Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Omega written by Nev Fountain and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: A strange telepathic message prompts the Doctor to travel to the 'Sector of Forgotten Souls', a place where, thousands of years ago, Omega's ship vanished whilst detonating a star. He's not the only one journeying towards it. 'Jolly Chronolidays' prides itself on giving its tourists an experience of galactic history that is far better than mere time travel. Its motto is 'We don't go into history, we prefer to bring history to you'. When Omega's ship suddenly materialises in front of their shuttle, and one of their employees goes insane and tries to destroy his hands…suddenly it's not just a motto anymore. And Omega - and his madness - is closer than they think.

An English Gentlemen: Sometimes it is very interesting to read the authors comments in the CD booklet because it gives you a real insight into where they were focussing their energies when writing the story. This story leaves and breathes the fifth Doctor, it is possibly his best showing yet for Big Finish and its certainly Peter Davison’s strongest performance among many great showings. Fountain makes some interesting points about the fifth Doctor, that he charges around the universe being extremely nice to everybody and yet somehow leaves a trail of carnage in his wake. It happened in Creatures of Beauty. And Spare Parts. And the author takes this uncomfortable concept to its most radical conclusion. He makes the Doctor the murderer and the villain whilst he is still being a nice as pie. What a great idea. Can you imagine any other Doctor suiting this story so much as the fifth, having to come to terms with the fact that he has been the monsters eyes and ears and has been murdering people at his whim? Peter Davison plays a fine victim and I mean that in as polite a way as possible. His last televised story was so effective because he managed to portray the Doctor as a victim of circumstance desperately trying to cling onto to anything that would allow him to triumph. Similarly that moment in Ressurection of the Daleks where he confronts Davros with a gun, turning him into a victim of his own morality is just as gripping. Davison portrays the scenes at the end of part three where the faux Doctor has to confront what he has done and come to terms with the fact that he isn’t the Doctor with real pain and desperation. It is absolutely transfixing. It also makes sense of the fact that Fountain has characterised the Doctor quietly throughout, to give this twist some effect. I really liked it and found the Doctor’s sudden appearance at the end of part three one of the most accomplished cliff-hangers we have ever seen. As if to compensate part four sees the real Doctor enter the scene and displaying more personality than ever! And what makes this sort of role reversal especially satisfying is that once again we are informed that the Doctor has accidentally wiped out a whole species. For real. The treatment of the Doctor and the final, glorious twist about his reputation in the future and what the story has really been all about is the finest element to this story.

In a rather droll defence of wet’n’windy Wales the Doctor provides a strong defence for the Eye of Orion. He is pushing 900 and is an old hand at time travel now. How embarrassing that he is fooled by a clever copy of Omega’s ship. His ability with endless prattle is legendary. Comparing him wonderfully with his predecessor, Blackpool is too brash for his tastes. He only ever travels anywhere by accident, especially alternative universes! He is described as the Doctor with a strong emphasis on the definitive article. He worshipped Omega in the Academy and he always thought that learning everything about his hero would spoil the mystery. It is no co-incidence that he and Omega are very much alike, he’s had a few days where he has wanted to shove the Time Lords up a black hole too. He gave the suggestion that he could question things and rebel against the society he lives in. The Doctor was granted a similar punishment: exile. In a gloriously simple moment he reveals he doesn’t expect much from the universe as long as there is a cup of tea waiting for him. The Doctor has always considered talking to himself as the first sign of sanity. Due to a telepathic link with the fake him he knows exactly what is going on which makes a very pleasant change! Omega considers himself a fragile flower compared to the monstrosities the Doctor has committed. The CPA reveals that the Doctor is a great hero in the future of the Time Lords and his name is rallied during darkness. This was before the Doctor killed the lot of them apparently.

Academy Nickname: With no companions to speak of the Doctor gets to spar with a number of his most terrifying villains. I can understand the appeal of bringing back these characters and giving them some depth. The Master (a one dimensional baddie at the best of times) and Davros (who has a back story that is gagging to be told) were excellent choices…but Omega? When you hear that the Celestial Toymaker was considered for this story it makes you salivate to think what could have been. Omega was stellar (geddit?) in The Three Doctors, just about the most gripping thing about the story and portrayed with agonising power and sympathy. His turn in Arc of Infinity, Doctor Who’s cure for insomnia (try it out…it really works!), was such a disappointment. Reduced to technobabble and lacking in menace, it took the Ergon for me to wake up and pay attention. There is clearly some interesting work to be done with Omega but I’m not sure that a story that dilutes him into a schizophrenic angst ridden failure was the best option. Not only that but the most interesting part of his backstory, his genocidal guilt was borrowed from the Doctor and even worse the concluding scenes reveal that he is considered ‘a joke’ in the future. Poor guy. All the great work that is done with Doctor is at Omega’s expense. Was that the idea? Whilst he is certainly better than he was in Arc of Infinity, Ian Collier cannot match the eldritch performances of Molloy and Beevers in subsequent releases.

