Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Main Range 047. Omega by Nev Fountain (August 2003)

The opening moments of Nev Fountain’s Omega see a force of great mythological power and symbolism reduced to an entertaining yet pulpy performance. Where Fountain makes this work, as in Jubilee, is in turning the neatly-packaged dumb-show (if we can call it that) into a vessel through which the genuine horror can enter – in this instance it’s the moment where the actor Tarpov, repeating his dialogue, “becomes” Vandekirian and Omega’s madness takes another step into the real world.
The early episodes drag slightly – there’s no two ways round this – and I found myself actively disappointed in the story given it had been previously recommended to me on numerous occasions. Not all the quirks of the script work – the bookshop-bot with its inflexible definition of “browsing” is a step too far, IMO, and I think some of the early whimsy and jokiness lingers a little too long into Part Three, rather deflating the tension at the cost of a good joke, where the story should be focusing on world-building and character complexity. Another of Omega’s weaknesses is the direction; I don’t think Gary Russell does a good job on conveying which space we’re on where, making the story difficult to follow at times.

That said, even the back-drop stock figures come to life. Daland and Sentia are skilfully drawn merely over the course of their brief sub-space conversation together; the passengers on the Shuttle (Glinda and Maven) are a hoot, particularly as you can hear the Fifth Doctor’s increasing frustration with such space tourists as time goes on. Professor Ertikus is also a neat little creation, and Patrick Duggan does a good job with him right up to his brutal death scene. As the story goes on, Caroline Munro’s Sentia becomes more and more significant, serving as a kind of “companion” figure to Omega; and the twist that she and Omega are to be wed is quite the surprise! Her playing of the “mad Sentia” toward the story’s end works rather well, too.

Peter Davison gives one of his best performances here, joyously flippant in the early episodes and growing ever more sombre as the narrative draws on. He displays a ready wit (readier than in his TV appearances), deploying it even in the more serious situations. He also does a lot of nifty detective work, deducing someone else must have been partially responsible for Tarpov’s mutilation, identifying Ertikus as a Time Lord and realising Daland is shamming unconsciousness.

There’s a whole host of great ideas – the Sector of Forgotten Souls is a suitably epic, lyrical notion, as is the ghost of Omega’s ship reappearing every 100 years. Indeed, Omega’s tragic back-history is well-developed from the TV series proper. The Eurydice is a great name for his vessel, and Fountain fills in more about Omega in a way that maintains a sense of mystery but also giving us a few more tantalising details. Vandekirian is a strong addition and a good foil for the eponymous character and provides a great back-story for the Hand of Omega and a strong way of linking Omega to his rival Rassilon. Ian Collier is, of course, terrific in his old part of Omega, the Time Lord who is “clearly not God, but would love to believe he is”, manipulate as he’s ever been. The scene where he asks the Doctor how he is remembered on Gallifrey is particularly strong. Revelations follow upon the heels of revelations, this time the nature of Omega’s real name in Part Four truly enlightening the already richly symbolic Peylix conversation in Part Two. It’s hard to believe that Fountain was the one who came up with the concept of the “Omega” fail grade from his Academy days, as it fits so well with the otherwise random Greek nomenclature of the character that it seems as though it were planned all along. Witness the gorgeously done moment where Omega, faced with Vandekirian’s proof that the Scintillans inhabit the system Omega wishes to use for his stellar manipulator, chooses to progress anyway – it’s a richly done portrayal of a humbled genius determined to leave his mark, and the subsequent mental torture he endures for his ‘sins’.

But if this story is to be remembered for anything, it will be the final moments of Part Three, in which Davison’s Doctor, or at least a version of the Doctor’s personality, is unveiled as the villain of the piece. It’s not just a great cliff-hanger for the shock value, but because of the profound repercussions it has throughout both this story and the recent BF adventures Five has been on. Fountain’s understanding of the Fifth Doctor as the one who dashes around being terribly nice to everyone but leaving an awful trail of carnage in his wake is solid, and this story plays on that much like Creatures of Beauty and Spare Parts (thanks to Joe Ford at the wonderful Doc Oho reviews for pointing out Fountain’s quote): the Doctor is himself the murderer and the villain who’s been stalking us, thanks to a neat bit of plotting that’s also something of a sequel to Arc of Infinity. Part Four, as we see into Omega’s madness thanks to stunning performances from both Collier and Davison (we even get the fan-service flashbacks to Omega and Rassilon’s schooldays!) is a rich audial experience and a fascinating exploration of the character that makes the preceding three parts more than worth the slightly turgid journey to get to the real meat of the piece. Much of the story thus is concerned with Omega’s damaged psyche – Scintillans, the faux-Doctor, and so on – and this makes for a more intimate portrayal than it seems at first. It’s not a space-opera at all. It’s a character study.

