“Omega” is the 47th audio in Big Finish‘s main range of Doctor Who audio plays, and it stars the Fifth Doctor with no companion. This was one of the first audios I bought (after “The Light at the End” and “The Kingmaker”) because I love both “The Three Doctors” and “Arc of Infinity” and I find Omega to be one of the most interesting characters in all of Doctor Who. I didn’t listen to it immediately, though, because I wanted to wait for my husband to listen to it with me, but I finally gave up on that and listened to it while traveling this week. Well, this is one audio that’s really hard to rate. I enjoyed it immensely – and I mean, I think this is one of my favorite audios – and yet I’m not sure that if I could view it objectively, I’d think it was a great one. I might need to listen to it again to figure that out.
I’ll note right away that this review is going to be full of spoilers, but first, it’s important to understand Omega’s history, so the spoilers in these first few paragraphs are only spoilers if you haven’t seen “The Three Doctors” and “Arc of Infinity.” So, who is Omega? He was a Gallifreyan stellar engineer who, with Rassilon, worked out how to master time and create the Time Lords from the Gallifreyans. He figured out how to cause a star to go supernova, to harness it to fuel time travel, but, during the procedure, his ship, the Eurydice, was sabotaged by his assistant Vandekirian and was sucked into a black hole. Rassilon then created Time Lord society and went on to rule, though Omega was lauded as the genius who made it all possible. It is unknown, though why Vandekirian sabotaged the ship, and there is speculation that Rassilon bribed him, being jealous of Omega’s popularity and wanting sole leadership of the Time Lords for himself.
Omega didn’t die in the black hole; instead, he traveled through into the formless antimatter universe, and by force of will, he shaped a world for himself to live in. By the beginning of “The Three Doctors,” he’d been there alone for millenia, pretty much stark raving mad and convinced he’d been double-crossed by the Time Lords. So, he wanted to return to the normal universe. Since his method of doing so was draining energy from the normal universe in massive amounts, the Time Lords send the Second and Third Doctor (with advice from the First Doctor) to vanquish and stop him. He then comes up with another plan, in “Arc of Infinity”: steal the biodata of a Time Lord to create a new body for himself made out of real matter (not antimatter), so that he could exist in the normal universe. Of course, biodata he steals is the Doctor’s (the Fifth Doctor this time), and he emerges in Amsterdam. The interesting thing at this point is that the insane Omega, rather than going on a rampage or immediately flying to Gallifrey to wreak revenge, he saw the humans going about their daily lives, and he realized he was back in the real world – back home – and he started to become sane again. However, his created body – with the form of the Fifth Doctor – began to convert back into antimatter, and in order to prevent the inevitable Earth-destroying matter/antimatter explosion, the Doctor expelled Omega back into the antimatter universe with an antimatter converter gun.
You can see why Omega is such an interesting character. Not only is he one of the two founding fathers of the Time Lords and was “killed” in mysterious, possibly political, circumstances, but he’s the rare character that returns from his madness when he realizes that he’s come home and he’s no longer alone. Thus, I went into the audio play “Omega” hoping to find out more about him, and possibly find out what happened on the Eurydice.
I wasn’t disappointed. Big, hulking spoilers for “Omega” ahead.
Big Finish audios have a certain quality to them that distinguishes them from the Doctor Who TV show, and I’m pretty sure the majority of TV fans won’t like them. But in a way, I find them to be superior to the modern TV show, and I’m going to try to describe why. First, the audios definitely feel like the classic show, rather than the modern show: they’re broken into multiple parts with cliffhangers at the end of each, and there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. The acting is slightly hammy, which gives them a comfortable feel. And since they are audios, their success depends heavily on the plot, dialogue, and characterization, and not on visual effects. Second, the audios have a certain surreal quality to them. Sometimes it’s in the form of very mundane, everyday British personalities in alien worlds, like “Omega”‘s old ladies (possibly Gallifreyan? not sure) sightseeing on a “We Bring History to You” time-travel tour. Other times, it’s odd characterizations of people, especially historical figures, which, instead of making you dismiss them as improbable or out of character, somehow meshes so well into believable and down-to-earth personas. I’m thinking in specific of Stephen Beckett’s quiet, drily sarcastic, loyal but pragmatic Richard, Duke of Gloucester in “The Kingmaker.” The audios somehow create these strange, nearly-unbelievable worlds and people around which the strange, nearly-unbelievable plots revolve, and it all works. It’s surreal science fiction at its best. It’s something that’s sadly missing from the modern show: while the show has its great plotlines and characters, it feels very close to mainstream science fiction. Sure, some of its arcs are convoluted and complicated, and there have been weird concepts and monsters, but they never feel fantastical. The Big Finish audios are so good at that.
