"The War Machines" (1966) was the first of a new kind of Doctor Who, a cool and contemporary invasion of London more like the show of the 70s - or now - than a typical first Doctor adventure. William Hartnell is at his bad-ass best facing down the robot monsters. (Though I also love his manic gurning when he takes a nuisance phonecall).
The story sees the newly opened Post Office Tower taken over by an evil computer, who can, get this, TALK TO OTHER COMPUTERS BY TELEPHONE! I have spoken before in more detail of Doctor Who and Computers:
The Doctor fights to save the fashionable, modern people of London from a computer virus spreading down the telephone line. Today, computer viruses are a common blight in our lives, continually costing companies a fortune and getting in the way of us emailing our pals. What’s more, the virus here hypnotises humans, and is the first stage in a programme to make the species extinct. The Doctor fights to save humanity from the aggressor. [...]WOTAN is also, of course, responsible for the dystopian future of my first novel, Doctor Who and the Time Travellers (a sort of first Doctor Turn Left). I sometimes dream luridly of a similarly fast-cutting trailer, mashing up explosions round Canary Wharf train station with the horror-struck faces of the first TARDIS crew.
WOTAN’s virus working on humans isn’t so unfeasible. Neal Stephenson’s modern tech novel “Snow Crash” makes the same plot a plausible threat to the computer industry, something portrayed as a real-world danger, rather than the funky, modish fantasy it seemed in 1966. It’s not the computer the Doctor has problems with – in fact, he seems quite impressed with it. It’s WOTAN’s invasive, misanthropic plans the Doctor finds “evil”. That, and it referring to him as “Doctor Who”.
It’s also interesting that part of WOTAN’s plan is ultimate global domination – and not just NW1, as it seems onscreen. Though WOTAN may seem quaint and clunky now, compared to what was going on in the real world at the same time, it was pretty cutting edge technology. Made-up, but cutting edge.
What we know today as the Internet first appeared in recognisable form in 1969. Four computers were connected to the ARPANET – though the very first user got as far as the letter ‘G’ when trying to LOGIN before the system crashed.
It was created on the understanding that a network of connected computer stations would survive, say, a nuclear strike. One of the system’s multiple locations might be destroyed, but the others would continue. This was back in the days when nuclear war was a major concern, and the system was only going to be used by the military and academics – for purposes far more worthy than episode guides and pornography.
As a result, there wasn’t exactly a rush to join up. By 1971, the system was connected to 15 computers. The first email programme was written the following year. And in 1973 ARPANET went international – connecting to a computer at University College London (just down the road from WOTAN).
At this point in the Doctor Who universe, the best technical minds were a little further ahead.
So this may be the third Droo DVD in a row I am compelled to purchase. Doctor Who is required.