We sympathise with “the bad guy”. We really, really do. He’s a broken creature. The relationship between the Doctor and Omega is beautifully brought to life by Davison and Collier in Part Four. As is pointed out, the two are rather alike. Whenever we see the Doctor mourning over something awful he’s done after this particular story, I like to think a part of him is always remembering the unjustly reviled figure he once revered.

Other things:
“Alright, if you’re interested I’ll tell you the story. And this is only because you asked, and only because it’s you. It’s the story of a foolish and very powerful Time Lord who did a terrible thing, and of the heroic Time Lord who discovered what he did, to his horror. With me so far?”
“I didn’t walk out on you singular. I walked out on you… plural.”
“We don’t like going into history. We much prefer Jolly Chronolidays to bring history to us, don’t we?”
“Didn’t you play the randy priest in Hearts in Orbit on Channel thirty-thousand and eight?”
“History is the new soap-opera, so we want the legends, and the more lurid your take on the legends the better.”
“Grains of truth are like grains of sand: make anything out of them, the tide comes and washes them all away, and they get in your socks and make your feet itch too.”
“I see history as a lighted candle. It illuminates all before it and burns so brightly that even people who close their eyes to it can see the mark it makes on their eyelids.”
“The public can’t cope with history, unless it’s on the telly with lots of actors dressed in silly costumes. Philistines!”
Part One has a seriously good cliff-hanger, and Russell Stone’s music builds sublimely. “You will not stop, Vandekirian, because I – Omega – will kill you first!” Just as Don Warrington did with Rassilon, Ian Collier’s voice perfectly inhabits the grandiose role.
“Your strangulation of my patient is impairing his recovery.”
“I must say, of all the metaphors I’ve been in, this is by far the nicest.”
“Cease this endless prattling!”/“Oh, must I? But I do it so well! My ability with endless prattle is legendary! Many people have commented on my prattling, I’ve won awards for prattling! I don’t like to go to the award ceremonies though, they’re very boring… you should hear the length of the acceptance speeches, they do tend to go on a bit, but they’re such good prattlers, you see…”
“So you’ve gone from being a power-crazed tyrant to talking like an American? I’m not sure which is better.”
“It burns like a lighted candle in the dark.”
“He’s babbling into a screen speaking half-truths and nonsense.”/“He works in television. They do that.”
“A story is nothing without truth. The truth is nothing without its own story.”
Ian Collier delivers this very well: “There was a statue made of me that they erected in the Great Hall of the Academy. As I watched it being fashioned, I thought: as long as that statue stands, so my legacy. But I realised it would crumble and erode even on a planet that hides itself like a hermit from the passage of time. Then I thought if I could shape the universe like that mason shaped his ebonite, then my name and my story would live untouched until the end of eternity.”
“You were idolized by every Gallifreyan I knew. You were an inspiration. I tried to live my life by the values you set down. It’s no coincidence that we’re actually very alike, you and me.”
Much like the Huldrans in Project: Lazarus, the Scintillans are rather “token monsters”.
“Is this bit of the heritage centre meant to look like a 10,000 year old spaceship?” – these sorts of scenes are a funny take on how history (and myth) can get distorted and garbled.
“It’s not a bad old cosmos; flowers, cups of tea, trees, mugs of tea, sunsets… pots of tea… As you can see I don’t expect too much from this universe.”
You can practically hear Collier smirk when he delivers most of his lines, but oh my word, he’s terrifying when he gets angry.
“It’s magic, Doctor. I can’t tell you how it’s done. The magic might stop working.” (Once we pick things apart, once we understand them, they stop functioning – see Peylix and the old myth).
The script’s finest hour: “My mind was fractured, smashed into fragments. I was left with somewhat of an identity crisis.”/“Quite a common complaint for those that visit Amsterdam, I gather.”
“I always thought about giving you a piece of my mind, but not to this extent.”
“Some TARDISes tend not to hang around if their owners depart. There’s this symbiotic link thing, they get awfully attached to their owners. Most TARDISes spend millennia grieving, some just hurl themselves into the vortex, never to be seen again… Somewhere at the end of time there’s an elephant’s graveyard of broken capsules.” A beautiful idea.
“I’ve always considered talking to myself to be the first sign of sanity.”
“I’m not a warrior, I’m not a martyr, a tyrant, or a hero. I am a scientist!”
“If I have to be a monster to bring our race into a new age of enlightenment, then so be it. I will be a monster.”
“You should be on your knees screaming for the universe to forgive you!”
“These are choices I have to make all the time. Sometimes, I make the right one. Sometimes.”
Humanoid TARDISes? The Celestial Preservation Agency? Gosh, that knocked me for six. Bit underdeveloped, mind.
The autograph line had me grinning, though :)

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