A Big Finish A Week 18: Omega

Well, it’s actually more than a fortnight since the last one, but given the circumstances, I hope you can forgive me.

(There are a *lot* of people searching for Doctor Who today, aren’t there? And I appear, when I look at the WordPress tag ‘doctor who’ to be the ‘featured blog’, whatever that means. So for those of you who are coming here for the first time, hello. My name’s Andrew Hickey, and I like the old series of Doctor Who very much, and don’t like the new series very much at all. I hope you won’t hold that against me…)

Omega is rather unusual among Big Finish audios, in that it directly follows, and is a sequel to, an episode of the TV series – but if you’ve seen the episode in question the big twist of the story is spoiled for you.

Nev Fountain’s story is part of a thematic trilogy, along with Master and Davros, that was leading up to Big Finish’s fiftieth story, Zagreus. Each of these featured the Doctor without a companion going up against a single ‘classic’ villain who hadn’t appeared much or at all in the Big Finish stories previously. Each revealed ‘new, shocking facts’ about the origin of that villain, and each in some way showed that the Doctor and the villain were two sides of the same coin. I’ve reviewed those two audios earlier, but suffice to say that Davros is one of the three or four best things Big Finish have ever done (and is among my top ten Doctor Who stories in any medium) while Master is three-quarters of a decent little horror/murder mystery topped with half an hour of the most egregious fanwank ever conceived.

Omega, as you might expect from one of Peter Davison’s audios, which are always solidly entertaining but rarely (with a few exceptions like The Kingmaker) groundbreaking and different, is somewhere in between, never reaching the highs of Davros, but never plumbing the depths of “The Master was created by Death in a deal with the Doctor when the Doctor was a kid because the Doctor was a murderer and gave up his best friend rather than face the guilt”.

We do, unfortunately, get the revelation that the Doctor has committed yet another genocide in the past, which must be at least the fifth and does tend to suggest that the Doctor is some kind of cosmic Hitler, even though most of these have been by accident, but taking this as a story on its own, rather than trying to make connections with all the other stories, it’s actually quite effective.

The story itself is quite simple – the Doctor turns up on a spaceship running a ‘jolly Chronolidays’ tour to the site of Omega’s experiments with time travel, where some of the actors who take part in the reconstructions are going mad and believing they are the real people who they are playing. Meanwhile, Omega is on the loose on the ship, and the Doctor has not got his TARDIS, and Omega is trying to get back to his own universe, even if this means taking the entire ship with him.

The problem is that understanding this means having seen two old Doctor Who stories. Omega isn’t as ‘iconic’ a villain as the Master or Davros, both of whom are names that would be recognised by, if not necessarily the non-fan public, at least the sort of casual fan who might be tempted to pick up a CD in the shops based on having liked the show as a kid. Omega, by contrast, is tied to two specific stories – The Three Doctors and Arc Of Infinity – both of which are themselves very much mired in Gallifreyan lore. This means that the only people who are ever going to listen to this story are those who have seen those two stories. And anyone who have seen those two stories will know that in Arc Of Infinity, which comes directly before this story, Omega had inhabited a body which was an exact replica of the Doctor’s.

Knowing this, the big twist in the middle of the story – that we haven’t in fact been following the story of the Doctor battling Omega, but instead a sort of sub-Fight Club story in which both minds are in one body, a copy of the Doctor’s – is entirely obvious to anyone who gives the story some thought, and without that much of the impact is lost.

The story has other flaws as well – the attempts at humour stick out like a sore thumb, with in-jokes aimed at particular groups of fans, and bathetic ‘humorous’ stings in the music whenever something ‘funny’ happens, and with a reference to Zagreus that includes a ‘hilarious’ Scouse accent (regional accents are obviously the funniest thing in the entire universe). Also, the big ‘revelation’ about Omega is so ridiculous one is almost tempted to regard it as a joke at the expense of the other two stories in the ‘trilogy’. Despite these flaws, the audio succeeds on its own terms, thanks to a particularly good central performance by Davison (and having watched a few of Davison’s TV shows recently, I’m even more impressed with his audio performances – when listening to the audios one feels the character is exactly the same one he played on TV, but when watching the TV show it is very obvious how much more subtle a performance he’s giving now. Which is not to disparage his performance in the 80s, but just to say how much better an actor he is twenty-plus years on). The plotting is also very tight – a necessity when every single character in the story, without exception, either gets possessed by another character, is pretending to be someone who they’re not, or in some other way has some very confused identity problems.

Omega is, despite my criticisms, definitely in the top 50% of Big Finish stories – the story itself is enjoyable enough to reward repeated listenings, it’s never dull, and the flaws, though real, never pull you out of the story the way they do in the worst of the audios. But this is one for the fans, rather than for the casual listener, in a way that the very best Big Finish stories aren’t.

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