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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

watch it: 1980s Prime Computer ads (with Tom Baker and Lalla Ward)


Oh, wow. Where to begin even calculating the awful? I’d probably start with the typo — “ITS’” — in the first ad (if the computer’s grammar is that bad, I’m not gonna trust it to do anything), and then move on to the painful sexual innuendo in the last two ads. Prior to this, I would have said that I’m a fangirl who would appreciate sexual innuendo of any kind in connection with Doctor Who. Now, I know better.

(h/t to Ken for the YouTube link)



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  • You just added this so you could look at the hatstand.

  • tweeks

    From the computer nerd’s perspective, it’s fun to imagine (or “remember”!) the days when a comprehensive list of computer languages included both FORTRAN and FORTRAN 77. 30 years later, I think FORTRAN is still the most popular language on that list.

    Nitpick: “assembler” doesn’t really count as a featured language. Even back then, I’m pretty sure every computer was expected to come with an assembler. It’s a bit like a car company advertising “4 tires included with every vehicle!”

  • BBQ Platypus

    Just FYI, I consider these ads to be canon. Note that this means that in the Whoniverse, computers attained sentience in the early 80s.

  • AJP

    These ads remind me that I had a huge crush on Lalla Ward, and why I consider Richard Dawkins to be a ridiculously lucky man.

  • PJK

    Damn, we used to have one at the school I went to.
    It was mostly used by the students for Relay, a local chat client.

    All the serious stuff (such as games) was done on the XT and AT level PC’s. >B’)

    At least it was more user friendly than the old Burroughs Mainframe they pestered us with on the University.

  • gensing

    MaryAnne – The ‘typo’ may be just be the fact that there was no apostrophe on a computer back then. Double quotes were used in some languages but I can’t remember seeing single quotes or apostrophes. Perhaps I’ve forgotten, but computers were not very text friendly until after the PC and Mac came along and we started actually writing things on them other than programs.

    Tweeks – this is going way back in my addled brain to when I was programming in the US in the 70’s and 80’s, and ‘assembly language’ was used (mostly to build assemblers, etc). Maybe “assembler” is what the language was called in Britain? Or the name of the Assembly language specific to Prime Computers. Or maybe a typo? Once ‘C’ came along, assembly language was pretty much obsolete.

    I laughed that I used to know all those languages!

    So… my first Dr. Who (I got introduced in Britain in 74) and retro computer ad. Quite a nostalgic post!

  • MaryAnn

    The ‘typo’ may be just be the fact that there was no apostrophe on a computer back then. Double quotes were used in some languages but I can’t remember seeing single quotes or apostrophes.

    Nope, it’s definitely a horrendous typo. That screen in the first ad reads:

    OK, DOC-
    ITS’ FIXED

    There’s an apostrophe there: it’s just in the wrong place.

  • Brian

    Despite the general silliness, these two have terrific comic timing. I might actually have to track down some DVDs of Doctor Who. I’ve never watched a single episode. (Yes, I know, this guy was five or six “Doctors” ago. Or something.)

  • gensing

    [blockquote]There’s an apostrophe there: it’s just in the wrong place.[/blockquote]

    Oops – my bad.

  • From the computer nerd’s perspective, it’s fun to imagine (or “remember”!) the days when a comprehensive list of computer languages included both FORTRAN and FORTRAN 77. 30 years later, I think FORTRAN is still the most popular language on that list.

    I’m old enough to remember having to load tape-reel drives myself–and yet changing technology has already made them seem as contemporary as pet rocks and mood rings.

    Note that this means that in the Whoniverse, computers attained sentience in the early 80s.

    Of course, these ads did come out in the same decade that gave us movies like War Games, The Terminator and even Airplane 2, all of which featured sentient computers that went bad.

    In fact, for a while there, the “evil computer” cliche seemed like it would become the dominant sci-fi theme of the decade.

    Despite the general silliness, these two have terrific comic timing.

    Out of the two Romanas, I always preferred Mary Tamm myself. But unfortunately, apart from a bit appearance on an episode of Crime Traveler–a British sci-fi series on which she played the aunt of–you guessed it–a time traveler–she doesn’t appear to have done much in a sci-fi sense since she left the show.

    For that matter, I find it a bit disturbing that despite the chemistry of Baker and Ward, Lalla’s character seemed to be morphing into Jo Grant in some of those ads–at least as far as her personality…

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    Of course, these ads did come out in the same decade that gave us movies like War Games, The Terminator and even Airplane 2, all of which featured sentient computers that went bad.

    In fact, for a while there, the “evil computer” cliche seemed like it would become the dominant sci-fi theme of the decade.

    Heh, did you ever see “Electric Dreams?”

  • No. Did I miss anything?

  • These ads remind me that I had a huge crush on Lalla Ward, and why I consider Richard Dawkins to be a ridiculously lucky man.

    Amen!

    (Oh, sorry Richard…)

    Seriously, though, these are a delight! Thanks for putting them up.

  • Brian, I agree these two have great comedic timing. May I suggest City of Death if you’re serious about checking them out in Doctor Who? That it was written by Douglas Adams just makes it double-plus good!

    Thanks for posting these – I’ve seen one of them, but not the others. Loved it!

  • Brian

    Douglas Adams, eh? I’m there!

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