Back in 1979, through one reason or another, I missed most of ‘The Omega Factor’. I have vague memories of seeing one episode but think it was late in its only season and didn’t make much sense of it. Seeing the ten episodes now, I did put a lot of it together this time.
Journalist and psychic Tom Crane (actor James Hazeldine) is recruited into a government team called Department 7 in Edinburgh during an investigation where his wife gets killed in a car crash. Their friend, Anne Reynolds (actress Louise Jameson), wants to help and her boss, Roy Martindale (actor John Carlisle) who has a distinct creepiness about him and manipulative. Martindale getting Crane’s brother, Michael (actor Nicholas Coppin), to go away so Tom could borrow his flat for a while. There is also a secret organisation called the Omega Factor, some of its members have an omega symbol ring on their finger to make it easier to spot them, who have their own agenda and pop up from time to time. In the meantime, Crane and Reynolds do their own lookout for mysterious goings-on. Not helped by the fact that his recently dead wife walks past occasionally amongst other things. Come to that, Michael ends up a bed case for a time after a military encounter and their using a disorientating device.
Notice how I’m being careful not to say too much because as a series of connecting stories, there’s spoilers from the start. So let’s analyse instead. ‘The Omega Factor’ has a late 70s appeal and is typical of BBC dramas of that time with a lot of chat to propel it along. It’s fascinating seeing how much smoking and drinking in the home is carried out all in the name of socialising that was considered quite normal at the time. Relationships are even more confusing, more so as Anne and Tom seems to be developing one so soon after his wife died. These days we would think the periodic appearance of his wife as a guilt trip except this is actually a low key SF show. Had ‘The Omega Factor’ reached a second season, this would have been explained as organisation whom the show is named after is given a strong hint of their involvement towards the end. Don’t forget this series was made before heavy conspiracy series started to become the norm. If it wasn’t for the machinations of Mary Whitehouse complaining about the scariness and violence of the series, we might well have had that and find out what was going. More so, as their masterstroke at the end was to kill or abduct half the players. Without the second season, we wouldn’t have seen what happened next. The recent Big Finish ‘Omega Factor’ stories have jumped a couple decades since then.
Tom Crane’s extra-sensory perception was on par with what was known at the time. Mostly being aware of events and eager to investigate. Only one story used his talent as a means to get out of a dangerous situation. I suspect if this series was re-made today, Crane would be much more powerful but here, unless agitated, doesn’t usually get that powerful. It is just used to propel the story out of a jam and no one wonders if Crane might be a tad paranoid mostly because he is being frequently manipulated from all sides.
The extras contain a documentary about the series, an audio commentary with its creators and a small photo gallery. The commentary fills you in a lot about behind the scenes and history of the show.
Compared to what we have today, ‘The Omega Factor’ is relatively tame stuff but in the early 80s, would have been seen as ground-breaking, at least as far as wanting to put scares and complex conspiracies on TV on a low budget. Don’t be afraid to go to Scotland.
(region 2: pub: BBC 132592. 3 DVDs 488 minutes 10 * 49 minute episodes with extras. Price; about £14.00 (UK) if you know where to look)
cast: James Hazeldine, Louise Jameson and John Carlisle
check out website: www.simplyhe.co.uk