I was chatting with an old friend, and he said he took it back and he didn’t have a wheel.
“So I was like ‘oh, let me, let me have the wheel’.”
Mr. Robatto’s children encouraged him to enter the series as the family is a fan of it.
To his surprise, he managed to pass all the auditions and appears on the show.
He has progressed to such a point now that he plans to sell 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: “When it comes to jobs, I think I’m very lucky because I have a great job.
“I also love living in Barry, it’s amazing.”
For now, Robatto looks forward to the future of Doctor Who and is delighted to have writer Russell T Davies returning for the upcoming season, following Jodie Whittaker’s exit as Time Lord later this year.
“It’s interesting because they’re going to reorganize [Doctor Who]“said Mr. Robatto.
“Russell T Davies is coming back, which makes me happy.
“I expect exciting things to come out of it.”
You can visit Rubbertoe Replicas here to check out the accessory replicas and custom designs offered.