Review by Ian McArdell
In 2015, Big Finish revived the late 1970s BBC science-meets-supernatural thriller series The Omega Factor to quite some acclaim. Indeed, one episode was nominated for a BBC Audio Drama Award.
Starring Louise Jameson; a member of the original cast, as Dr Anne Reynolds, the audio drama picked up the Edinburgh based tale of Department 7 in the present day. Fresh to this continuation of the show is John Dorney as Adam Dean, son of the original lead character Tom Dean (an investigative journalist who was played by the late James Hazeldine).
Department 7’s focus for research are matters of the mind, such as ESP and telekinesis, and it was investigations into these phenomena that first drew them into conflict with the secretive organisation known as Omega – a cabal of important figures seeking to use those powers to gain a grip on government and international affairs.
In the first box set, we were reintroduced to the series’ premise, with Dr Reynolds work gaining some credibility, and crucially some proper funding, at its conclusion. This is where the second series begins…Somnum Sempiternum by Phil Mulryne
An apparent suicide of an MP; one of a string of such deaths, is the trigger for Department 7’s involvement. Called in by the holder of their Whitehall purse-strings, the enjoyably sceptic James Doyle (Alan Cox), Adam sees a girl at the crime scene that no one else can. Stranger still, that same girl appears on CCTV footage with an office worker apparently walking straight through her.
A welcome reintroduction to this world; Phil Mulryne’s story re-establishes Adam Dean’s burgeoning abilities as well as Department 7’s position. He also brings back one of the most memorable characters from the last set, Dr Jane Wyatt. Camilla Power is delightfully bitchy in her role as the amoral doctor; who we discover reports to a superior; Dr Banks, and who has connections to a wider group with a sinister agenda.
The Changeling by Roy Gill
The second episode takes Adam on an ill-advised undercover mission inside a prison. An unexplained death has occurred near his new cell mate, the dangerously intense Alasdair Reiver (Alan Francis); a lifelong lag sent down for the murder of a boyhood pal when they were in their early teens.
Meanwhile Anne Reynolds remains on the outside, dealing with a sceptical prison Governor (a no-nonsense Scots woman played to perfection by Richenda Carey) and an uncooperative bureaucratic system.
For me this is the darkest story of the set. Roy Gill (who has written for BF’s Dark Shadows and Dorian Gray ranges) spins a tale which turns on old superstitions and prejudice as we meet the mother of the murdered boy, a regular visitor to his killer, and again throws a link to that wider conspiracy as it puts Adam in horrendous danger.
Let the Angel Tell Thee by Louise Jameson
Louise Jameson pens the third story in the set, and it grants us the opportunity to see her character cast in a rather different light. When the show was on the television, Anne Reynolds was in her twenties and had a romantic dalliance with the ill-fated Tom Crane. Some forty years on, she has remained committed to her career; albeit single and childless.
This episode allows her to revisit those feelings, as well as to admit her maternal instincts towards Adam, as the prospect of romance appears in the form of the suave Anthony Archer (Hugh Fraser). Archer is the godfather of Edward Milton, an up and coming politician who appears to exhibit abilities similar to Adam, and more besides.
Meanwhile, Adam is plagued by wasps and visions of Morag, the powerful psychic they rescued in the previous series, who is desperate to communicate with him. Of course, it is little surprise when Anthony Archer’s plans for Anne Reynolds turn out to be rather less then honourable.
Awakening by Matt Fitton
Finally, script editor Matt Fitton draws all the threads together as Omega step forth from the shadows. Events, which escalate to include Adam’s young daughter, come to a head and we are treated to a meaty confrontation and which provides some shocking results. I’m reluctant to go further so as not to spoil, but suffice to say that the groundwork is set for a further series in surprising fashion.
The Omega Factor excels thanks to a combination of smart scripts and a pair of engaging lead actors. Louise Jameson is always highly believable, and it is interesting to hear her play her age as I am so used to her pitching herself younger for Leela. John Dorney convinces as an everyman, struggling to cope with these emerging powers and trying to survive their impact, primarily on instinct and it is easy to root for him.
Some astute choices have been made in the guest cast, from the silky smooth Hugh Fraser as Anne Reynold’s potential paramour to Richenda Carey, superb in dual roles as the prison governor and Dr Banks. So too is Natasha Gerson; playing both the haunted Morag and the embittered mother of the murdered lad in The Changeling. In both cases I had no reason to suspect they were not different actors.
As with the first set, Steve Foxon’s sound design across the stories is terrific and it combines with Nicholas Briggs subtle score to make for unnerving listening for the most part, rising to heart-stopping on occasion.
If the first box set introduced us to the world of The Omega Factor and Department 7, the second reintroduces the threat of Omega itself. Well connected and in the shadows, the conspiracy seems more set on survival than domination at this stage, but there is plenty to terrify the unwary listener here; if perhaps the stories are not as out and out frightening as before.
With plenty of links back to the original series; though easily enjoyable without, I’ll give it a demonic 8/10.
You can buy it here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-omega-factor—from-beyond-1638
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