Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Audio Review 12: Omega, written by Nev Fountain (2003)

Released: August 2003
The Doctor – Peter Davison
Omega – Ian Collier
Daland – Hugo Myatt
Sentia – Caroline Munro
Professor Ertikus – Patrick Duggan
Glinda – Anita Elias
Maven – Faith Kent
Tarpov – Conrad Westmaas
Zagreus Robot – Jim Sangster

Main Production Credits

Producers – Gary Russell & Jason Haigh-Ellery
Writer – Nev Fountain
Director – Gary Russell
Incidental Music – Russell Stone
Recording – Lee Bowman
Sound Design, Post-Production and CD mastering – Gareth Jenkins @ ERS
Title Music – Ron Grainer, Peter Howell and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (Remastered by David Darlington)
TARDIS Sounds – Brian Hodgson and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Executive Producer (for BBC Worldwide) – Jacqueline Rayner

Story Summary (BIG SPOILERS!):

The Doctor takes an intergalactic tour to a space heritage centre that celebrates the legend of Omega, whose scientific achievements gave the Time Lords their power over time. However, not long after he arrives, an actor called Tarpov goes mad due to the local dimensional instability, and people start being murdered one by one in mysteriously theatrical circumstances, including Tarpov. The Doctor’s chief suspect is Omega, who having survived their most recent encounter in Amsterdam, wants to return home to his anti-matter universe, and marry Sentia, one of the tour staff whom he has fallen in love with. However, Omega seems to be an insubstantial ghostly entity and cannot possibly have committed the killings. For a long time the Doctor is baffled by the mystery...that is, until the real Doctor turns up.

As both Omega and Sentia become mentally unstable, the Doctor rescues Daland and the heritage centre tourists. However he is forced to leave Omega and Sentia behind on Omega’s ship the Eurydice, as it descends into the nearby black hole, but not before he explains to Omega that not all his memories are his own. As a result of Omega’s split-personality, he now feels deeply guilty over a memory that he gained from the Doctor, who admits that in the past he accidentally committed genocide against the Scintillans, while trying to save another alien species from death and destruction. As the Eurydice disappears into the black hole, the Doctor quietly mourns Omega, while regretting unfairly wronging him.

Story Placement
Between Arc of Infinity (TV Serial) and The Elite (BIG Finish audio).

Favourite Lines

Sentia – “Well the past isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You can’t touch anything, it’s very dirty, frequently boring, and in almost all cases they’re no proper toilet facilities”.

The Doctor – “If I didn’t know better, this stuff sounds a lot like conjecture, professor?”
Professor Ertikus – “Oh yes, but completely different from old Shezion’s guesswork”.
The Doctor – “Oh yes”.
Professor Ertikus – “Oh yes. This is my guesswork”.

Professor Ertikus – “The public can’t cope with history, unless it’s on the telly with lots of actors dressed in silly costumes. Philistines”.

Daland – “The public can’t cope with history unless it’s in some dusty little book. Cretins”.

Sentia – “A lot of people find the story of Vandekyrian’s betrayal the most powerful”.
Glinda – “Oh no, that bit was rubbish. We liked the bit when Vandekyrian chased Omega down the corridor. That was very funny”.

Professor Ertikus – “This is very alarming...”
The Doctor – “I agree”.
Professor Ertikus – “I have that passage on page 212. You’re quoting my own rival’s book at me!”

The Doctor – “I always thought it would spoil things, knowing all there was to know about him. I think it’s best to have some element of mystery about the character”.
Professor Ertikus – “Oh no, I couldn’t disagree more. Nothing annoyed me more when fans of Omega concocted these convoluted theories to explain away discrepancies in the the legends”.

Omega – “He is babbling into a machine, speaking half-truths and nonsense”.
The Doctor – “He works in Television. I’m told they do that”.

The Doctor – “It’s not a bad old cosmos. Flowers, cups of tea, trees, mugs of tea, sunsets, pots of tea... As you can see, I don’t expect too much from this universe”.

Daland – “I’m not used to chatting up inanimate objects”.

Sentia – “Can I interest you in a souvenir of your stay? How about our ‘Talking Omega’? Says four simple phrases”.
The Doctor – “That many. Sounds like the Omega I used to know”.

Daland – “Hold! I am the great Doctor! Champion of Time! Defeater of the dreaded Omega! Can I wear a cloak?”


In 2003, BIG Finish led Doctor Who’s 40th Anniversary celebrations rather appropriately with a mini-series of stories that explored three of the show’s most popular villains – Omega, Davros and Master. Omega, the first audio release is a fascinating exploration of the titular character in question, the pioneering Time Lord that first gave Gallifrey the power of Time Travel, but turned rogue, when he was abandoned by his fellow people to die in a Black hole. Omega has been one of Doctor Who’s most neglected villains, presented to us as a bellowing megalomaniac in The Three Doctors, and in Arc of Infinity, a less-bellowing, but equally theatrical and power-crazed maniac. Thankfully, Omega rectifies some of this by examining not only his past, but also his feelings, emotions and motivations, adding important dimensions to his character, and showing us that he wasn’t always so bad after all.

