Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mad About The Borg

Bless you HMV and your £20 Borg box set. Containing all of the Star Trek Borg episodes, it's a strangely compulsive masterclass in how to ruin a villain.

When first introduced, the Borg were enigmatic nightmares. Ten years later, and they're almost cuddly.

The terrifying soulless cyborgs start out well enough, with their indifference and their body horror and their killer move of "oh my god, Captain Picard's a Borg!". It's THE moment of The Next Generation (which, when you think about it, doesn't have all that many not involving Dr Crusher's hair or Deanna's camel toe). It's so brilliant they immediately feel guilty about it, and give that story a rubbish ending (Captain Picard tells the Borg to go into standby mode, and then leaves the gas on).

But it all starts to go wrong when they introduce a pocket gay Borg called Hugh. Hugh doesn't feel like the other Borg, and when he has the courage to say so, the Borg go all wobbly. Cue a gobsmackingly awful two parter called Descent, in which the Borg have fist fights with each other, and say things like "Grr!".

Just when you're thinking "How can they make them more rubbish?" along comes Star Trek Voyager. It all starts out crackingly enough, with Janeway bullying the Borg into an alliance and stealing Seven of Nine, a fiesty LesBorg. The Borg are back to being cunning and creepy and genuinely alien...

And then they bring back the Borg Queen from the feature films, only this time played by a waxwork. It turns out the Borg Queen is as lesbotically obsessed by Seven of Nine as Janeway is, leading to what's basically a six-part robot lesbian love triangle, which must be unique in American Network Television.

It's all helped by the crew of Voyager being so blah that I was rooting for the Borg. The Borg actually have more character than the crew of Voyager, especially in a long flashback where we see that Seven of Nine grew up around the Borg before being assimilated, and sweetly gave them pet names. Creepy.

Unfortunately, we then get Unimatrix Zero which does for the Borg what pot pourri did for Newport Pagnell Service Station. We discover the Borg have a dream world where they go when they recharge, full of pastels and patio heaters. It's where they get to express their true selves.

Perturbed to discover that they're running art classes and pilates workshops, the Borg Queen decides to put a stop to it. She's also well jealous as Seven of Nine's ex boyfriend's in there, living in a tent. In dream land, Seven has floppy hair and the dress sense of a charity shop. Who knew?

In a shock cliffhanger, we discover the only way to save dream land is for Janeway and some of her boring crew to sacrifice themselves and become Borg. Gasp!

But cancel that gasp, as in part 2, we find that they've not been Borg for months as we thought, but merely 17 minutes, and have magic implants that let them retain their characters. Uniquely, the Borg have decided not to rip out any of their eyes and replace them with implants. Phew, that's lucky.

Now, if it was me, and I'd just been cybernised without anaesthetic and fully conscious, I'd be curled up on the floor screaming and screaming and screaming. At the very least I'd be wondering whether masturbation is either possible or advisable if your hands have been replaced with a drill and an electic sander. But not the crew of Voyager. They just behave as if nothing's happened. Apart from Janeway, who looks fabulous as a Borg, and knows it.

Part 2 takes some watching. It's startling that something this clunky was made at the same time as Farscape and Buffy. There's a great lesbo stand off between Janeway and the Borg Queen (the Borg Queen temporarily restores Janeway to her normal appearance as she prefers her hair that way. No, really). For very confusing reasons, Janeway convinces the rebel Borg to switch off Dreamland, and to remain fully conscious of their horrible post-mutilation lives but unable to do anything about it, for fear of giving themselves away. Result!

A ship of rebel Borg Klingons escape (don't worry, we never hear from them again), and Seven promises to find her boyfriend. "I'll never forget you," she vows, before marrying Chakotay.

Janeway is rescued, and surgically restored to her former appearance (even the hair). Within minutes she's sat up in bed, drinking coffee and joking about her implants. Rather than screaming and screaming and screaming.

We've gone from "The Borg are pure evil. You cannot understand them, only fear them" to "Being a Borg isn't that bad, really."

Luckily, in Endgame Voyager makes up for this folly. They bring back the proper Borg Queen actress (she had to pee in that suit, you know, which probably explains why the cheap stand-in always looked so uncomfortable). With nutty Alice Krige as the Queen, they wisely decide that one Janeway isn't enough, so bring in iron-haired Future Janeway, who's just fabulous.

Frankly, at this point, you could stick the Queen in a room with Seven, the Janeways and Twister. Surprisingly, however, Voyager instead delivers two hours of well-plotted, character-driven drama. *I know* - it's like they could make proper television all along, but decided not to (probably out of respect for Gene Roddenberry).

You could, at this point, go out on a high. Or you could bring them back in an ill-advised episode of Enterprise.

This episode was knocked-out in 2002. After 5 years of Buffy, and 9 of the X-Files. By this point, we even had CSI making drama without real people work. And yet - this. The entire cast look bored. In a commentary, the writers actually admit the characters are underwritten, and that they had no idea how to end the episode other than with some running around and an explosion "but sometimes, that's all you need".

Star Trek fans hate this episode, but merely for crimes against continuity (check the online reviews - they refuse to actually assess it as an hour of television). In fairness to the writers, they neatly explain away all of the continuity errors. Although, had they spent less time doing this, they might have made a better television show.

Clearly, the fans were always going to hate it. Why not say fuck it, and do something interesting?

Anyway, that's a whole lot of words about Star Trek. You can tell I'm back in London, sat on my sofa, and not doing any proper writing work. Ah well. Resistance is, you know...

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