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Digital deviants: The many MAD COMPUTERS of Doctor Who

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WOTAN

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The first Doctor faced arguably the most archetypal of mechanised threats: WOTAN, the Will Operating Thought ANalogue from the 1966 serial The War Machines, was a computer that wanted computers to rule the world in place of humans.

WOTAN didn’t plan to go it alone. Its goal was to link all the world’s computers under its own control in an event called C-Day - 16 July, if you’d like to mark your calendar. In the meantime, it practised by hypnotising humans to work as its drones, via signals that could even be transmitted over the telephone network – a neat plot twist, considering that mass-produced phone modems had only appeared a few years earlier.

Screenshot from Doctor Who serial 'The War Machines'

This Germanic-sounding contraption planned a one-computer blitzkreig
Source: BBC

Job One for WOTAN’s human slaves was to build an army of 12 “mobile computers” – the eponymous War Machines – designed to go tearing around London, smashing things up while they disabled the humans’ weapons using some unseen force.

Fortunately for the Doctor, he was able to capture one of the War Machines and turn it on WOTAN itself. It seems some of the mobile computers had been set about their tasks without being “completely programmed” – a classic IT project cock-up if there ever was one.

Mentalis

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Mentalis was another thinking machine bent on war, but this one was less concerned with winning than with making sure the humans lost. In 1979’s The Armageddon Factor, it presided over the deserted planet Zeos, from which it waged a never-ending campaign against neighboring Atrios. So effective at its job was Mentalis that the Marshal of Atrios, commander of that planet’s armed forces, didn’t even realise that there were no living Zeons left and that he was only fighting a battle computer.

Screenshot from Doctor Who serial 'The Armageddon Factor'

The new mainframe we bought from the Planet of Evil just doesn’t have the quality of our old one
Source: BBC

Dismantling Mentalis and restoring peace on Atrios took the combined efforts of the fourth Doctor and Drax, a fellow Time Lord who originally built the machine. And even that called for some fiddling around with the flow of time itself, or else Mentalis, upon realising the war was over, would have self-destructed, obliterating both Atrios and Zeos in the process.

In all, we’d say Mentalis’ programming seemed to have overstepped its remit somewhat. But then, when you're looking at stocking your data center with systems built by someone called the Shadow, who lives someplace called the Planet of Evil and who claims to be a servant of the Black Guardian, maybe you should get a second quote.

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Next page: The Master Brain

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