He was destined to be the first Lord of Time. Is he as philologists claim more than a villain than Rassilon? I loved the title of Ertikus’ book – Omega, the blackest star of all. After his last encounter with the Doctor he was left a formless entity in the ether. The first and greatest scientist of his people. He wants to go back home to his anti matter universe as he feels impotent and powerless as he stands. He can hear the world calling to him. He wants to know how he is perceived on Gallifrey and despite the Doctor’s claim that his revered he feels he is a bedtime story to scare children. His real name is Palix and he is the only student in Gallifrey’s history to earn the mark of Omega. He believes that scientists should not seize power through bloodshed, a noble man. Omega does not consider himself to be a warrior, a martyr, a tyrant or a hero. During the course of the first three episodes he has to convince the Doctor side of his mind to help him.

Great Ideas: I like the fake theatrical opening – it is just convincing enough to be real. The Sector of Forgotten Souls where Omega completed his final mission to detonate the Eye of Jurtis and give the Time Lords unlimited energy for time travel. His mission failed and his ship was caught in the event horizon of the black hole he created and was lost. Legend has it that he is caught between universes. Loved the idea of Jolly Chonolodays bringing history to you…far more entertaining than the real thing (which is dusty and dull because you can’t touch anything!). How funny is the electronic mugging machine – a drone that tells you how long you have been browsing and therefore logically you must want to buy the book! Intergalactic equity doesn’t like all the acting parts going to automatons. Ertikus is revealed to be a Time Lord who has studied Omega extensively, having to make his documentary over and over depending on how he is envisaged. The idea of Sentia and Omega getting married is ridiculous (who would want to get hitched to a centuries old spirit from another dimension?) but I rather like the idea of a marriage that symbolises a union between universes. Tarpov is murdered in a very uncivilised way, his hand is severed and he is stabbed through the heart. Still, he’s only an actor. Can the telepathic circuit from Ertikus’ TARDIS be used to ensnare Omega, a being of pure thought? When you realise that the Doctor and Omega have been two aspects of the same personality it means he has been talking to himself for three episodes! Still the idea of the Doctor having murdered characters is a truly audacious utilising the audio medium to conceal a great twist. TARDISes tend not to hang about if their owners have departed; most of them spend millennia grieving and hurl themselves into the vortex never to be seen again. Somewhere at the end of the universe there is an elephants graveyard of broken capsules. The Time Lords received a telepathic message from the Doctor to help defeat Omega but in reality this was Omega asking for help to defeat himself! The two personalities take it in turns to be dominant. We never learn what did happen on the Eurydice but Omega, unable to understand how a prolonged exile such as his could have been the punishment of a good took some of the Doctor’s memories and wove them into his own life. It is the Doctor who is responsible for murdering the Scintillans, albeit by accident. The final, triumphant twist is that the two dotty old ladies wandering about are part of the Celestial Preservation Agency; Glinda is a walking TARDIS and Maeve a Time Lady both sent to make sure that the pattern of history remains intact but the perception of history as well. They are basically there to protect the Doctor’s image – they can’t have him responsible for genocide and Omega’s madness, not when he is considered such a hero back home in the future.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Grains of truth are like grains of sand. Make anything out of them and the tide comes and washes them away.’
‘Your strangulation of my patient is impairing his recovery!’
‘I seem to have arrived a little too late.’

Audio Landscape: I’m not going to sugar coat my opinion as I think story is pretty badly directed. Its not just the inconsistent tone (which I will go into later) but the soundscapes are pretty unmemorable as well. In over two hours of running time I only wrote down five points that stood out to me at all. A shuttle shoots past at the beginning of the story and we head inside and hear the excited chatter of the tourists. The various robots are well voiced and distinctive. The whispering threats of the Scintillans made me pay attention. And Omega’s spaceship is nice and echoey. That’s it. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention enough or maybe the background effects just weren’t especially apparent but this is one story could have done with a bit of juicing up to make sure the production matched the clever ideas.

