Did the Borg ensure Star Trek’s success?

By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues

Copyright Owen Quinn

This made the Borg even more frightening. They were voiceless vampires that could swoop from the sky at any time and take you away, chopping off limbs and organs to make you like them. Only the battle had been won, the war continued.

It’s no secret that the first couple of years of the newly launched Star Trek the Next Generation were muddled to say the least. Many plots were sub standard with only a few glimmers of brilliance such as Conspiracy and Where No Man has Gone Before. The second season saw temporary cast changes and new positions for some of the crew which would see them through to the end of the movies. Guinan, played by Whoopi Goldberg was introduced in a new set Ten Forward, a bar for the crew to relax in between their adventures and daily routines.

The Romulans had been brought back at the end of season one as the new big bad in lethal war ships and the Klingons were now firm allies with the Federation, at least for now. The parasitic alien thread that started in Conspiracy that saw Federation personnel possessed ended disappointingly there. So many stories were about the Prime Directive, alien ambassadors and exploring each character’s background which saw evil android brothers, fathers and mothers all turning up to resolve outstanding personal issues. The best episodes were undoubtedly the Klingon episodes that explored Worf’s background and position as the sole Klingon in the Federation to serve on a starship. The irrepressible Q, played by John De Lancie, had proved a massive hit with fans as the bane of Picard’s existence but something was missing. The series hadn’t gelled as yet despite having run for two years, with a rather poor season two finale comprising of clips from old adventures.

However one man had an idea for a brand new enemy. The show was called the Next Generation so it needed a new generation of enemies. Maurice Hurley, head writer at the time, devised a race called the Borg. Initially they were to be an insectoid species but this idea was quickly shunted in favour of a cyborg race that listened to no one and took what they wanted when they wanted.

Their seeds were planted in the season finale of series one when the Enterprise plays a game of cat and mouse with a Romulan ship while investigating the disappearance of entire outposts along the Neutral Zone. Nothing remains; neither technology nor personnel but the word is the Romulans, who have shut themselves off from the rest of the galaxy for years, are back with newer and more powerful weapons. When it is revealed that the Romulans have also lost entire bases the burning question is who or what could be powerful enough to rip entire colonies from the ground.

Hurley wrote the episode Q Who for season two which not only saw Q hurl the Enterprise into Borg space as a lesson for Picard’s confidence that he and his crew are ready to face any new threat. We also learn that Guinan is not only an old enemy of Q’s but a survivor from a Borg attack. Her world was destroyed and her people scattered just as we saw in Generations. She was scared and the audience is left in no doubt she thought they should run now. Indeed the first sight of that cube ship is ominous and unlike any ship ever seen in the show. It is simply functional with no personality just like its owners.

The confidence of the crew is shattered as they are attacked by the Borg while Q gloats. They run but are soon worn down as the Borg begins slicing into the stalled Enterprise. It is only Picard’s admission that Q was right that saves them all. But the damage has been done. The Borg now are aware of the Federation and they will be coming. Deemed as the best episode of the first two years the Borg were a cert to come back but no one was prepared for the battle that was to come.

Season three began but again the stories were lacklustre and ultimately forgettable until the show hit its stride mid season with both Sarek, Spock’s father from the original series coming to visit and Yesterday’s Enterprise where the Enterprise C arrives in the 24th century causing history to change for the worse. From here on in the Next Generation was unmissable but it wasn’t until the series finale the Best of Both Worlds that Star Trek Next Generation grew a pair of balls and finally cast aside the shadow of the classic series.

No one could have foreseen what was to come when the Borg returned to take down the Federation. An entire fleet wiped out at Wolf 359, an off screen battle that would be the catalyst for Deep Space 9; the Enterprise chased from a nebula by Borg and kidnapping Picard, the crew failed rescue attempt and that final stunning image where Picard has become Locutus of Borg. He utters the chilling line, “Your life as it has been is now over. From this time forward you will service us!” and Riker gives the order to fire their secret weapon that will wipe out both the Borg ship and his captain.

