27 years for US fans, as it was released a year ago in a UK/Region 2 set, and now finally gets a Region 1 release. As a Dr. Who fan, I would always read and hear about this very obscure Scottish show dealing with the paranormal and starring Louise Jameson (Leela in Doctor Who) and involving several others behind the scenes who also worked on Who over it's long run (George Gallaccio, Anthony Read, Peter Grimwade, Anthony Read, Paddy Russell, Norman Stewart, Kenny McBain).
Unlike the 26 straight years that Doctor Who ran, The Omega Factor only ran one season. Due to budget constraints of this sci-fi show, the normal run of 13 episodes had to be chopped down to only 10, futher adding to the cult status of this very short lived program. The other factor that adds to the mystique of the show was that it had never been re-run, and never released on video until now. I attempted to track down bootleg copies of the show, but the mystery was still upheld when I would try to play the dreadful quality, multi generation copy in my VCR and found that it was virtually unwatchable. The only way bootleg tapes were floating around was that someone in 1979 must have had a VCR and taped it, and so started the poor generation copies that floated around through the years.
Even this DVD release shows signs of poor quality orginals, especially evidence in episode 1, with lots of artifacts, grain, and all sorts of weird interference showing up on screen. After episode 1, the clarity is better and remains a decent quality throughout the other episodes. You get an informative booklet accompanying the set, and the extras include commentary by the writer, director, and producer on the show's most controversial episode, Powers of Darkness, and a 24 minute documentary with the same 3 as the commentary and one cast member. That cast member is the series' writers' daughter, Natasha Gerson, who played the minor, but effective character, Morag. Sadly, lead actor James Hazeldine passed away in 2002, and it appears they could not get Louise Jameson for any extras on here. Both the commentary and the bonus documentary are interesting and worth a listen/look.
The show starts off with journalist Tom Crane (Hazeldine), who apparently has paranormal tendencies including psychokineses and psychic ability. He meets the mysterious Dr. Drexel and soon has a terrible accident involving his wife. After this tragedy, he is recruited by Andrew Scott-Erskine, head of Department 7, a government agency involved in utilizing and researching the paranormal. He reluctantly joins, after finding a friend of his, Anne Reynolds (Jameson) is also a member, and is now working under the head of the Glasgow branch, Dr. Roy Martindale (John Carlisle).
Department 7 is very intersted in the enhanced mental powers of the mysterious Dr. Drexel. Over the first 4 episodes and against orders, Tom also attempts to seek out Drexel and his odd, young, female comanion Morag, believing they are responsible for his wife's accident. That plot ends, in a way, after the 4th episode, but Tom does not find out what he is looking for, and continues his belief through the rest of the series, that there is a secret organization working around Department 7.
Tom's brother also has psychic abilities and is quickly gobbled up by Dr. Martindale for experimenting. We learn later on that his part in all this is bigger than we first believed. Many secrets are unveiled in the show's final 2 episodes, but there is still a slight hint of what we are seeing not being entirely the finale. A 2nd season could definitley have proved intersting.
The special effects are very low budget (e.g. people glowing blue and white) but effective enough as we are dealing with mind experiments and powers that need not be expressed in elaborate explosions and 3-D holograms. The fact that it was shot on videotape (standard in the UK for tv shows in the 70's), and the outdoor scenes filmed in Edinburgh, add to the eerie look and feel of the show. I highly recommend watching this at night, to get a complete creepy, audio and visual effect. It isn't very scary, it's just rather unearthly and bizarre. I am not a firm believer in the paranormal, and usually prefer my sci-fi to be spaceship based shows, but I found this very enjoyable. I think the strong performance of James Hazeldine and Louise Jameson helped out a lot. The show is slow moving, and generally dialogue based, and these two make the time roll by with ease.
This was Louise Jameson's next role after playing Tom Baker's leather clad, savage companion Leela from 1977-78. While I am a big Who fan, and loved her character in that show, I must say I found her much more entertaining as a modern (well, then modern) women in normal street attire and persona. Even though she did not have skimpy costumes on, I felt she looked classy and even more attractive than she did in Who. James Hazeldine gives a very wam, and likable performance as Tom Crane, and he would go on to to star in the Chocky series of movies on UK TV. Despite his 70's buhsy hair and Jameson's large, Elton John like sunglasses, the 70's look does not detract from their on screen chemistry and the watchability of this show.
Out of the 10 episodes, I felt two were rather weak, the first being Child's Play, which seem very contrived in that Anne asks Tom to spend a weekend with her at her friend's house, and they find that her friend's son has been having strange dreams and visions. The other was episode Out of Body, Out of Mind, dealing with a Tom's brother recovering from Department 7's experiments. This one was just boring and a very slow moving lead in to the show's final episodes and plot revelations.
Overall, this is well worth watching to the sci-fi fan, 70's British TV fan, Doctor Who fan, and paranormal fan. It features strong performances, very intersting plots and phenomenon, and very ghostly and formidable Scottish location as it's setting. It's a shame that UK broadcast campaigner, Mary Whitehouse, leading a charge against the witchcraft and mind controlling going on in the show, especially after watching the Powers of Darkness episode involving summoning a burned at the stake witch on a ouija board, played a part in the show not getting a 2nd season.
The show has come back, in a way, in the guise of Sea of Souls, a recent BBC Scotland effort, invloving a University research team conducting experiments and research into the paranormal. It is nearly the same premise, it just leaves out the government playing a role, and it comes from the viewpoint of them as solely researchers. It's aired for 3 seasons, and I am not sure if it's going on for a 4th, but it's worth a look if you like The Omega Factor and can play multi region discs.
On a final note, as the crew recollects strange occurrences on the set during filming, I seemed to have some odd things happen while watching this. It's probably all in my mind, but I seemed to have difficutly locating the discs and or box case, after watching an episode, as I would swear I set it down in one location, then it would be somewhere totally different when I searched for it. Also, when watching a few episodes, it may just be my DVD player, but I swear I would see some sort of glitch or millisecond of a scene that was different from what I was watching, then I would hit reverse and play it again, and the glitch would be gone! A very strange and mysterious side effect I have here from watching this show!