“Omega”

Omega_(Doctor_Who)“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.

 

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“Zagreus”

zagreusWell, I ran right into listening to “Zagreus,” the 50th audio in Big Finish‘s main range, featuring the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard, and I am so glad I did. Now, the ratings on Time Scales varies greatly for this audio: people either love it or hate it, and I can see why. It’s a very ambitious story, attempting to force the Doctor and Charley to separately navigate their own mindscapes to figure out what’s going on without losing themselves, and a lot of people are not going to like this type of psychological drama. However, I loved it. And it cemented for me a lot more of Time Lord lore and history, which is something I really love.

Now, there is really no way for me to discuss this audio without spoilers, so you’ve been warned. Heavy, heavy spoilers ahead. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m outlining the whole story below.

“Zagreus” (pronounced “zah-GRAY-us”, by the way – I never get these pronunciations right; I still have problems remembering to pronounce “Omega” as “OH-me-ga”) follows directly upon “Neverland.” In that audio, the Doctor foils a plot by the condemned Time Lords in the ant-time universe to destroy Gallifrey by exploding it with anti-time by having the TARDIS swallow the anti-time bomb before it explodes. However, the Doctor becomes infected by the anti-time and becomes Zagreus, a previously fictional legendary destroyer of worlds. Charley is also in the TARDIS at the time and knows about the infection, but gets separated from the Doctor.

“Zagreus” then deals with what happens next. The Doctor is left to battle this alternate personality who wants to destroy the universe, and he spends much of the first half of the audio trying to avoid or escape from traps set by it. (I’m referring to Zagreus as “it” to keep it separate from the various male characters that show up.) Meanwhile, the TARDIS appears to Charley in the form of the Brigadier. He creates simulations of three different time periods to show her some important events connected with Zagreus and the anti-time universe. In each one, Charley plays the role of someone involved in the events, but mostly as an observer. The first involves an experiment run by humans during the Cold War, in which Reverend Matthew Townsend manipulates the experiment so that it shows him the creator of the universe, or so he thinks. The experiment explodes, or course, and kills everyone present, but what he sees through it is not what he expected.

The second simulation was of Gallifrey before Rassilon created the Time Lords. Tepesh, a Council investigator, made his way into Rassilon’s foundry to figure out what exactly he was doing. He finds out that Rassilon was planning to create the Web of Time to lock the universe into the timeline he preferred, and in the pursuit of this, was creating regeneration so that the Time Lords would live longer. Rassilon had also discovered that a new race, which he called the Divergence, was going to evolve to become more powerful than the Time Lords, and so he locked them into the Divergent Universe so that the Time Lords would continue to reign supreme. This is the universe that Reverend Townsend saw through his experiment. And lastly, Rassilon decided that the Gallifreyan form should be dominant in the universe, so he seeded tens of thousands of planets so that their dominant lifeforms were forced into Gallifreyan shape. Meanwhile, Tepesh reveals himself to be a Great Vampire, one of the last existent, and explains that Rassilon had waged war to genocide his race by spreading propaganda to the Gallifreyan people that the peaceful Vampire race were malicious and evil. Rassilon then incinerated Tepesh and his companions.

The third simulation was of Walton Winkle, or Uncle Winkie, a carny devoted to creating amusement parks and animatronic creatures for entertaining children. He was put into suspended animation a short time before he was about to die from a heart condition, and when he’s brought back, he finds himself in the last version of his amusement park, built on the burnt-out cinder of a planet. He discovers that he was woken up at the end of the universe, and the dead planet he’s on is Gallifrey. He’s been kept this long because he’s the one person with the mechanical skills to… Sorry, I don’t remember exactly what it was he was supposed to do, but the whole point of all three simulations is that the Divergence is trying to come back into the real universe. At the end of this simulation, Uncle Winkie is also killed.