Musical Cues: Russell Stone, be still my heart, I could not find one note of memorable music in this story! It’s an unmemorable score that should have been bombastic but is far too girly for that. The script says laugh, the story says faint with shock and the music says fall asleep it's so calm and ethereal. The harmonious music worked for Stones of Venice because it suited the story's mood but similar mood music here fails dismally because it fights the material. Shocking.

Isn’t that Odd: For me this story has an extremely uneven tone and much like season 25’s The Happiness Patrol it wants to tell a bold and dramatic story but it is surrounded by garish and childish trappings. Did the story have to go for the comic angle quite as much as it did? Some of the ideas are amusing enough without the deluge of gags and theatrical performances to hammer the point home. The script is bubbly and frothy but the plot tries to be hard as nails, the two fight each other for supremacy and the direction swings pendulously between both uneasily. The story wants to juggle ideas as weighty as genocide, body snatching, murder and the perception of history but the giggly humour makes light of these potentially hard-hitting ideas. I still don’t know if this story is a comedy or drama and that’s not in the perverse and skin crawling way that Jubilee played its black comedy. Omega lacks subtlety, which is a shame because a lot of effort has gone into writing this story. The first two cliffhangers are practically identical and are so poor they only serve to make the third as strong as it is. Caroline Munro is wasted in the function of Omega’s bride, a thankless role of melodrama and hysterics. And whilst Peter Davison is trying his best to make it as powerful a moment as possible the revelation that the Doctor is Omega is no where near as psychologically scarring as it should be. Colin Baker made a far more chilling madman in Jubilee because the script gave him time to explore the messed up Time Lord. Having the Doctor and Omega arguing with each other should have been really scary, Psycho or Secret Window scary but instead it’s just another zippy ideas in a packed script. And I’ll say it one last time…is Omega really a strong enough villain to prop up this story?

Result: Its hard to know what to think of Omega because at verges between being brilliant, shocking on the one hand and highly imaginative and bland, expository and irritatingly theatrical on the other. The first three episodes are mostly useless; they plod along harmlessly enough with some sluggish direction but its episode four where all the meat is. For that half an hour you are treated to revelations, a conclusion bursting with ideas and some really fun moments. Peter Davison has rarely been better and it is a shame because he deserves a far more dramatic story to hang his performance on. His scenes with Ian Collier lack tension and chemistry though, which blunts the potentially terrifying idea of a duel personality inside Omega’s head. Fountain would jettison a lot of the pretension in his next script and really go for the comic jugular but it feels as though he is trying a little too hard here and the result is an patchy story with possibly Gary Russell’s weakest direction to date: 6/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/47-Doctor-Who-Omega


Anonymous said...

"The CPA reveals that the Doctor is a great hero in the future of the Time Lords and his name is rallied during darkness. This was before the Doctor killed the lot of them apparently."

Or maybe it was after the events of "The Day of the Doctor", then the Doctor saved them all in a pocket universe and release them someday.

ali said...

What a wonderful redemption of Arc in Infnity! Though the story is so strong on its own, you could almost cut the "Amsterdam" stuff entirely.... Omega could just have easily imprinted on Davison in The Three Doctors.

For me this story has an extremely uneven tone..."

Not quite. It's structured like a classic series story. But the plot is more akin to a New Series story (or even a New Adventure). Hence, it sags a bit.

How great is it that even Omega doesn't remember his true origin, when all is said and done. He's a ghost. He can't shift public perception any more than he can lift solid objects. Also liked how Omega has two personalities at the start, the grandfatherly scientist and scenery-chewing spaz villain. Very smart twist. The third personality goes unnoticed because he's already at war with himself.

I would have SWORN Omega was being played by Tony Jay. What a voice.

David Pirtle said...

No, another Celestial Toymaker doesn't make me salivate, not after his first awful outing and the alright but nothing special Nightmare Fair.

Like both of Omega's previous outings, i thought this one was good, not great. Someone should gather up all these underserved high concept second string villains and write a comic about them forming some sort of club.

Alistair.servan said...

Doc Oho is usually spot on, but he's ay out on this one. It's perfect for Davison, the pacing is comfortable, in perfect keeping with Davison's performance, and tehb tension ramps up nicely to a crcking conlusion. I absolutely lovd this one. 10/10

Lee said...

The pace is weirdly slow for a mystery, but after the time-hopping, monster-chasing, ex boyfriend-showing up Waters of Amsterdam, this feels like a cool breeze. So I kinda like that. Also, the banters are hilarious.