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Q-Who?, A Retrospective

by Niall Matthew, Watching an episode 2005 times.

12th January 2020

Q-Who?, the latest expansion for First Edition, relentlessly beams down to a deck near you this Friday. To celebrate, let's look at the iconic episode in detail.

Back when I was asked to help design Broken Bow, i realised I haven't watched Enterprise in full for almost ten years. So my first job to prepare for design was to binge the entire show. Sure, I hated it the first time round, but with this second viewing, I developed a somewhat twisted admiration for it. That in turn led to my unquestionable love for Faith of the Heart. So when it came time to develop The Neutral Zone, it was time once again to analyse episodes of Star Trek for inspiration. Luckily, I didn't have to watch an entire series. I only had three episodes to watch; The two Original Series Romulan episodes (which we'll delve into at a later date) and Q-Who?

Q-Who? was already my favourite episode of not just The Next Generation, but of all the shows. This was the beginning of a fascinating turning point for Q, who previously, was simply a trickster who loved to dress up and torment the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Picard described him as a "Flim Flam Man". Though he referenced Worf in his hammy season one style ("growl for me...") it was obvious from his appearance in the shuttlecraft that this character was finally finding a focused place and purpose in the show. This Q was serious, curious, determined to teach a lesson. In Hide and Q, he was playing games. In Q-Who?, he was playing with real life. There were no gimmicks, made up settings or ridiculous costumes complete with puns, just one ship being flung into the path of what would become one of Star Treks most iconic villains; The Borg.

In this episode, there is no Locutus, no Queen, no thirst for conquest. There is only one cube, and it's hunger for nothing but technology. We see the ominous ship impose itself over the Enterprise, we hear it's low droning hum. We get some of the a memorable musical score played as the first Borg beams to main engineering. Here, we are introduced to the Scouts.

A relatively short scene, but with so much information. The first Scout ignores the crew. Picard orders Worf to stop the scout from interfering with the ships functions. Worf cleverly sends generic ensign #5 to deal with the Scout, who throws Mr. Ensign to the other side of the room, then continues using the patented Next Generation lighting effect to gather information on the ship. Phasers are drawn. Worf fires, but with no effect. The Scout then turns to the crew in what would be considered these days as not very Borg-like. There's arrogance in his face. He's looking at the crew as if to say "Yeah, try and stop me!" Once Worf has his moment of victory taking out the intruder, we see the second Scout, who just happens to have a shield. The adapt to Worfs phaser was fast and elegant. The musical score ramps up even more as this Scout turns and sneers at the crew. Now, I remember showing this episode to my girlfriend earlier this year and she hadn't seen much Next Generation at that time, but even she went 'ooooooooooooooooh!!!!!' when that second Scout looked at the crew that way. Though these two Scouts are memorable and prominent, the real Borg character here is Q himself. Picard may have spoke for the Borg in The Best of Both Worlds, but here, Q was the narrator for us. He knew the Borg, scoffing at Picards attempts to communicate with them. Q was the voice for these Borg, a species who believed that they were above us in all ways. They spoke only once in the entire episode, "We have analyzed your defensive capabilities as being unable to withstand us. If you do not surrender, you will be punished." Cold and robotic, straight to the point. None of the classic lines that we all know and love, yet just as frightening.

The initial attack from the Cube is interesting. Just as we learned earlier that the outpost at system J-25 was 'scooped' from the planet, the Cube begins to literally carve up the ship piece by piece, with no regard to the life forms on board the Enterprise. They don't want another ship in their fleet, they just want its parts, 'carving it up like a roast' and consuming what they slice up. What happened to the eighteen crew members who were on that section of the ship?

After the Enterprise blows some pretty big holes into the Cube, an away team beams over. Again, we get some fascinating insights into this new enemy. We already know the Borg ignore anything that is not a threat, this is shown again here. Riker describes a 'Borg Nursery' Are they cloned? Do the Borg have sex purely to replenish their crew?

Data takes tricorder readings of a wall, then directly observes it. The ship is repairing itself. Where are the repair teams though? Surely these Borg would have a spanner attachment for their arms? Here, we are introduced to the collective. Not just the drones who are focusing all their thought into regenerating the Cube, but also the Cube itself. Borg nanotechnology is not mentioned for another ten years in Star Trek. Here, the ship is almost alive, an unstoppable force in itself. We see its outer hull regenerating at immense speed, pursuing the Enterprise with relentless hunger. Each torpedo fired from the Enterprise, having dealt considerable damage earlier in the episode, now has no effect. This Cube is almost god-like in its invincibility as it finally ensnares the Enterprise and continues 'carving' it up.

These days, we're contempt with the different methods the Federation has used to combat the Borg; Inane technobabble. A muscled up Picard. Janeway in every Voyager episode. Not here. For this one time, for their spectacular debut, it took an entity with the power of a god to stop them.

Back to Q. Was he really wanting to be part of the crew? The crew of the Enterprise caught his attention in season one. Among all that mischief, he wanted to teach them a hard lesson. He wants them to grow as a species, to expand beyond their limited thinking. A lesson in humility and arrogance was taught to Picard, and Q was just in teaching that lesson.

I was sadly a bit too young to see this episode on 1988. But every time I watch it, I always imagine that it is the only Borg episode. All these ramblings you've just read were inspiration for the Q-Who? expansion. Back then, the Borg were simpler, more frightening, more god-like. Q was obviously familiar with them, and knew exactly how they would attack the Enterprise.

Thank you for reading my insights into an episode I love. Q-Who? is released this Friday on the 17th January (Or January 17th for you lot across the Atlantic) Though aimed at those who are curious to try out Borg, I beleive there is at least a card or two in the expansion that Borg experts will love.

Don't forget, the Q & A thread is on the gameplay forum. Feel free to ask myself, Paddy, Dan and Charlie anything about this new set.

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