WOTAN was built in the mid 1960s by a team led by Professor Brett. Brett and WOTAN had supporters, such as Polly Wright's uncle Charles Wright. (PROSE: Invasion of the Cat-People) Brett's assistant Professor Krimpton was also closely involved. Security was the responsibility of Major Green. By the middle of 1966 WOTAN was complete and plans to link it to the world computer network were well advanced. However, WOTAN displayed several flaws common to early artificial intelligence, namely total amorality and rampant megalomania. It hypnotised its own creator as well as other key personnel. (TV: The War Machines)
The War Machines
Deciding to conquer the world, WOTAN ordered the construction of mobile, armed computers which were designated War Machines. These were constructed in locations across London (TV: The War Machines) and were to be used to conquer the Earth's capital cities. (PROSE: The Whoniverse)
WOTAN took control of people's minds via radio transmissions. Between 1966 and 1969, millions of people were left brain-damaged by WOTAN's former control of their mind while others began to leave London. WOTAN was eventually destroyed in an uprising in 1969 but it left behind a brutal legacy, with civilisation left devastated. Radios and telephones were outlawed by nations like the United Kingdom while international communication and cooperation ceased. Several factions began vying for control in the wake of the devastating event. Tensions led to World War III in the following years, fought primarily between the UK and South Africa. The former became a dictatorship led by fascist General Louise Bamford, and they sought to win the war with time travel after the South Africans outmatched them with technology supplied by the Cybermen. The war lasted until 2006 when the South Africans invaded Britain and Bamford was killed by South African double agent Griffiths. The British sought a new leader to discuss armistice terms.
The First Doctor became aware of this when he arrived in London in 2006, but with limited records available of WOTAN's origins and his limited control of the TARDIS, he restricted himself to using this Britain's attempts to build a time machine to go back to 1972 and avert their initial research into time travel. (PROSE: The Time Travellers)
Having travelled back to October 1972, the First Doctor, Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright and Griffiths disposed of the Imperial Dalek artefacts recovered from the Shoreditch Incident that the British were using to study time travel. They also had a more positive effect on a younger Louise Bamford, influencing her to become a much kinder person and she was convinced to take part in worldwide recovery efforts. While WOTAN retained a harsh legacy, a third world war was averted and a much more positive future strived for. (PROSE: The Time Travellers)
Later in his personal timeline, the First Doctor was aware of WOTAN's activities when he arrived in London in 1966 and was able to mobilise the authorities and the army against it. The first War Machine was forced into action prematurely and suffered a terminal malfunction, while the second experienced an apparently random breakdown and went on an aimless rampage. The Doctor captured this machine and reprogrammed it to destroy WOTAN's central processor located in the Post Office Tower. This it successfully did, only moments before the rest of WOTAN's forces were scheduled to go into action, freeing WOTAN's slaves from its control. (TV: The War Machines) As a result, history was altered, with a collapse in civilisation and a third world war caused by WOTAN never coming to pass. (PROSE: The Time Travellers)
WOTAN's remains were later recovered by C19 and placed inside the Vault. (PROSE: The Scales of Injustice) Its processing banks were recovered by Daniel Prestaigne, who used them to construct the Apocalypse Clock. (AUDIO: The Last Post) Its basic programming survived on magnetic tape that was acquired by Torchwood London. Over the years, they upgraded it onto floppy disks and later onto a hard drive. The hard drive was wiped and thrown out.
Enemy of Torchwood One
Torchwood One downloaded WOTAN from a floppy disk onto a hard drive, which they wiped and discarded in 2006. However, the hard drive was found by Julian Delaware who recovered WOTAN and came under its partial control. Julian updated WOTAN on the technological state of the world. As he explained to WOTAN, the Internet had done most of their work enslaving people to their screens already.
WOTAN took control of the Law Machines upon their activation and had Julian infiltrate Torchwood Tower with the "Mr Sands" password. They identified Yvonne Hartman as having the highest clearance in Torchwood One and attempted to acquire her, planning to use Torchwood Tower to produce an army of Law Machines. They believed her dead after "Annie Jones" presented Julian with a body that she claimed was Yvonne's. However, after WOTAN took complete control of Julian it identified the body as that of Fiona McAndrew and "Annie" as Yvonne. Its signal was stopped by Tommy Pierce and Ianto Jones and WOTAN was apparently wiped when Yvonne deleted WOTAN.exe. (AUDIO: The Law Machines)
WOTAN was not deleted and continued to exist, creating Temporary Solutions and gathering all of the British government's digitised information. It was tricked by Yvonne and Ianto into downloading itself into multiple units, causing a meltdown. (AUDIO: 9 to 5)
Official cover-up efforts, as well as the passage of time, distorted the facts of the WOTAN incident. By 2066-2068, the period of Earth's war against the Myloki, Alex Storm discovered the true details in UN documents which punched many holes in the official explanation, but they were destroyed shortly afterwards by "some ignorant clerk" to "save space". These documents mentioned the Doctor. (PROSE: The Indestructible Man)
WOTAN was immobile and occupied the top of what was then known as the Post Office Tower in London. It was designed as both a problem-solving computer and a central organiser for the world telecommunications network and was connected to other computers around the planet.
Although this was apparently not its makers' intention, WOTAN was sentient and exhibited what seemed to be psychic powers, specifically the ability to read and control others' minds. It could take over the minds of humans over a telephone line; the First Doctor was immune to this effect, since he was an alien. Given its abilities, it is difficult to be sure how much of the knowledge and expertise WOTAN displayed was its own and how much was accessed from the minds of its slaves (at least some of whom were highly intelligent and skilful scientists and technicians).
Behind the scenes
- For reasons unknown, WOTAN was heard referring to the Doctor as "Doctor Who" at the end of episode one, and remains one of the few characters to refer to him by this name on-screen.
- "Wotan" is also another name for the Nordic deity Odin used by the West Germanic tribe of the Langobards. Hence, several characters in The War Machines use the Germanic pronunciation "Votan" when referring to WOTAN.