The Omega Factor: Feature: Return to Department 7

OFDR01_cover_1417SQIn 1979, BBC 1 broadcast the ten-part series The Omega Factor, written by Jack Gerson. It starred James Hazeldine as journalist Tom Crane whose emerging psychic powers bring him to the attention of Department 7, amongst whom is physicist Dr Anne Reynolds (Louise Jameson). The show took its name from a mysterious Omega Conspiracy, embodied in one Edward Drexel. The show only ran for one series and famously fell victim to Mary Whitehouse’s crusade against what she deemed the rise of the permissive society. Jump forward 35 years, and Big Finish announces that 2015 will see the release of what will hopefully be jsut the first set of new audio stories for The Omega Factor. Tony Jones visited the studio for the recording of the fourth story, The Hollow Earth by Ken Bentley, to talk to some of those involved…

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Line producer David Richardson explained why now is the right time to bring The Omega Factor to the ears of fans old and new alike: “It’s a good choice as it gives Big Finish a home-grown, British, scary, supernatural thriller. The catalogue is a lot broader now than it used to be. We released Survivors [in 2014] and it was a big hit, bigger than we had hoped. That came on the back of good reviews.”

Unlike Survivors, this new series of The Omega Factor doesn’t retell the original TV story from new perspectives but brings the 1970s story to the twenty-first century. Louise Jameson was very pleased with this decision: “It feels fantastic and I’m absolutely delighted they decided to contemporise the show, even though it retains a lot of the 70s feel.”

When asked what Dr Anne Reynolds and the Department had been doing in all this time, Louise explained: “Anne has been spending 30 years running Department 7 but not being terribly successful. She needs concrete evidence, which is very hard to get and it all takes time. The series starts with the Department under the threat of closure.”

Omega Factor jameson dorneySadly, original star James Hazeldine passed away in 2002; the move to a modern setting avoided any need to consider recasting his role. Continuity persists in the form of a new character, Adam Dean (played by regular Big Finish writer / actor John Dorney) who is Tom Crane’s son. Adam also has psychic abilities.

“Adam doesn’t like being compared to his father, a man who abandoned him when young. Adam is also unable to see his own children,” John explained. “His very existence was a surprise to Anne; Tom Crane vanished off the radar and took all his research with him. This was in the days when evidence was all paper based.”

The sense of continuity to the TV series is prevalent; the new audio series is still set in Scotland and apart from Louise and John, most of the voices from the guest cast are Scottish, or Irish. For David Richardson the Scottish element is part of the show’s DNA and he has been careful to ensure the casting reflects that.

Script editor and writer of the first story From Beyond, Matt Fitton notes: “Placing it there [Scotland] away from a London-centric setting gives is something different. A strong regional identity and all those wonderful voices to play with. In and around Scotland, there’s a remoteness that is accessible, if that makes sense! Edinburgh itself has an atmosphere of ancient buildings and history, which plays out in Ken Bentley’s episode.”

The writers had the challenge of establishing the show with a new audience, and finding a new core in the (apparent) absence of the original nemesis of both Drexel and even Omega themselves. Matt gave some insight into this: “I also read Jack Gerson’s novel of the series [which Louise Jameson has read as an audiobook for Big Finish]. The television show ended up departing from his initial vision, and we were keen to stay true to his intentions, so it was very useful to have a flavour of the background threat of Omega and the whole philosophy that lay behind his vision of the series.

“The story itself is timeless: the idea of paranormal powers, of terrifying things beyond our understanding has haunted the human psyche throughout the history of civilisation, and will continue to do so. The modern setting is a gift: I have always wanted to tell some modern horror tales, and this is a perfect framework in which to do so.”

Omega Factor originalDirector Ken Bentley added: “Linking back to events of 35 years ago gave us a strong starting point, and having Jack Gerson’s novel to draw on gave us a clear indication of his vision for the series. The passage of time has allowed us to make choices about what we use now and what we keep up our sleeve. There was some resolution to the TV series, so we’ve made choices about what impact those events have had, and how they resonate now. Events from the original series have actually been a wonderful springboard, helping us make clear choices about what’s happened in the past 35 years, and shaping the characters as they appear now.”

One final point of continuity is the continuing presence of Morag, a young girl in the TV show, played by Natasha Gerson (Jack’s daughter). Natasha not only gave permission for the show to make a return in audio, but also reprised the part of Morag, who has a psychic connection to Adam.

Big Finish is being careful to leave a lot unexplained in this first collection and there is plenty to explore if there are further boxsets; future stories will build on the team that forms during this series.

As to what listeners can expect, David Richardson summed it up as follows: “It’s a deliberately adult thriller, quite scary in places. It treats audience as adults; it’s thought provoking – science vs. supernatural vs. religion vs. psychic. All sorts of new areas are opened up. It is an adult drama, which means you look at all sides of a character’s behaviour. We have spent a lot of time in preproduction making sure we have something very good.”

On the basis of a morning spent in studio, all I can add is that this has all the hallmarks of being something very special indeed.

Click here to order Series 1 from Big Finish

Click here for our review of episode 1

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