While going through their various trials, the Doctor and Charley separately come to realize that there are sinister things going on, more than just the Doctor becoming corrupted by anti-time. They aren’t just trapped in the TARDIS: they’re in the Matrix, where Rassilon’s consciousness has existed since he died millions of years before. Everything has been orchestrated by Rassilon: he took the opportunity of the Doctor becoming infected by anti-time to bring the Zagreus persona into existence, to use it to destroy the Divergence as well as to use it to secure his hold on the Time Lords and the universe. While Rassilon forces the Doctor/Zagreus into forging a weapon that will kill the Divergence, Charley finds herself with Matrix representations of Reverend Townsend, Tepesh, and Uncle Winkie, as well as President Romana, who, when she sees them, calls them Doctor – the men that Charley saw in the simulations have the forms of the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors. Together, they confront Rassilon and (after a few more twists and turns) cast him into the Divergent Universe to be dealt with by the beings Rassilon had been trying to kill. However, the Doctor, still infected by anti-time, chooses to exile himself to the Divergent Universe, to protect the real universe from the anti-time within him.

As you can see, it’s quite a complicated plot, and there are some very cool/disturbing things that happen that I haven’t mentioned – you’ll just have to experience them yourself. They managed to create a plot that’s part adventure (how is Charley going to survive those simulations?), part history lesson, and part psychological drama, and it’s successful for some people (I thought it was riveting) but not for others.

One thing that was extremely interesting was how they presented the guest characters. Reverend Townsend, Tepesh, and Uncle Winkie were depicted in the simulations and the Matrix as looking like the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors (and indeed possessed significant character traits of those Doctors), and as such were played by Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy. But it’s also explained that the simulations presented by the TARDIS used faces that the TARDIS was familiar with, and so all of the other characters in them looked like old companions and were played by their actors (for example, Tepesh’s fellow vampire Ouida was played by Nicola Bryant). It was wonderful hearing all of these wonderful actors playing new parts, plus a few playing their regular parts (Lalla Ward as Romana, Louise Jameson as Leela, John Leeson as K9, Miles Richardson as Braxiatel). However, I can imagine that someone who bought the audio based on the cast list might be very disappointed to not hear an audio with a giant meeting of multiple Doctors and their companions and hate this audio just for that reason. Heck, the cover image up there implies this is a meeting of four Doctors.

Bottom line, I really liked “Zagreus.” I can certainly see why a lot of people don’t. Honestly, if nothing else, I’d recommend listening to it just to find out how corrupted Rassilon really was, because it really gives you a good sense of just how different from the other Time Lords the Doctor really is.

More thoughts on “The Day of the Doctor”

We watched “The Day of the Doctor” again last night, to fix it better in our minds and to get the bits of dialogue we missed while the theater audience was laughing or clapping. And I have to say, I still like it a lot. The scene where Ten and Eleven place their hands on the War Doctor’s on the Moment’s switch brings a tear to my eye.

Remember, by the way, spoilers!

Personally, I think my favorite scenes (other than the climax at the end; I always love scenes in which the situation is resolved by the appearance of multiple incarnations) are the ones in which Ten and Eleven play off of each other. The two Doctors are very different from each other, the One Who Regrets being the emo (for lack of a better word) who has been tormented both by the events of the Last Great Time War and, more recently, by the loss of Rose and Donna, and the One Who Forgets being the child who tries to forget the Time War and the loss of the Ponds. At times, they are in opposition, and at others, they are best friends. Either way, though, Mr. Tennant and Mr. Smith work together flawlessly. It saddens me to think that they’ll never be brought together like this again. (Unless the Powers That Be produce specials for them, the next multi-Doctor special will focus on future Doctors, not these. And if they only do this for major anniversaries, it will be ten years before the opportunity even comes up.)

The story was really about the War Doctor’s journey to find himself and decide what was the right thing to do. The Moment takes him to see his future incarnations to see what he becomes, and he sees what look like two children: both young and energetic, with glib tongues and an apparent inability to take anything seriously. The War Doctor is disgusted with them (a deleted scene has him lamenting that they never shut up) and wonders how they ever came to terms with the genocide of the Time Lords and the Daleks; he (and the Tenth Doctor) is further amazed that the Eleventh Doctor has willingly forgotten the horrors of the Time War, because he can’t bear to remember them.