The story that Nev Fountain conjures up to frame this examination in, is a simple, but good one never-the-less. Abandoned and lonely in this Universe, Omega decides he wants to return back to his own Universe of Anti-Matter where he can be master of his own destiny and ruler of his own kingdom again. This may not sound like riveting stuff on the surface, but Nev Fountain cleverly tells the story within a murder mystery, adding an important layer of intrigue to the proceedings, and brilliantly tops it all off with one of the best cliff-hanger twists that Doctor Who has ever written (even if it’s one you could only get away with on audio). There are other layers to the script too, such as the examination of the ‘legend of Omega’ and his all-important first experiments into Time-travel; the audio’s ongoing theme about the importance of legends and stories in general; and a philosophical exploration (and part moral parable) by the writer into how easy it is for people and society to unjustly attach blame and demonise others, particularly the unpopular, and unfairly judge people on their superficial qualities. There are also multiple satires and parodies of period dramas, the Television industry, coach tours, and history tourists. The good side of these multiple layers of meaning, jokes and plot is that there’s a lot that the audience can take away from the experience, and the script sparkles with some well-observed dialogue and several cracking jokes and one-liners. However, the negative side of all this trifle of elements are that some of them seem to be purely thrown in for effect; short-term entertainment to help take the listener’s mind off the fact that the underlying story is developing so slowly, however, this is only really a problem in part two, which is filled with a large amount of padding.

Another part of the story which didn’t really work that well for me was the Scintillans sub-plot. The revelation that the Doctor accidentally committed genocide on the Scintillans is a brilliant twist, but its dramatic impact is spoilt by the sub-plot being dragged out too long in the story. Omega is strongly hinted to be the murderer of the Scintillans in part one and yet the narrative acts if this is one big powerful secret that will surprise us all when all is revealed. However, given Omega’s past record, this is hardly news to the audience, and we have to wait for the script to acknowledge this in part three before the story really goes anywhere. Combined with Omega’s ghostly psychic manifestations that haunt the Eurydice and aren’t really of much relevance to the continuing story, it makes part two drag significantly, filled with the padding of a near-redundant sub-plot that plods on for three episodes before it has something interesting to tell us. However, so much is done right with this script and production that you can’t hold much against it for long. One of the best things about Omega is Nev Fountain’s great characterisation.
Being the main subject of the story, it’s no surprise that Omega also gets the best character development. We find out that Omega used to be a time plumber called Peylix, and gained his infamous title after receiving the fail grade of Omega in an exam about Time while studying at Gallifrey’s Academy. We also see an earlier Omega with strong, brave and honourable convictions in the years before his personality was twisted by obsession, paranoia and murder. For the first time, we see and understand that Omega used to a good man and shared many of the ideals later gained by the Doctor, and that events have conspired against him, and are mainly responsible for turning him into a monster. This tragic depiction of Omega is emphasised by the fact that he is inflicted with the Doctor’s guilt over the deaths of the Scintillans. Importantly though, Omega is still a mad, and thoroughly psychotic monster; obsessed with his own legend, and paranoid to the last, murdering anyone in his way. Although this does make the murder mystery rather obvious, Nev Fountain tries his best to muddy the waters as much as possible.
Daland is by far the strongest of the supporting characters. An out-of-work Television actor who now has to make a living performing role-plays as Omega for an outer space heritage centre. Despite being shallow and a habitual adulterer, Daland is actually the most likeable and fun character in the whole story, and probably the most normal that anyone can relate to. His light vanity is quite sweet really, as he comes across as a harmless loveable old fool. Daland also has an ever-present and hilarious dry wit that often gives him most of the best lines. I also love how Nev Fountain gently pokes fun at actors through Daland too, and has possibly the best use of the word “ham” in a Doctor Who story than I’ve heard for some time.
Professor Ertikus is also a great supporting character; a walking, talking symbol of everything we love and ridicule about history professors. There’s the breathless enthusiasm, the jealously of his fellow rivals, the obstinate and vain persona, and the determination to be the first to discover the truth. You could say he’s similar to the Doctor too in most ways, and the fact that he’s also a Time Lord and loves being chased down corridors extends the similarity further. I suppose you could also say that Ertikus is a metaphor for Doctor Who fans too, given many of the same qualities apply, and I’m sure it’s a comparison that Nev Fountain intended and much more subtle than Russell T. Davies attempted in Love & Monsters.
The Doctor is decently written for with some great lines and of course that great twist about his accidental genocide of the Scintillans, but apart from being given an extra serving of dry wit to amuse us, the Fifth Doctor is pretty much his typical self; eternally kind, humble, considerate and selfless. Then again its Omega’s turn to take centre stage, so that’s to be expected. Though I do love the fact that the Doctor continues to sympathise and defend Omega, even to others; staying true to character by always seeing the best in people.
I also love the characters of Glinda and Maven. They’re both adorable, a joy to listen to, and a loving satire of eccentric old ladies the world over. Hard to please, except by the catering and comfort facilities; gassy and eccentric; often excited by the little things in life; and are so absorbed in own lives, that they often fail to notice what’s going on around them. Surely everybody knows someone just like them; such is the sheer believability and realistic portrayal of these brilliant characters. The fact that they turn out to be a human-shaped TARDIS and Time Lord from the future is another beautiful and rewarding twist from Nev Fountain that is part of the icing on the cake of this audio.
The other characterisation in Omega though, is somewhat patchy. Sentia starts off being a very believable overworked and underpaid heritage staff worker, made doubly tired and bitter after being used and let-down by men in the past, who she once cared for, including Daland. There’s something a bit odd about her love for Omega, but it seems that she is more taken in by his weakened vulnerability after the events of Arc of Infinity (1983 TV Serial). However, it’s hard to see exactly why Sentia is so much in love with Omega that she will literally do and forgive him anything it seems. He murders others, albeit in acts of madness, and yet despite her initial distress and sorrow for the victims, she still seems to forgive him and carry on with him, even despite the risk of getting killed herself. None of these questions in her character are really ever examined, and instead she has a mental breakdown throughout the last episode, due to being vulnerable to the dimensional instability in that area of space.
The character of Tarpov gets the worst deal though. A simple, seemingly amateur, but humble actor who very quickly turns into an insane, shouting, panicking and quivering wreck, also as a result of the local dimensional instability, only Tarpov is affected early into part one and remains so for the rest of the audio. He’s given most of the worst dialogue in the story too, and his near endlessly theatrical ravings are thoroughly tiresome and grating in the extreme. Sentia’s ravings are too, but as they only happen for the last ten minutes of the story they’re easily overlooked.

