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Notable computers on TV, from Omnitrix to Earth


Computers are my life. Well, a big part of it anyway. And since you’re reading this, chances are they’re a big part of your life too. We use them for work, school, play and everything in between. Then again, you could be someone’s technically unaware grandma who found this printed out on some crumpled up paper used as packing material for your newest Hummell.

Not only are computers part of our lives, but they consume the lives of those we watch in movies and TV. Some of them are as large as cities, some of them talk and have personalities, and some of them even have pet names. Here’s a list of some of the more notable computers on TV (and before you whine, this is not counting robots):

ARDVARC (Get Smart)
The Automated Reciprocal Data Verifier And Reaction Computer is the central computer owned by Max’s employer, CONTROL. Its best friend is a cigarette machine — how quaint for a show of the ’60s. And let’s not forget the lack of political correctness of the time: on episode number 50 (“The Girls from KAOS”), ARDVARC scans its databases for a particular Asian KAOS enemy agent, but eventually concludes it can’t find the agent because “they all look alike.”

Sadly, on episode number 109 (“Leadside”), ARDVARC blows up. Rumor has it the cigarette machine, overcome with grief, traveled to Japan and now dispenses iPods and eyebrow trimmers in downtown Tokyo.

The GeneralThe General (The Prisoner)
“If you wish to be free, there is only one way: destroy The General.” The Prisoner was all about trying to get out of that odd place known as The Village, so whatever it took to get the hell out of there, Number Six was listening.

Number Two at one point brags that The General can answer any question. Number Six decides to screw with it and types four characters on a piece of paper and feeds it into The General, which causes it to go bonkers and self-destruct. What destroyed the computer? A simple question. In Number Six’s words: “It’s insoluble, for man or machine: W-H-Y QUESTION MARK. Why?” Alas, it didn’t set him free.

MatrixThe Matrix (Doctor Who)
No, not the Matrix from the movies (but what were they thinking using that same name anyway?). From Wikipedia: “The Matrix, in the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who, is a massive computer system on the planet Gallifrey that acts as the repository of the combined knowledge of the Time Lords.” Holy crap, that’s pretty damned massive.

“The Matrix is part of the Amplified Panatropic Computer Network, or APC Net, which contains the biological imprints (or bio-data extracts) of all Time Lords as well as the memories of dead Time Lords, storing them in an extradimensional framework of trillions of electrochemical cells. It also receives input from sensors contained in the TARDIS time machines piloted by Time Lords. As a result, the Matrix is not only a record of the past but can actually predict the future as well. The amount of knowledge in the Matrix, though vast, is not complete, and can be tampered with if given the right amount of access.”

If a person dies while linked to the Matrix, he dies in the real world as well. Now where did I hear that before?

dr. theopolisDr. Theopolis (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century)
Poor Theo. He’s considered one of the leading Earth scientists of the 25th century yet, since he’s built into what’s essentially a semi-transparent canteen, he has to resort to being worn as a giant medallion around the neck of some stupid little robot named Twiki to get around. Seeing as Twiki’s idea of intelligent conversation is always prefaced with (or only consisting of) “bidi-bidi-bidi,” it makes sense he never came back after season one. Hopefully he used that superior intelligence to actually build himself some kind of locomotion he could be proud of.

Enterprise computerComputer (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
Likely the most well-known computer on this list, “Computer” — as it’s so lovingly called on the show — was voiced by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s wife, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who passed away just last December. The computer screens (displaying the LCARS operating system, for you Trekkies) are unmistakable. Many have tried to duplicate the interface within today’s technology, but to me it all looks like crap against the “real” thing. From controlling the Holodeck to brewing the perfectly hot Earl Grey, there wasn’t much Computer couldn’t do.

vector sigmaVector Sigma (Transformers)
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the original Transformers that I’d almost forgotten about the godlike computer that gave them all life. This ancient multiversal super computer could exist across many universes, as they networked together as the “Vector Sigma Gestalt.” Sounds like an early implementation of an impossibly powerful WRFWAN (Wireless Really Frakking Wide Area Network).

