Monday, November 12, 2012

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Cyborgs

A cyborg is a being of both biological and artificial elements, and one with enhanced abilities due to technology.  Edgar Allen Poe was among the early authors to envision cyborgs, as early as 1843.

In cult-television history, cyborgs have proven both heroic and quite villainous in equal numbers, and sometimes in the same series. 

Based on the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin, The Six Million Dollar Man (1973 – 1978) introduced America to a heroic cyborg, Colonel Steve Austin (Lee Majors).  An astronaut before a deadly crash, Steve worked as a government agent (for the OSI) and his bionic implants included two legs, an arm and an eye. 

As the famous opening credits reminded us, Steve was “better…faster…stronger” than the average human.
The Bionic Woman (1976 – 1978) introduced Steve’s female counterpart, Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner), another agent at the OSI. Like Steve, Jaime had bionic legs and a bionic arm, but she had augmented hearing courtesy of a bionic ear.

Science fiction series set in “the future” have often featured human beings who saved from death and injury by mechanical implants or replacement organs. 

Professor Victor Bergman (Barry Morse) of Space: 1999 (1975 – 1977), for instance,  had a mechanical heart installed after his biological heart gave out, but nonetheless remained one of the series’ most human characters.  In some Year One stories, such as “Guardian of Piri,” the fact that Victor had a mechanical heart became an issue, and it was implied that he somehow came under alien control because of it.  In other stories, such as “The Infernal Machine,” the mechanical heart also played a role.

In 1988, during the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 – 1994), viewers learned that Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), like Bergman before him was also outfitted with a mechanical heart, and one that needed occasional servicing (“Samaritan Snare.”)  Some writers have also suggested that Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton) is a cyborg, since his mechanical VISOR permits the blind officer to see.

Malevolent cyborgs are numerous in sci-fi television history.  Doctor Who’s (1963 – 1989) two most famous and popular villains -- the Cybermen and the Daleks -- are both cyborgs, the blend of organic and artificial elements.  Kid Pedler’s Cyberman were former humans who augmented themselves with machine parts but found that losing their biology means, literally, losing humanity.

The Borg of Star Trek -- who are very similar in nature if not appearance to the Cybermen -- learned much the same lesson.  Cult-television seems to believe that cyborgs, if allowed to develop, will consider all humanoid life forms as nothing more than spare or replacement parts.  Famously, in the two-part Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Best of Both Worlds,” Picard was assimilated by the Borg and transformed into Locutus, a mouthpiece for the collective.

In the late 1990s, Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), a Borg separated from the collective, was a series regular on Star Trek: Voyager (1995 – 2001).  The statuesque character single-handedly made cyborgs sexy, and her Borg implants played as the visual equivalent of body-piercings or jewelry, in some way.  Seven of Nine looked exotic, and boasted physical and mental capabilities beyond her human crew-mates.  In some way, the character points to a future in which man can co-exist with cyborgs, and even consider them attractive alternatives to human specimens.

1 comment:

  1. Fine look at this, John. I'd only add 'The Cybernauts', a 1965 episode from the stellar British TV series, The Avengers (the John Steed and Emma Peel version). I realize you were staying within the television realm, but what of 'the more human than human' aspect from the film BLADE RUNNER? Thanks, John.