Another one of Omega’s strong points is its fantastic cast. Peter Davison snaps up the good material with much enthusiasm, and really has fun with it, clearly enjoying not just the range of emotions he has to play, but also the witty dialogue. Ian Collier is also very good, brilliantly underplaying most of his performance to help Omega a much more sympathetic side, even if the script demands him to return to the theatrical villain of old from time-to-time. Hugo Myatt though, just like his character Daland, steals the show. He puts in a loveable bumbling performance which helps make the character infinitely likeable, relatable and very funny. Who would have thought it, given his slightly hammy persona as presenter of the Knightmare children’s TV game show back in the 1980s? Not me certainly, but that as Daland would say, “is what we call acting”. Caroline Munro also impresses, fleshing out Sentia very well, before Omega’s appearance pushes Sentia more into the background. I confess that I haven’t really seen any of Caroline’s film work beyond her small role in The Spy Who Loved Me, but on the strength of her performance in Omega, I’m certainly tempted to seek out her more prominent cinema appearances. Conrad Westmaas sadly draws the short straw, having to play a relatively thankless character. He also rather irritatingly overplays a lot of his later lines, and is always very theatrical, but it’s hard to tell if this might also be down to Gary Russell’s direction which also seems to be slipping slightly to the theatrical side.
The rest of the audio’s production is also reasonably polished too. The sound design is more minimal, but still very effective. My favourite sound was all the ‘Talking Omega’ toys being knocked over by Omega and going off with loads of tinny, but gloriously camp quotes voiced by Hugo Myatt (Daland performed as Omega for the Heritage Centre). I almost want to buy one, just thinking about it (Come on Character Options; let’s have a Talking Omega for Christmas 2012). Russell Stone also creates a relatively understated and effective music soundtrack, which although maybe not one of his best, underlines and supports the dramatic moments in the story very well.

However, the best thing about Omega definitely has to be that outstanding cliff-hanger twist at the end of part three. As a Doctor Who fan of nearly 20 years, it feels like it was something I should have seen coming, particularly for anyone who has seen Arc of Infinity, but on my first listen in 2003 it blew me away. Although the whole story really hangs upon it, the twist that the Doctor we have been listening to for the first three episodes was really Omega with a split-personality is pure genius, made more effective when the real Doctor turns up a moment later. The power of the twist is naturally diminished on repeated listening (this being my fifth I think), but it remains a fantastic dramatic moment, and one of Doctor Who strongest cliff-hangers, up there with Earthshock part one, and Remembrance of the Daleks part one.

Whether you enjoy moral parables, philosophy, well observed dry humour, or just wanted to know more about Omega, this audio offers something for most listeners and Doctor Who fans to enjoy. Omega may not quite be a classic, but its clever script work, superlative characterisation and great cast make it stand out from most of BIG Finish’s other audios as a thoroughly entertaining, enjoyable, and underrated gem.

Score: 9/10

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