KITTK.I.T.T. (Knight Rider)
This is K.I.T.T. from the original Knight Rider, not the inferior current series. What’s that? You never heard of the new series? Oh, I envy you.

The Knight Industries Two Thousand might have been constrained to the dashboard of an ’82 Trans Am, but it could easily outperform and outclass any other talking computer of its time. Seeing as this was the ’80s, I guess that’s not saying much. Back then, kids really wanted a K.I.T.T for their very own. Today’s K.I.T.T.? Yaawwwn. I’m sorry, what were we talking about again?

HollyHolly (Red Dwarf)
Holly, the ship Red Dwarf’s main computer, had the same IQ as “6,000 PE teachers or 12,000 car park attendants.” Obviously the senile, holographic computer had a bit of a sense of humor. What else would explain it going through a virtual sex change … twice?

In series one and two, the human persona of Holly was a balding man. Starting in series three, Holly’s human persona was a woman. During the last season, the original person who played Holly returned to the series, this time completely bald. Talk about an identity crisis.

ziggyZiggy (Quantum Leap)
Ziggy, the Quantum Leap parallel hybrid project computer, was responsible for tracking Sam in his travels through time, while at the same time projecting holographic images of his colleague, Al, to help him find his way home. In one episode, Sam briefly returned home and confronted Ziggy, saying he regretted programming it with the “ego of Barbara Streisand.” Ziggy had a memory storage capacity of one billion gigabytes (or 1 exabyte for you fellow geeks) and was programmed not to feel guilt. Wait, computers need to be programmed not to feel guilt? My laptop’s got some explaining to do.

omnitrixOmnitrix (Ben 10)
The Omnitrix beats out Dr. Theopolis as the smallest “computer” on this list. This wrist-worn device consists of so much alien technology that the term “computer” is the closest earthly way to describe it, other than “gadget” or “freakin’ weird, green-glowing, alien watch doo-hickey thingamabob.” This device, worn by the title character Ben, could transform him into any number of strange alien creatures that were stored within the device, by combining with his DNA when he turned its dial to a selected alien and slapped the top of it.

The oddest thing about this device: how many way-too-old kids want to wear a toy version of this thing and post videos about it on YouTube.

The TurkThe Turk (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles)
(From resident Sarah Connor Chronicles expert Bob Degon, here’s this:) “This isn’t just your friendly chess-playing computer; the Turk is the machine destined to send a bunch of nukes flying across the planet, destroying the human race as we know it. You know, Skynet? The computer was originally built by Andy Goode as a supercomputer to challenge human chess players. The only problem was that Mr. Goode made it a little too smart, and it ended up falling into the hands of Catherine Weaver. Now going by the name of John Henry, the computer is only getting smarter by the day.”

Will the Connors be able to stop it before the rise of the machines? Maybe. Then again, maybe Mr. John Henry will be replaced by the fearsome Paul Bunyan or The notorious Pecos Bill.

RALF Whiz KidsRALF (Whiz Kids)
Richie, Ham, Jeremy and Alice were a group of high school hacker-sleuths who used Richie’s talking computer, RALF, to track down information to solve crimes. They’d easily hack into government computers and pretty much anything else computerized, all with the same absurd ease as Matthew Broderick in the movie WarGames. Remember, this was all likely via 300 baud modems and no Internet, when most of us early adopters had Commodore 64s and Tandys. I have no idea if RALF stood for anything, but it could be used to describe the show by today’s standards: Really Absurd Laughable Farce.

CORAC.O.R.A. (Battlestar Galactica)
C.O.R.A., or “Computer, Oral Response Activated,” was installed in the recon Vipers — most notably in the briefly shown Starchaser, piloted by Starbuck — in the original Battestar Galactica series. You can catch C.O.R.A. in action in the seventh episode of season one, titled “The Long Patrol.” If you’ve seen anything of this series, you’ll quickly find that the female persona and personality of C.O.R.A. and Starbuck’s bravado are perfectly matched. In fact, Starbuck was probably a bit disappointed when he learned that “Oral Response” meant that the computer talked.

Luckily, the new series has nothing like this. Apparently they’re fitted with the voiceless C.O.R.D. version of the system.

