Many years agone, I came across an odd little BBC miniseries called the Omega Factor.
Primarily of interest for the presence of the only recently departed Doctor Who companion Leela (Louise Jameson) and its apparent occult/horror elements, the series proved both fascinating and frustrating, as the occult mystery elements of the earliest episodes swiftly vanished in favor of a more Counter-Measureslike political intrigue, pseudo-science and an overall feeling of being trapped by the “powers that be” in a very politicosocial sense – more “you can’t fight town hall” than the “spiritual forces that govern our daily existence”.
While the Edinburgh setting maintained a certain atmosphere throughout, in effect, the series started off great, but the often gripping performances of the two leads aside, ended as a total letdown.
And so we come to the Big Finish adaptation thereof…or more precisely, the related but slightly tangenital novel series creator Jack Gerson published.
And the frustration factor continues.
Issue one: it’s a literal audiobook reading. While some Big Finish lines such as the Companion Chronicles or the earlier Dark Shadows leant more towards that general stylistic motif than the far meatier full cast dramas the company is known and oft celebrated for, these tended to be at least partially casted, multi-role duo (or trio) acts.
At the very least, like some of the more amusing audiobook recitations (George Takei’s unintentionally hilarious Sherlock Holmes Last Adventures, Felicia Day’s portion of R.A. Salvatore’s The Legend of Drizzt, etc.), the reader would truly throw themselves into the part(s), offering wacky voices, familiar if caricaturized impressions of departed costars and often far more gusto than the material would seem to merit, to inevitably entertaining result.
But Jameson, so lively and forceful as the often confused, hyper aggressive Leela over in the Fourth Doctor Adventures, delivers a strangely subdued, surprisingly straight recitation of the novel, with little more than a Scotch accent or two to enliven the proceedings.
It’s certainly respectable enough, and Jameson has a soothingly warm tonality that engenders a measure of listener comfort…but her performance here proves just a bit understated, if not dull over the course of an entire unexpurgated novel.
The second issue is more intrinsic. Those expecting (as I did) a Big Finish dramatization (on some level) of the teleseries will of a certainty find themselves disappointed. While aspects of the series…or at least the opening episode thereof are in fact present, it takes a hell of a long time to get to and through them.
In some respects, it can be argued that the more leisurely pace allows for more in depth characterization, and in fact we do get a lot more time with protagonist Tom Crane (originally portrayed by the late James Hazeldine), his ill fated wife Julia and the lovely Dr. Anne Reynolds (which role Jameson essayed back in those halcyon days of 1979).
But the issue is that things don’t start to move until Chapter 5…if not even later. Here’s a hint: Julia, Morag and the incident on the road don’t actually occur until the end of Chapter 7.
Of a 12 chapter book.
In point of fact, an entire half hour chapter (or more precisely, “prologue”) is dedicated to a character referred to throughout as “the boy”. Those familiar with the series will find themselves facepalming over the early giveaway of an important plot point revealed much deeper into the televised run – effectively sabotaging the entire “hook” of the ostensible mystery!
The thinking behind delivering a recitation of the novel is fairly transparent. As the novel effectively ends with episode one of the series, it offers a good setup and starting point from which to launch a new line of audio adventures, presumably continuing through and expanding past the original storyline.
But as a standalone?
Sorry to have to say, given my love of both Jameson and Big Finish (and despite some mixed feelings about the tonal shift partway through, 1979’s Omega Factor itself), but it’s a bit weak.