Star Trek The Next Generation The Best of Both Worlds
Star Trek had previously never had an adversary quite like the Borg.
Yes, we had recurring Klingons and Romulans and bad-guys-of-the-week/movie and that followed in the early days of TNG right up to ‘The Best of Both Worlds’. The only new true returning villains were Q and Lore, and while Q introduced Starfleet to the Borg, I don’t think anyone imagined they’d become a regular challenge. (Even Q himself became, in essence, a parody of himself, more of a comedic foil to Picard’s and Janeway’s seriousness).
The creation of the Borg by the TNG producers was a stroke of genius: they went against everything the United Federation of Planets stood for and the prospect of a faceless unified force having a single desire to assimilate us into their unfeeling, unloving, logical, transcendental culture is terrifying (oh, hang on – haven’t I just described the Vulcans? Now there’s a discussion to be had… the unexpected comparisons between Borg and Vulcan…).
In my ‘Dark Frontier’ article I touched on the Borg becoming something else from what their original character outline implied – and the dramatic necessity of a mouthpiece for the Collective was what changed that. Where is the tension if our heroes are just being shouted at from the featureless insides of a Cube? Who can our lead spark off against if there is no one voice? That was why Davros was introduced into Doctor Who after 14 prior appearances: the Daleks, apart from screeching and shouting at everyone who were unlike them, had very little to offer in the way of dramatic exchanges. Davros’ presence humanized the Daleks, thereby giving the Doctor the ability to wax lyrical about the benefits of independent thought and the unpleasantries of universal domination. The Borg Queen served the same purpose: she allowed Picard (then Seven and Janeway) the chance to emote, to give us, the audience, what we were longing for: human conflict.
And that was the downfall of the Borg Collective as a villain: without emotion, they were stunted, impotent. With Locutus, Lore and the Queen, they became a villain that had the ability to describe their desires, their plans…to gloat at their own cleverness and to get angry when our heroes foil their dastardly, nefarious shenanigans. The Collective became an individual: a walking, talking, shouting Big Bad.
Voyager tried with Species 8472 to make a new and different horror but they were again limited in dramatic exchange. They were not too removed from the Xenomorphs, a race, over repeat returns, that also became less impactful than in their first three appearances.
Star Trek is a voice to tell interesting, humanistic stories with a message for hope (not that JJ Abrams would have you think so) and so a blank-faced race of all-out viciousness doesn’t work for it over multiple appearances.
In conclusion, no there will never be another adversary as chilling as the Borg, but there is a whole galaxy out there still waiting to be discovered. If the writers of Discovery and Picard (or is it Destiny?) and any other new production can balance the Star Trek approach with body horror plotlines as well as keeping a moral outlook, then hopefully we can be as thrilled again as that moment Locutus when, with a voice dripping with absolutely no sentimentality whatsoever, called Riker ‘Number One’.
Because y’see, that’s what we need in Star Trek, in drama: the conflict of horrendously terrifying villains with faces we recognize.