Swan Station computer from LostThe Dharma Swan Station computer (Lost)
For years Desmond was forced to enter a now very familiar code into this modified Apple ][+ computer every 108 minutes, then a rotating team of Losties after him: 4 8 15 16 23 42. This terminal and the tons of attached mainframe-like pieces are now strewn about the mysterious island after Desmond turned a failsafe key, which somehow spared his life … or did it? One question I still have is: what happened to the other terminal that Walt used to talk to his father?

Some things will likely never be explained, like why someone couldn’t write a simple Applesoft BASIC program to automate this. 20 GOTO 10!

deep thoughtDeep Thought and Earth (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
I’d almost forgotten about adding these to this list, seeing as I only know them as computers from the awesome Douglas Adams book. BBC ran one series of this show in the early ’80s and it even won several awards. I wonder if it will ever appear (or reappear) on BBCA for us Yanks to check out.

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, first of all: shame on you. This city-sized (at least in the book, though not so much on the series) super computer was built by a race of advanced beings to tell them “the answer” to “life, the universe and everything.” After 7.5 million years, its response: 42.

Since Deep Thought didn’t actually have the ultimate “question” for that answer, it had to build an even larger, more sophisticated computer to find it. This super computer (the greatest ever built) was known as the planet Earth, which was blown out of existence by Vogons to make room for a “hyperspatial express route” in the beginning of the series. Enter Arthur Dent, and you know the rest or should go find out.

Doogie HowserDoogie Howser’s PS/2 (Doogie Howser, M.D.)
This might seem like an odd choice for this list, but there’s no doubt that Doogie’s PC could have earned itself a place in the show’s cast list. At the end of every episode — and sometimes at different points throughout — Doogie would enter his daily diary entry into his trusty IBM PS/2 PC. Remember those? Me, I started out with an Apple //e (see Dharma Swan Station computer, similar).

If Doogie published his entries on a BBS, he may have been a blogging pioneer with his microblog-like memoirs. Here’s a short scene of Doogie making one of his entires, and here’s Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother, spoofing one of his own scenes (though on a modern-like laptop). Awesome.

Bat ComputerThe Bat Computer (Batman)
Though not nearly as cool looking as the Bat Computers of the animated series or movies, the original live-action show’s computer was unparalleled in how quickly it could spit out data to the dynamic duo … on a bat-matrix printer, no less. Meaningless lights and sounds aside, no other computer system in the city of Gotham could match what was stowed away within the confines of the rock-walled Bat Cave.

Mr. SmithMr. Smith (The Sarah Jane Adventures)
(Since I know nothing of this show, I’ll leave it to our own Bill White to give the details:) “No list of TV’s computers would be complete without a mention of “Mr. Smith” from this BBC Doctor Who spin-off series. This series is probably unfamiliar to most U.S. television viewers, as the BBC seems quite stingy in sharing all their shows with us. It is available on DVD, though, and I suggest any fan of the good Doctor check it out. Mr. Smith (voiced by Alexander Armstrong) is a “veddy British” voiced computer, who resembles a flat screen TV. He is absolutely of the K.I.T.T. and Dr. Theopolis school of cool TV computer types. What makes Mr. Smith unique is his personality. He has a huge ego (he claims he can hack into any computer system) and likes to report on celebrity gossip. He started out as a bad guy, but was eventually “rebooted” into a nice guy. He still doesn’t care for K9, though.

“Doctor Who fans can see a cameo by Mr. Smith in the “Stolen Earth” finale episode. For the rest of you, buy those DVDs!”

H.E.Y.D.A.R.H.E.Y.D.A.R. (The Middleman)
The High Energy Yield Data Accumulation Resource is (and you have to imagine this in Middleman’s voice in your head when you read this) “a global analysis and information gathering device capable of performing on-board evidence analysis as well as universal intelligence searches across all data platforms”. I’ll let you catch your breath now.

The HEYDAR can be connected directly into Middleman’s robotic assistant, Ida, or it can be used by him directly. It has the capability of accessing any database on any computer system in the world and is armed with a variety of weapons and destructive devices, including a shrink ray (and the reverse) and a switch that can initiate a self-destruct sequence for Middleman HQ. Seeing as the show hasn’t gotten a renewal nod yet, maybe that’s just what’s happened.

