The Omega Factor: The Complete Series (3DVD)
Department 7 is a secret branch of British government dedicated to investigating the supernatural. Its team of experts, led by Roy Martindale and Dr. Anne Reynolds, find themselves teamed with journalist Tom Crane, who is investigating similar cases for his newspaper.
"The Omega Factor" refers to the limitless potential of the human mind, which is explored in often-terrifying detail in this short-lived cult BBC series from 1979. The late James Hazeldine stars as a journalist who discovers that he possesses extraordinary psychic gifts-- his talents bring him in contact with Department 7, a shadowy government bureau that investigates paranormal phenomena. Over the course of the series' ten-episode run, Hazeldine, his friend and fellow Department 7 member Anne (Louise Jameson, Leela from the Tom Baker-era Doctor Who), and his somewhat sinister superior Dr. Martindale (John Carlisle) encounter haunted houses ("Visitations"), secret military experiments ("Night Games"), cases of apparent possession ("Powers of Darkness"), and all manner of psychic abilities, as well as a secret organization called Omega that plans world domination through mind control. Deftly handled by a host of TV veterans (many of whom also worked on Doctor Who, including producer George Gallaccio, director Paddy Russell, and writer Anthony Read, who also wrote the acclaimed U.K. sci-fi series Chocky and its sequels, which starred Hazeldine), The Omega Factor tackles its supernatural/conspiracy subject matter in a serious manner without sacrificing its inherent creepiness, much as The X-Files would 30 years later (the pleasing chemistry between Hazeldine and Jameson is also a forerunner to the Mulder-Scully relationship). Unfortunately, hysterical controversy from watchdog groups led to its early demise and enduring cult status. The three-DVD set includes the entire series, as well as a featurette of interviews with Gallaccio, Read, and co-producer/creator Jack Gershon-- all three are featured on a commentary for the infamous "Powers of Darkness" episode (which garnered much of the public outcry during the series' broadcast), for which they're joined by director Eric Davidson. --Paul Gaita
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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!
As the first reviewer, I must give a little of the history of this negleted treasure. This is from my own memory, so bare with me.
Nearly 30 years ago, long before X-Files, this series dealt with a secret branch of government investigating paranormal matters. I watched it way back then, and enjoyed it greatly. I would talk to people about it but NOBODY heard of it. It was never released on VHS nor was it rerun. I am so glad they are now available on DVD.
What happened to it was that there was a censorship campaign against it. An influential crusader against controversial shows denoounced Omega and the BBC buckled. A strange claim, since the show is a fairly tame treatment of ghosties, government conspiracies, witches, mind control, cults, and what not. Apparently the crusade worked well, because it was canceled after a season and laid unspoken of in the BBC vaults all these years.
That's the official version anyway. I happen to think the powers that be did not like the undercurrents of government mind control experiments. The third episode features a backstory of sonic devices for crowd control that we use today.
The crew did fairly well with a desperately low budget. Location shooting in spooky Scotland greatly enhanced the shows. They scattered in some interesting background music. Look out for cuts from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and a little bit of the obscure Tangerine Dream albumn, Richochet.
Quality of the DVD is good considering the ill treatment of the source material. There is a commentary track, and a featurette which are nice extras. A good set. Should be a good buy for anyone interested in lesser known works in the genre.
Unfortunately, the BBC came up against that self-appointed protector of the morals of the British public Mary Whitehouse and they caved in to her demands (they had done it before when they altered the ending of the third episode of the Doctor Who story "The Deadly Assassin") so a second season of Omega Factor was never made, which is a shame because there were many questions left unanswered. I wish the BBC would remake the series from the beginning and bring it to a conclusion.
Tom Crane, a journalist who appears to have supernatural powers is recruited by a secret governmental organisation who researchers into the unexplained. He works closely with Ann Reynolds and Dr Roy Martindale in an office where both Reynolds and Martindale offer the pretence of working by (respectively) wearing a white overdress and moving papers from one end of his desk to another. Tom Crane gets to do all the hard work by venturing into the Occult.
The setting is excellent. What better base to explore the supernatural from than the eerie streets and ally's of Edinburgh?
The main actors do a good job. Ann, Tom Crane and Roy Martindale all play convincing roles. The supporting cast ranges from OK performances (the guy who plays bad guy Drexel) down to a Faulty Towers level (the heavies of the secret organisation).
Most Television SF from the Seventies rely primarily on the storyline. However, the major flaws that made me give this series "only" three stars are in the flawed storytelling. The main character's wife is killed and the main character shows no emotion at all and subsequently starts courting every woman he comes into contact with. His brother is turned into a human vegetable (he makes a miraculous recovery later on in the series) by experiments clearly conducted by the department he now works for. However, the main character just continues working for them. At the end of each episode something dramatic happens and in the next episode everyone goes on as if nothing has happened. So, the continuity between the episodes is very bad and the episodes themselves (a phenomenon like hypnosis, out of body experience, etc is researched in each episode) don't cut it as semi-documentary's by themselves.
Disc 3 has no subtitling. There's a director's commentary on one episode, a picture gallery and a short documentary in which the directors, writers, etc are interviewed. There's a short booklet in the DVD-set that tells the history of the series.
The quality of the Omega Factor has the shape of a U. It starts out good and promising, gets rather weak halfway and ends with a couple of good episodes. The good ones beat most **** that plaques our TV screens nowadays.