The story of man vs. machine is hardly a new one. Going back to the silent era of cinema and 1927′s Metropolis, the story of man inventing superior technology and ultimately being replaced by it is one that has been told time and again.  Since Metropolis there have been countless stories told in film—The Terminator (and its sequels), Robocop (and its sequels), War Games, Tron (and of course Tron: Legacy) and (arguably) the most popular of these, The Matrix Trilogy.

All of them create a vision of a world in which the cold, calculating unfeeling logic of machines is pitted against the enduring drive, ambition, nonsensical emotionalism that is humanity. This story endures for a simple reason—it shows the best qualities of humanity while simultaneously offering the hope of survival against insurmountable odds. A reason that makes the story perfect for Star Trek.  As one of the most recognized science fiction franchises, Star Trek has dealt with the man vs. machine mythos since 1967s The Changeling. A story in which a reprogrammed, robotic probe seeks to sterilize the surrounding area of imperfection. That imperfection being, of course, human beings. Though regarded by fans as one of the better episodes of the series’ original run, the stories have—pardon the pun—been continually upgraded until, in 1989 we were introduced to the Borg.

After its premiere in 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced only one new villain to the franchise—the Ferengi—a race that most fans know, and was intended to be the new series’ principal adversary. Though their commerce driven society was an interesting foil for the show, their awkward appearance and weaker plot lines made them a fan flop. The Borg, however, presented fans with an adversary they hadn’t seen before, and, riding on the coattails of fan favorite Q (John De Lancie), the Borg were almost certain to be a hit.
Debuting in the episode Q Who, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the crew of the Enterprise are thrown across the galaxy and introduced to a foe that their Omnipotent adversary, Q, has deemed them unprepared for. The Borg, part biological being, part mechanical life form. Their design isn’t elegant, and their cube-like spacecraft isn’t sleek or designed for aerodynamics and as a race they are of one mind—a collective consciousness. They are technologically superior and able to out run and out gun the Enterprise, leaving Picard and his crew with the options of either finding a weakness or admitting that they aren’t ready for the Borg and do, in fact, need Q’s help.
We wouldn’t see the Borg again until the season 3 finale/season 4 premiere The Best of Both Worlds; and they would show up a handful of times throughout the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation, though each time they were slightly weaker than before—or is it that the Enterprise, Starfleet and the Federation were becoming more prepared? The story would ultimately reach its inevitable climax in the feature film, Star Trek: First Contact, though the Borg would play a major role in Star Trek: Voyager and even made an appearance in Star Trek: Enterprise.

The Borg presented a unique challenge in that they could not be reasoned with, could not be persuaded or coerced and they sought not to conquer but only to add a species’ biological and technological distinctiveness to their own. Master peace-maker Picard could not negotiate with them, and in fact would only be able to defeat them by becoming one of them. The Borg sought perfection through assimilation. They have no concept that what they’re doing is unthinkable by humanity’s standards, and in fact, seek to improve the quality of life for all species by uniting them in a dystopian society in which all are one.

Still, when faced with the prospect of dealing with the Borg, and with the destruction and genocide they leave in their wake—human beings are given pause at the idea of destroying them as a race. Picard was given the chance and opted not to take it. Janeway and Voyager were involved with multiple borg encounters and even entered into a cease-fire/peace treaty with them. Such is the core of what Star Trek has always been about.  What Gene Roddenberry saw as the true meaning behind his “wagon train to the stars.” A Utopian society in which humanity would have left violence in the past, choosing to explore and learn rather than divide and conquer. The best stories of man against machine see things in a similar light—human survival through perseverance rather than domination.

This quality is one that appeals to the protagonist of another science fiction franchise—one that has also dealt with the man vs. machine mythos. Doctor Who‘s Cybermen have commonalities with the Borg and many fans have of both series have long awaited a cross over.

In May, they will get their wish as the Doctor himself will pay a visit to the crew of the Enterprise in the IDW published graphic mini-series Assimilation2 (read: Assimilation Squared). The newest variation on the theme of man vs. machine promises to—in the best tradition of Star Trek—take both franchises to a place where no one has gone before.

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This article was first posted on April 29, 2012