Dennis Blunden & WilmaFred and Wilma (Head of the Class)
Resident fat kid of Charlie Moore’s IHP class, Dennis Blunden, sat beside Wilma in pretty much every classroom scene on the show. Back then, a computer on a kid’s desk either meant they were devoid of any social life whatsoever, a gifted genius, slacking off playing Rogue or all of the above. These days it’d probably be commonplace for a laptop on every kid’s desk in an IHP class, only this time it’d be to play NetHack. Dennis probably named his computer Wilma so he could tell his mom he was swapping notes with a pretty girl sitting next to him in class.

Actually, Dennis kinda looks like Fred sitting there in the picture, doesn’t he?

Photo Credit: ABC;BBC;CBS;NBC;FOX;Cartoon Network;ABC Family

Categories: | Clack | Doctor Who | Features | General |

15 Responses to “Notable computers on TV, from Omnitrix to Earth”

January 26, 2009 at 3:10 PM

Ok, the fact that you mentioned The Matrix from Dr. Who earns you serious geek points! Huzzah! (and yeah, Davison is my favorite!)

January 26, 2009 at 3:21 PM

It’s Doctor Who, mister.

-10 geek points for you!

January 26, 2009 at 4:29 PM

That’s an impressive list! I think the IRA computer from the cheesy ’70s “Wonder Woman” series (when they brought it into the “present day”) would have been worth a mention. Or maybe the fembots from “Bionic Woman”? I guess they were a different breed, androids. They’d make a good subject for another post.

January 26, 2009 at 5:10 PM

Electra Woman and Dyna Girl had the Crimescope Computer. Its notable because the whole program was pretty much made them the super heroes they were, as well as helped the find and solve the crimes. Wheee! Marlena (oops…Electra Woman) standing in front of that computer is a very vivid image of my childhood.

Its kinda cool to see computers live past most of their hype. That doesn’t happen very often with sci-fi ideas!

January 26, 2009 at 5:11 PM

Aaccck! I had an extra word in there…damned computer.

January 26, 2009 at 6:39 PM

First of all, lol to the 20 goto 10. Second of all, what happened to HAL? Otherwise, loved the seemingly extensive list – ;)

January 26, 2009 at 8:04 PM

HAL was movies. I was just covering TV.

January 26, 2009 at 6:42 PM

Two BBC related quibbles – The original Hitchhikers Guide is available on DVD, so go rent it instead of waiting for BBCA to air some 20 year old show (fat chance unless there’s a movie tie-in…oh, wait, too late for that). Sarah Jane Adventures was on SciFi Channel and is available on DVD as well, if you care to check it out. It’s not like these things don’t exist beyond their original airings!

January 26, 2009 at 6:57 PM

Orac and Slave from Blake’s 7.

January 27, 2009 at 12:57 AM

Will *someone* please find out from Javi or ABC Family what’s going on with The Middleman?


January 27, 2009 at 12:59 PM

What about that robot on “Rip Tide?”

January 27, 2009 at 1:07 PM

Like I said, no robots in this list.

January 27, 2009 at 4:50 PM

Great Job mentioning H.E.Y.D.A.R.

You can find a little something about Middleman happenings @ I remember reading one that seemed to be a teaser of a new season.

Also, what about Penny’s computer on Inspector Gadget? Her, Brain and Gadget would have all been toast without it.

January 27, 2009 at 4:50 PM

I’m surprised no one else has complained that you have Next Generation’s Computer, not Star Trek in general, or THE Star Trek’s Computer. In fact, I’d likely stick an M5 (multitronic unit) from the original series in, but not necessarily at the expense of any of the rest of your excellent list. Nice job (Star Trek judgment call blunder aside, lol.)

February 1, 2009 at 4:29 AM

Here’s another one for your list: AGNES, from the ‘Twilight Zone’ episode “From Agnes, With Love”. AGNES declared “her” love for the technician that worked with her, played by Wally Cox.

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