The Borgification of the Weeping Angels


San Diego Comic Con has come and gone. That’s really grown in the past few years, hasn’t it? It’s gotten so the major comic and television studios make a point of coming out to the event as part of their major marketing strategy. The BBC is no different. This year, Karen Gillan, Matt Smith and some of the production crew held a panel to discuss the second half of the sixth season, and unveiled some big new trailers.

Please be warned that spoilers follow. Turn away if you don’t wish to be spoiled. Here’s the trailer promoting the second half of the season, launching August 27 (yay!):

Those same trailers have been released on the Net, and they have fandom buzzing. Among the hints of the coming season include the image of Rory punching Hitler in the face (yay!), Cybermen, the Silents and, most shockingly of all, the Weeping Angels.

I have to say, though, when I saw the Weeping Angels flash across my screen during the trailer, I had a dual heart and head reaction. In my heart, I greeted this news with happiness. I like the Weeping Angels. I think they look fantastic and they have terrifying abilities. I can watch both Blink and the two-parter Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone again and again. I am really looking forward to seeing what contribution they make to the mayhem of the second half of season six.

In my head, however, I was a lot more nervous. Much as I enjoyed Time of the Angels, I couldn’t help but notice that the angels were weakened somewhat due to flaws in the script. There was development of the Angels’ character, but it wasn’t consistent development. And while Moffat still managed to pull out a solution to defeat the angels that didn’t diminish the Angels’ fearsome abilities, I was still left to wonder how many ways Moffat still had to pull this trick off.

Moffat himself has to know the risks, here. You may have noticed that the Daleks are nowhere to be seen this season. Recently, Moffat announced that, after appearing at least once every year for the past five years, the Daleks were going to be “rested” for a while. As he noted, the Daleks were the most popular monster in the Doctor Who universe, and the one which has appeared the most often. And because they’re the most frequently seen monster of the series, they are the most frequently defeated. And, after a while, that has to diminish their impact as a monster.

The Weeping Angels were the surprise hit of the third season of the Doctor Who revival. Their angelic appearance (contrasted with their set of fangs when they’re really out to get you) coupled with their ability to freeze into stone the moment they’re observed made them deeply creepy monsters. They stole the show in an episode that was supposed to be the throwaway budget saver of the season, and they became instant fan favourites. The concept that, if you encounter an angel, you have to stand there staring at it forever is a winning horror premise. “Don’t blink!” became a school yard catchphrase.

The angels were initially intended as a one-off monster, but when you hit the ball out of the park to the extent Moffat did with the angels, you’ll have fans clamouring to have them back. The question becomes, however, how do you top what you did before? If you offer a simple rehash of the original Blink storyline, you come off as derivative.

But adding elements to the villain has its own risks. In Time of the Angels and Flesh and Stone, Moffat gave the Angels the ability to take over photographs of themselves, or to get inside people’s heads when they look into their cold stone eyes. This produced a retroactive fright in Blink (Sally Sparrow has a photo of an Angel, and Larry very clearly looked deep into the Angel’s eyes when it took that final lunge at him), but it didn’t really make sense. Then there was the fact that the Angels went from zapping people back in time to simply breaking people’s necks. While the two part story was enjoyable to watch, it made the Angels’ character inconsistent, and it emphasized the fact that their success in Blink was such a surprise, not much thought was put into just how these creatures ticked (you do notice that they move at the speed of plot, don’t you?).

This problem has been noted elsewhere in science fiction and fantasy. TV Tropes calls it “villain decay”. And nowhere is there a better example of the phenomenon as Star Trek’s Borg.

When the Borg appeared in Next Generation’s second season episode Q Who, they were a shock to the fans’ system. The Enterprise crew had not before encountered an adversary quite so implaccable. They were nameless, emotionless creatures, impossible to reason with, that adapted to whatever you threw at them and became progressively harder to beat — a terrifying concept in the otherwise amenable Star Trek universe.

The Borg solidified this impression in their next episode, The Best of Both Worlds, when they kidnapped Picard, turned him into Locutus, and attacked Earth. Sure, their defeat was a little Data ex Machina, but fans had invested a whole summer to the two-parter and were generally satisfied. The Borg character remained as implacably cool as ever.

But the writers, realizing that they couldn’t easily top The Best of Both Worlds added variations to the Borg theme. Individuality was introduced with I, Borg. Emotions were added in the episode following. The Next Generation movies and Star Trek: Voyager took this further, introducing the Borg Queen as your standard evil mastermind. And when that happened, the Borg lost a lot of what made them unique as monsters.

The thing is, I’m not sure how the decay of the Borg could have been avoided. How many stories could the writers have achieved if they kept the Borg as implacable, emotionless creatures? The only way the show could have maintained the Borg mystique is to do the unthinkable, and keep the Borg on the shelf for long stretches of time. It’s hard to think of any show capable of ignoring the fan clamour for that long. Sure, the Daleks are now to be rested, but some would say that they should have been rested years ago.

Maybe Moffat will beat the odds. Maybe he has something subversive planned for the Angels’ return this season, or maybe their contribution to the series will be sideways, allowing them to influence things without requiring the Doctor to face them directly. Moffat is a remarkable writer, who seems to have the complexity of the sixth season’s spanning plot well in hand. So I remain confident that the Angels’ appearance this season will be something I will enjoy. But I still worry that the Angels will be another in a long line of creatures that writers went to the well with too often. I would hate to have them become shadows of their former selves.

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