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Digital deviants: The many MAD COMPUTERS of Doctor Who

Through space and time with the universe's worst IT

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CAL and its Nodes

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In the universe of Doctor Who, even seemingly benign computers often do more harm than good. Take CAL and its various Nodes, the data system that ran the athenaeum planet in 2008’s two-parter, Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. It just wanted to help. But in this case, ‘helping’ meant digitising thousands of people into its own computer banks, bodies and all, like a Star Trek transporter where no one ever comes out the other end.

Screenshot from Doctor Who serial 'Silence in the Library'

Be very careful when you press Ctrl-S around this one
Source: BBC

The alternative – having the Library patrons’ bodies reduced to walking skeletons by the microscopic Vashta Nerada – was arguably worse. But life inside the simulated world of CAL’s memory core was no real picnic, and as the data banks filled up with more and more digitised people, the simulation became increasingly unstable. Even “Doctor Moon”, the artificially intelligent antivirus program housed in the Library’s satellite, was having trouble keeping CAL from overloading and destroying the planet.

In the end, David Tennant’s Doctor was able to extract all the ‘saved’ people and escort them to safety, but not without some loss of life – proof of the old adage that on-site backup probably isn't the best way to protect your critical data.

The Oracle of the P7E

Reg Hardware retro numbers

Of all the Doctor’s incarnations, Tom Baker’s had the most computer trouble. Small wonder, then, that he could spot a rogue computer whenever he saw one, even when the machine in question denied being one.

In 1978’s Underworld, the computer that had been running the long-lost spaceship P7E for a hundred thousand years had re-christened itself “the Oracle”, declared itself all-powerful and made slaves of all available humans under the watchful cameras of its kettle-headed robot Seers.

Screenshot from Doctor Who serial 'Underworld'

Larry Ellison’s megalomania is nothing compared to this Oracle’s
Source: BBC

To the Doctor, however, the Oracle was “just another machine with megalomania. Another insane object, another self-aggrandising artefact... Nothing but a mass of superheated junk with delusions of grandeur”.

The Oracle, quite naturally, didn’t take kindly to that description at all and ordered the Doctor destroyed. And you thought your Oracle support contract was bad. But the Doctor had the last laugh when, through some trivial sleight of hand, he left the Oracle’s Seers holding activated “two thousand megaton” bombs while he and the humans escaped – leaving the Oracle to conclude that it had failed and “deserved destruction” Sounds logical to us.

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