A guardian is defined as a “defender, protector or keeper.” Many cult-TV series throughout history have highlighted so-called “guardian” characters who protect some crucial aspect of life in the universe, and reveal, in the process, the hidden order or hierarchy of the cosmos.
In The Twilight Zone’s “The Howling Man,” a group of monks are the guardians of a secret that could destroy humanity. That strange, howling man in the basement of the monastery is not a mortal prisoner, but the Devil himself. And if he is set free, mankind suffers. Man can only find peace, we learn, when Lucifer is safely locked away and guarded. I have always viewed this particular Twilight Zone episode as a metaphor for man’s attempts at self-discipline. When we exercise self-control and rationality, we progress and find peace. When we succumb to irrationality and hatred, that devil escapes. We are thus the guardians of our own better and lesser angels.
In Space: 1999′s “The Guardian of Piri,” another strange machine-like device, the Guardian, is featured in a Year One story. Designed by alien beings on a faraway world, its purpose was to render “perfect” the lives of those it cared for. This task the machine did too well. It froze time (because perfection must last forever…), and transformed living people into mindless “cabbages” in the words of Commander Koenig (Martin Landau). To be perfect, apparently, by a machine’s definition is to remain untroubled and incurious, sedentary and sedated.
Sometimes a guardian protects only vestiges of a forgotten past. In both Jason of Star Command’s “The Power of the Star Disk” and Star Trek The Next Generation’s “The Last Outpost,” series protagonists encounter lonely “guardians” who are the last of their kind, Tantalution and T’kon, respectively. In the case of Jason of Star Command, the guardian wishes to pass on the knowledge of his now-dead race, and has remained alive and as a sentry until his people’s descendants could make contact with him. The “Portal” of the T’kon Empire in “The Last Outpost” is unaware that his empire his long gone, and that there is no need to vigilantly guard against visitors in his region of outer space.
The original Dr. Who series showcased a Manichean world view for a time through the presence of mirror-image guardians in Season 16, during the Tom Baker era. The White Guardian was a personification of order, while the Black Guardian was a representation of evil and chaos. Again, the presence of such guardians revealed much about the order of the universe and the status quo that keeps reality from collapse.
Another interesting facet of cult-tv guardians: despite their great power, they remain fallible. They need, in different programs, the help of the Enterprise crew, a renegade Time Lord, a man from the 20th century and in Jason of Star Command, aliens from another dimensions, to make things “right.” Maybe this development is a way for humans to understand our importance in the scheme of things. Even the Guardians who control the universe need a helping hand from time to time…