But then the War Doctor watches them solve a situation very similar to his own: when it seems that the humans have to destroy a city to preserve the rest of their race, the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor force a solution in which the two sides of the conflict must stop the destruction and peaceably work out a solution. It’s this act that makes him realize that these two Doctors are great men doing what they must. They both deeply regretted obliterating the Time Lords and the Daleks, but doing so saved everyone else, and they continue to strive to save the universe that they once saved by activating the Moment. This epiphany gives the War Doctor what he needs to make his decision, and he returns to the Moment to do what he must.

The one thing that I didn’t like in this episode was the emphasis on the deaths of the Gallifreyan children. I felt that this plot point was played for its pathos, and ignored all of the other horrors of the war. First, as I’ve mentioned above, the Doctor commits at least two genocides when he activates the Moment. Both the Time Lords and Daleks are wiped out, but the Moment convulsed the universe, obliterating other planets and galaxies: far more than just two sentient races were destroyed. The power of the Moment to do far more damage than just destroy Gallifrey should have been at least mentioned.

Second, the show implied that the Doctor fired the Moment because the Daleks were about to destroy Gallifrey and if he didn’t destroy both, the Daleks would go on to destroy the universe. But this isn’t the real reason. In The End of Time, Rassilon reveals what the High Council was doing during the final attack on Gallifrey (mentioned in “The Day of the Doctor” when the general complains that the High Council is sequestered).

RASSILON: We will initiate the Final Sanction. The end of time will come at my hand. The rupture will continue until it rips the Time Vortex apart.
MASTER: That’s suicide.
RASSILON: We will ascend to become creatures of consciousness alone. Free of these bodies, free of time, and cause and effect, while creation itself ceases to be.
DOCTOR: You see now? That’s what they were planning in the final days of the War. I had to stop them.

The Doctor didn’t fire the Moment just to stop the Daleks, sacrificing his own people in the process. He fired the Moment to prevent the immediate destruction of the universe by the High Council of the Time Lords.

Now, perhaps Mr. Moffat took the easy route with the narrative, since focusing on the children is a lot simpler (and quicker) for the audience relate to than dredging up the complicated backstory last seen three years ago. (Though, one might argue that the children were doomed in any of the three possible outcomes: killed by Daleks, destroyed by the Moment, or erased by the Final Sanction, since the majority of Gallifreyans are not Time Lords, who are the ones who would ascend.) Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to narrative flow.

The change to the end of the Last Great Time War takes a bit of getting used to, but I think it’s great that the Doctor now has something of a quest to work towards. Eventually he will find Gallifrey and bring it out, and then the Time Lords will be back. The Time Lords are jerks. They always have been. They’ve insisted on non-interference in other planets’ affairs and enjoy taking the Doctor to task for it, and then go off and interfere themselves, to their own selfish ends, sometimes on a planetary scale (see Ravolox). When they go bad, they go really bad (see Borusa and Rassilon), and the Last Great Time War corrupted them even more (only two of them voted against the Final Sanction). I can’t imagine that Rassilon is going to be very happy to see the Doctor when Gallifrey reappears.

I’m also enjoying the mental gymnastics needed to really grok this storyline; the analysis has been fueling the conversation between me and my husband for the past two days (one outcome of which I’ll elaborate on in the next post). I find it difficult to really see how the Ninth and Tenth Doctor (and most of the Eleventh Doctor) comes out of the events here. The Moment wasn’t really fired, but up until the events in “The Day of the Doctor” in Eleven’s timeline, the Doctor thinks the Moment has been fired. Whaaa-? I know that the takeaway is “Everything in the last seven seasons of the show really did happen – just go with it,” but I’m a fan of the backstory and I must understand how it all fits together.  Yes, I know, this is Doctor Who and it doesn’t all fit together, but I try.