Doctor Who: Before There Was the Sonic Screwdriver There Was the First Doctor's Ring
Aside from the Tardis, the piece of equipment that is most associated with The Doctor is his all-purpose, and in my opinion extremely over-used, tool the sonic screwdriver. Of the 12 different incarnations of the Time Lord only three Doctors have completely forsworn using the device on television, and considering the merchandising potential of the artifact it's highly doubtful that Peter Capaldi will not also have one on hand.
But before the device became The Doctor's trusty side-arm, there was another piece of alien technology that he used to get out scrapes. Namely, a signet ring worn by the First Doctor that was far more than mere jewelry.
The First Doctor wore the ring on the third finger of his left hand. It was large and ornate, and in color pictures from the set you can see that the crystal mounted on it is a deep blue. Occasional he took it off, such as when he was briefly forced to sell it in "The Reign of Terror" for clothes to blend in with Revolution-era France, but in general it was a constant part of his costume.
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The ring had many of the same abilities that were later seen to be included in the sonic screwdriver. The first was a keen connection to the Tardis itself. The Doctor could use it to remotely power the doors of the ship. Unlike the sonic, the ring's powers mostly seemed to be light-based. After the Monk managed to disable the locking mechanism on the Tardis door in an attempt to strand The Doctor on Tigus, The Doctor used the light of the alien sun refracted through the crystal to undo the damage. This process is apparently dangerous to humans as he told Steven to shut his eyes.
The ring also aids in hypnotism, allowing The Doctor to not only mesmerize humanoid subjects, but even control the ant-like Zarbi in "The Web Planet". Considering that The Doctor's abilities with mind-melds and other psychic-based powers have grown considerably over the course of his lives, he longer seems to need an exterior tool to accomplish these feats. Another out-dated use of the ring was its capability to protect from electrical shocks as seen in "The War Machine". Both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors have survived direct lightning strikes with almost no damage, indicating that he may have grown resistant to electrical damage.
Ultimately, the Second Doctor discarded the ring carelessly within minutes of his birth, saying that it no long fit his new form. His early career as an adventurer was almost completely free of gadgets, though he did use a device to disable the fatally electrified doors of the Cybermen tombs on Telos. It may have been this reminder to the ring's earlier usefulness that prompted him to begin working on the sonic screwdriver that would debut in "Fury From the Deep" and would fulfill the ring's role as a multi-use tool that would be applicable despite body-size fluctuations in future incarnations.
Long after the Second Doctor had casually thrown the ring aside, his seventh incarnation found it in the Tardis console and started wearing it in post-cancellation comic adventures as it apparently fit once again. This may have been more an act of nostalgia than a desire to use its capabilities as he also constructed a new sonic screwdriver at some point in this era but did not actually use it. He is clearly not wearing it when he visits San Francisco in 1999 and is shot to death by gang members. The reason for this is explained in the Paul Cornell New Adventure novel Human Nature that was later adapted for television as a Tenth Doctor story. In the book, The Doctor gives Joan Redfern the ring as a parting gift after leaving behind his John Smith identity. Whether the Tenth Doctor did the same is unknown, as is the final fate of the ring in televised canon.
There is one final aspect of the ring that may actually be the most telling about the origin of The Doctor. The Lance Parkin novel Cold Fusion explicitly states that the ring at one time belong to a figure from Gallifreyan history known as The Other. Who was The Other? According to Lungbarrow, which is probably the most important spin-off novel in all of Doctor Who, The Other worked alongside Omega and Rassilon in order to transform the Gallifreyans into Time Lords. However, though both Omega and Rassilon continued to influence history and were well-documented, almost nothing was known about The Other. It was even rumored that he may not have been Gallifreyan at all.
In Lungbarrow it's shown that the same feats that made them masters of time also caused the Time Lords to become sterile. No longer able to reproduce biologically, they developed genetic looms that would weave children from raw material. When Rassilon began to seize tyrannical power, The Other supposedly threw himself into one of the looms, awaiting the day of his reconstruction. It has been heavily implied that The Doctor is that reconstruction, especially when the First Doctor retuned to Gallifrey's founding to rescue the last naturally-born Time Lord, Susan Foreman, granddaughter of The Other.
And of course, he wore his ring.
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