And this brings us to the first point I loved about “Omega”: it brought us to the Omega story/legend/myth by taking us along with a tour of old ladies and gentleman visiting a replica of the Eurydice on the very spot that the real Eurydice was destroyed. The tour company employs actors to re-create Omega’s stellar experiments, among refreshment carts and gift shops. For some reason, the Fifth Doctor is traveling along with this group of tourists, adding to the listener’s bemusement: why in the world is the Doctor bothering to travel somewhere with a tour group, rather than just land his TARDIS wherever he wants to go?
Of course, things start to go pear-shaped. First, the actor who plays Vandekirian goes mad and chops off his hand in imitation of the hand that Vandekirian gets cut off during his betrayal of Omega. Then, as things get worse, the spirit of Omega appears and says that he wants to return to the antimatter universe with his bride, the tour guide, whose name is Sentia. He plans to open the rift in this spot, using the TARDIS of Professor Ertikus, another Time Lord who is here studying the Omega myth, but doing so would destroy the tour ship, killing all of the tourists and trapping the Doctor, Ertikus, and the actor who plays Omega for the tour company, Daland, in the antimatter universe forever. The Doctor, of course, vows to stop the insane Omega.
Then, the big twist: somehow, the spirit of Omega manages to physically steal the device that opens the rift from the Doctor. Unable to stop Omega now, the Doctor summons the Time Lords for help, then figures out why the spirit is able to manipulate physical objects: the Doctor isn’t really the Doctor. Remember that in “Arc of Infinity,” the Doctor expelled Omega into the antimatter universe, so why is he in the normal universe now? Because he never left. The antimatter converter gun stabilized his body, but it had both the Doctor and Omega in it, a split personality that drove Omega mad. Thus, the “Doctor” in the tour group was Omega with the Doctor’s personality dominant, and any time Omega’s “spirit” appeared, it was the Omega personality becoming dominant. If the Doctor and Omega were talking to each other, it was the Doctor body switching back and forth between personalities.
At this point, the Time Lords send help: the Doctor, of course. He sorts everything out, including that yes, Omega actually is in love with Sentia and wants to go back to the antimatter universe with her. To make a very long (and complicated) story short, he manages to send them both there, with Omega losing the Doctor’s personality and regaining sanity once he reaches the antimatter universe. And this is another thing I really liked about this audio: it started with Omega as insane, but gave him back his sanity, allowing him to keep the growth he experienced in “Arc of Infinity” and did not default into a story about a crazy megalomaniac, as it would have been easy to do.
The third thing I really liked about “Omega” was that it explored the concept of history and legend, how important it is to know the real story vs. the expediency of letting people believe incorrect or sanitized versions. The audio starts with portraying the accepted version of the Omega myth through the tour company’s re-creation, then has two or three other versions described by other characters, most notably the historian Ertikus. He claims he’s on the tour looking for the truth, but he’s really looking to support his own theories, which he feels are important because of how they portray Omega and Rassilon. If the real history makes Rassilon or Omega out to be villains, is it more important to keep that hidden so that the Time Lords continue to revere them and do their good works? Most importantly, after all is said and done, the audio does not tell us which version, if any, is correct, and we’re left to wonder whether or not Omega, and Rassilon, are the heroes (or villains) we think they are.
Thus, I think that “Omega” is a fantastic audio, and yet I couldn’t say if the story itself is compelling. It’s good for many other reasons, and for those alone, I’d recommend it.