“Resistance is futile” is the most terrifying statement to hear when travelling across our galaxy because it means The Borg are coming. They show no fear, no passion, no mercy. They’re an all-powerful and unyielding force that will keep coming until you become one of them; it’s what makes them the perfect antagonists in the Star Trek universe.
The Borg think as a collective, crossing the galaxy to absorb every alien race and useful piece of technology they encounter in a process called ‘assimilation’. Like a drowned corpse fused with computer circuitry, the goal of these automatons is to create a perfect society where everyone and everything is Borg. Star Trek has an impressive roster of foes, but none are as nihilistic, chilling and unforgettable as The Borg.
The digital devils were first introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) and rocked the Enterprise so hard they earned a spot as the big bad in the 1996 film, Star Trek: First Contact, which fans voted one of the best in the franchise. The Borg have a lot to do with the success of First Contact because of the pivotal role they play as a major threat to all life in the Star Trek universe.
The creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, who had a turbulent relationship with TNG, pushed the show’s writers to invent new aliens to cause headaches for Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew. None of the alien races introduced in the early seasons made an impression with TNG viewers.
The writing staff came up with an idea for an alien race that functioned like insects. The producers loved the idea, but the special effects required to create giant bugs would have led to a budget blowout; Star Trek was still made on the cheap. They swapped the idea of insects to robotic creatures and The Borg were booted up.
The Borg first appear in the TNG episode ‘Q Who?’ where the Enterprise gets stuck in a mysterious part of the universe inhabited by the cyborg menace. The Borg’s debut became one of the most watched episodes of TNG at the time and they returned several times, including in the epic two-part episode ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ where Captain Picard is abducted and assimilated - Picard is physically transformed into one of these cybernetic monsters. ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ bridged the third and fourth seasons and is often cited as one of the best episodes of Star Trek ever.
Now certified as a fearsome presence after they messed with Picard – nobody was safe anymore – The Borg became Star Trek regulars spanning Deep Space Nine and the prequel series, Enterprise. The Borg became so popular that Star Trek: Voyager was set in their cybernetic backyard (the Delta Quadrant for the faithful) and introduced the crew member, Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), a Borg drone rescued by Starfleet and reverted back into a human … mostly.
Big screen Borg
In 1994, Paramount Pictures launched the TNG crew into the film frontier with Star Trek: Generations where Captain Picard and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) teamed up – a huge deal at the time. Paramount were amped by the response to Generations and fast-tracked the next film with a mandate to make it about time travel.
Screenwriters Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander) accepted the challenge and immediately pitched The Borg as the film’s big bad, citing ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ as an example of what they could achieve but with a blockbuster budget. The story could work for audiences who only saw the Star Trek films while paying off major plot points involving Picard and The Borg from the television series.
Braga and Moore also gave Borg fans a little more by introducing dynamic leader, The Borg Queen (Alice Krige) who was an incredible blend of practical and digital effects and dynamite in all her scenes with Picard.
Star Trek: First Contact focuses on The Borg travelling back in time to interrupt the warp drive test flight that leads to humans meeting Vulcans and launching Starfleet. Without Starfleet, The Borg are free to conquer our part of the galaxy and so the Enterprise crew turn their ship into a time machine to fix history.
First Contact perfectly blends intricate Star Trek canon, action film bombast and body horror. It became the highest grossing film in the franchise until it was knocked off by J. J. Abrams’ reboot in 2009.
The enduring appeal
The Borg share a lot of similarities with zombies and films like The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.They play upon our fear and paranoia of conformity and loss of identity. The Borg have been used as a political metaphor for group thinking, gentrification and the aggressive expansion of giant corporations; The Walt Disney Company’s purchase of 21st Century Fox can be considered very Borg-like behaviour.
The Borg also represent how we lose our humanity to technology as their cybernetic components consume each person assimilated and strip them of their personality.
They first appeared in the late 1980s, but with the rise of the internet, smartphones and social media, The Borg allegory will remain relevant while we’re glued to our devices. With all these fears, combined with the relentlessness of The Borg, they became formidable villains in the long history of Star Trek.
We are The Borg.
Resistance is futile.
From 10 December, SBS VICELAND will be airing a Star Trek movie every night for a week featuring the Original Series and The Next Generation crews. You can also watch the films at SBS On Demand, kicking off with Star Trek: the Motion Picture: