Zeerust – does Doctor Who suffer from it and does it matter?

Mercury fluid linkI recently came across the idea of zeerust and wondered – does it apply to Doctor Who? This got me thinking and led to this post. I am sure that there are many examples of zeerust in Doctor Who and I described only a couple. Sometimes I think it is quaint, other times it really annoys me.

Oh – I just thought; I haven’t even explained what zeerust is!

What is zeerust?

We have Douglas Adams and John Lloyd to thank for this – in their book The Meaning of Liff  they give the following definition:

Zeerust: the particular kind of datedness which afflicts things that were originally designed to look futuristic

The article in which I came across the idea is on tvtropes.org and is simply called Zeerust. It is worth a read and talks about all kinds of science fiction including Doctor Who – the TARDIS console comes in for a lot of stick. Anyway – a show as venerable as Doctor Who must have plenty of zeerust tucked away and is even now making more for the future (yes Matt Smith console #1 I mean you!)

Zeerust in general

LCARSBoth Star Trek (Original Series) contains plenty of zeerust: The whole Enterprise bridge is fabulously dated and even The Next Generation (and spin-offs) started with a massively updated computer interface (LCARS) then in a time travel story bemoaned the fact that it was only two dimensional.

The most amusing is any episode where the Enterprise had to travel in time and you saw the date display flipping backwards. The original Time Machine movie did a lot better with its proto-steampunk chariot.

Millenium Falcon targeting computerStar Wars itself may have opened up state of the art computer and film techniques but take a look at the targeting computer graphics from the Millennium Falcon. The rest of the film may have stood the test of time (which didn’t stop George Lucas fiddling with it) but this one piece is as good a piece of zeerust as you will ever see.

There are plenty of other examples (see the article mentioned earlier) and mostly they don’t detract too much at the time but do date things.

Zeerust in Doctor Who

It is important not to confuse dated wobbly sets with zeerust. You also need to separate out deliberate attempts to be futuristic from merely shooting  a scene in London and calling it the future. I really like Dalek Invasion of Earth for many reasons; part of its appeal is that the future East London docks are actually a time capsule showing us a long since erased past.

The mercury fluid link pictured at the start of this piece is also probably not zeerust – the idea may be (fervid fans please look away now) one of many bits of nonsense from a scientific point of view but the realisation is fine and as a dramatic device it works well. TARDIS key on the other hand…

Tenth Planet CybermanYou can pick on such gems as the Tenth Planet Cybermen but don’t confuse their weird voice (Nick Briggs has a lot to say on this subject) with zeerust. They are alien even if over the years the costumes have suffered (1970s and 80s) from being cheap and having very visible trainers.

Fundamentally the design is bizarre and unwieldy (Daleks anyone?) and yet the Cybermen have risen above it (it helps having no emotions) and are now the masterful (and almost steampunk) creations we see today.

doctor-who-journey-to-the-centre-of-the-tardis-machine-roomHaving the idea of zeerust makes one almost want to challenge it and I suggest that is what the show set out to do in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. Here we see gallons of Time Lord technology and it doesn’t hide behind anything contemporary. No, we get black holes and mad organic constructs that can literally grow the TARDIS and alter its internal appearance (now as for that chameleon circuit…).

This is all no excuse for the TARDIS console made out of bits of old junk and the show deliberately embraces old telephones just to avoid any chance of being out of date in the future.

And finally…

Well I hope I have at least taught a few of you a new word and I’d really like your views: does zeerust matter? What are your examples? Which bits do you hate and which do you secretly like? Please do let me know!

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