Monday, February 09, 2015

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Beards

A beard is the hair that grows on the neck, chin, cheeks, and across the upper lip of human beings (and even on some non-humans.) 

A beard, in terms of cult-tv history, is short-hand for either someone 1.) evil or 2.) mad.

The most famous beard in cult TV history is worn by Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in the Star Trek (1966 – 1969) episode “Mirror, Mirror.”).  

In that episode, Nimoy plays a mirror or parallel universe version of the peaceful half-Vulcan.  The presence of the beard is the instant “tell” that Kirk (Shatner) and co. are not in Kansas anymore.  Spock with a beard is absolutely bad-ass.

Spock’s evil beard has been lampooned both by South Park (with an alternate universe Cartman) and Mystery Science Theater 3000 (with a bearded Mike Nelson).

In terms of other “evil” beards, we have the first two (human-appearing) incarnations of The Master on Doctor Who (1963 – 1989) as evidence. Both Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley wear neat, thin beards as immediate evidence of their unscrupulous ways.

By contrast, no incarnation of The Doctor has been seen to wear a beard on a regular basis.  A mad version of the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), however, did wear a beard after the collapse of time…and his ensuing imprisonment at the hands of Winston Churchill.

Farscape (1999 – 2003) fits the same trend. John Crichton grows a beard in the episode “Crichton Kicks,” while spending months alone aboard a dying leviathan (living spaceship).

One exception to the rule about beards representing evil or madness also comes from Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 – 1994). Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) grew a beard during the second year of the Enterprise-D’s adventures, and suddenly came across as a charming rake, rather than a strutting brown-noser. Riker kept the beard until Star Trek: Insurrection in 1998, when Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) shaved it off. One episode in the seventh season, "Parallels," revealed Riker with an over-grown, crazy beard.

Briefly, Data also tried out a beard in the same series, in the episode “The Schizoid Man.”

In general terms, many recurring cult-tv villains are known for their beards.  Forehead ridges or no forehead ridges, Klingons always wear beards on Star Trek.  

And so do The Borellian Nomen (“The Man with Nine Lives” and “Baltar’s Escape”) of the original Battlestar Galactica (1978 – 1979). 

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