No one that wasn’t there the first time round can really appreciate how big this cliffhanger was. The Borg were invincible, we had seen them turn babies into Borg, they could withstand any attack and regenerate any battle damage and they were inexhaustible. Amid rumours Patrick Stewart wanted to leave the show, everyone thought this really was the end. On airing in America there was a meltdown, making the news and the population literally freaking out as if Justin Beiber had just walked in; swear to God that was the level of reaction caused by the cliffhanger. It had beaten Who Shot JR as the most talked about end of season cliffhanger ever. There was no doubt it was all down to those mechanical monsters that literally saved the show. Never again would the writers and producers of any of the successor series build a cliffhanger so breathtaking because of the reaction to this one.

No one figured out how it would end or how to bring Picard back so the viewing figures for part two were off the scale.

Voyager tried something similar when not only Captain Janeway but Belanna and Tuvok were assimilated into the Borg collective but in this instance the audience got a wink that the Doctor had pulled a trick from his hat and the assimilation was a trick of some kind. All tension was gone in that misstep.

Picard indeed survived as Data discovered the greatest weapon against the Borg was their own connections and was able to put them all to sleep as Picard’s personality broke through the Borg implants showing being assimilated did not mean you were gone forever. The writers pulled a masterstroke when they showed Picard was suffering post traumatic stress, so much so he returned to his brother on Earth, a brother he didn’t get on with yet held the key to the first step of his recovery.

This made the Borg even more frightening. They were voiceless vampires that could swoop from the sky at any time and take you away, chopping off limbs and organs to make you like them. Only the battle had been won, the war continued.

The world went Borg crazy as they were brought back time and again, each time bringing something new to the table. We had Hugh, the teenage Borg that rediscovered his individuality. He was returned to the Collective in the hope his new found freedom would infect the others and break the hive mind that held them. They returned later as messed up individuals in an army controlled by Lore, Data’s evil brother which gave them a freshness and a new depth of destructiveness. Now they told you their name before killing you. Some have said the Borg were watered down but I don’t think this was true until Voyager added them to their series. Initially the alliance with Captain Janeway against Species 8572 who were kicking the crap out of the Borg was brilliant but although Voyager attempted new stories and angles, the threat for many had been diluted. There was no doubt people looked forward to hearing the Borg were coming back. They were the big enemies of Picard and co’s big screen adventure First Contact when they were able to travel back in time and try to prevent mankind ever achieving warp flight. Redesigned and even more terrifying than before the new breed of Borg proved Picard had not yet recovered from his ordeal; indeed there was something he had forgotten about his assimilation. The Borg Queen; sexy and repulsive and always in the background, issuing orders, controlling everything. She was the snake in the Garden of Eden, luring first Picard then Data with empty promises of power and control.

Visually and script wise a fantastic addition to the Borg lore, she went on to face Janeway in Voyager twice, in Dark Frontier and the finale Endgame. Of course without the Borg we would never have had the beautiful Seven of Nine, rescued by Janeway from her assimilation as a child and began teaching her what it was to be human again. Yeah, played by Jeri Ryan, she definitely peaked up Voyager and many a fan with her super skin tight outfits. Again it was the Borg that gave Voyager the kick up the back side it needed to be entertaining and I disagree with the viewpoint the Borg kids were an unnecessary addition to the crew. On the contrary, they fitted in perfectly with the maternal theme that Janeway embedded in her crew. In many ways the Maquis, Neelix, Kes and Seven were strangers given a welcome and a home where they never expected it.

With Deep Space 9 the only show that never pitted Sisko and co against the Borg, they, as I have said, were responsible for the show’s creation. In flashback we see Sisko’s wife killed in the Battle of Wolf 359, leaving him a widower and a single father who finds his loss at the hands of the Borg broken when he takes command of DS9. Facing the now human Picard whom Sisko sees as Locutus is nicely handled and another reminder that Picard wasn’t the only one in need of help after the events of Best of Both Worlds.

In Enterprise, they faced the Borg once. These Borg were found frozen in the aftermath of the battle in First Contact and it isn’t long before they are up and assimnilating again. But fair play, the writers come full circle by tying the events into the Next Generation series. Yes the question remains as to why these records are not in the 24th century records but that’s time travel for you.

So the shadow of the Borg falls large across the Star Trek universe. They have inspired and thrilled and there is no doubt about it; if it hadn’t been for these ruthless cyborgs we may never have had any more seasons of Trek of any kind after Next Gen’s third.

Add to that Doctor Who joins Kirk and Picard to face the Borg again in comic form leaving no doubt that there is still much to explore about the Borg.

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