Saturday, February 23, 2008

THE OMEGA FACTOR. Sometime around 1983, 1984 or even 1985 I saw THE OMEGA FACTOR for the first time when it was broadcast on PBS briefly. The BBC series only lasted 10 episodes in 1979 and was actually, with hindsight, a pretty strong candidate (along with THE NIGHT STALKER) as an inspiration for THE X-FILES many years later. The show concerned itself with the paranormal and a secret government agency called Department 7 which investigated them. The series starred the late James Hazeldine (who I often confused with Robert Powell) as Tom Crane: a journalist who discovered he had psychic powers of his own. Also headlining the cast was Louise Jameson as physicist Dr. Anne Reynolds; Jameson is probably best known as the Doctor's savage companion Leela in DOCTOR WHO as well as for her later stint on EASTENDERS.
Now when I saw the first episode (entitled THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY) I was totally captivated; what a terrific premise for a series. Tom Crane is a journalist who writes about the occult. He tracks down an Aleister Crowley-type black magician named Drexil (and his mysterious mute female sidekick Morag) who gently but firmly warns Crane to mind his own business. When Crane continues to snoop, Drexel (superbly played by Cyril Luckham with a kind of understated evil) causes some supernatural warnings to put fear into the guy. Not taking no for an answer, Drexel puts a stronger whammy on Crane while he's driving in his car with his wife; Crane crashes the car and his wife is killed. During the episode, Crane discovers he has psychic powers of his own and a mysterious stranger recruits Crane into joining the secret government paranormal investigative Department 7 in order to serve his country as well as track down his wife's killer. The episode ends on this rather promising start.
Now here I am back in the early 80's videotaping this first episode off the TV. Swell, I thought. Can't wait to see what happens next. Secret government intrigue combined with nice, juicy 70's occult shenanigans. Two likeable, very watchable actors as the lead characters. What could be better? Well, I somehow managed to miss the second episode when it aired and the third episode, when I caught it, didn't thrill me as I recall and I never saw any of the rest of the series. Fast forward to a couple years ago when THE OMEGA FACTOR was finally released on DVD. I didn't pick it up at the time because I wasn't sure I wanted it; however recently I did break down and buy the thing so I could finally see what I was missing (as well as getting the terrific first episode on DVD). Having now watched the entire series, I can now say that there are a couple good episodes but on the whole the series was disappointing. I think this owes a lot to the fact that the production was under-budgeted and rushed into production at the time. However, I think the main problem with the series was the fact that it quickly veered away from the spooky, occult atmospherics in favour of rather bland, semi-espionage and rather bloodless, clinical psychic research. The first episode led one to believe that this was going to be a nice, creepy little series focusing on black magic and witchcraft cults. But that was sadly not the case. Even the mage-like Drexel is reduced to a sort-of scientist and killed off fairly early in the series. Big disappointment.
The one bright spot (other than the first episode) was the episode called POWERS OF DARKNESS which (sadly only) momentarily returns the series to a spooky, supernatural format. The episode opens with three college students conducting a ouija board seance in which they contact the spirit of a long-dead witch during the reign of King James. Later, one of the students (very nicely played by Maggie James) is hypnotized and regresses to a former life in which she was that self-same witch. The episode is splendidly spooky in that 70's Hammer Horror way and gives us an all-too-fleeting glimpse of what the series COULD have been. In my humble opinion, if THE OMEGA FACTOR had stuck with the occult spookfest format it would have lasted a lot longer and been much more successful entertainment-wise. The series all-too-often seemed to suffer from the "not much happening" syndrome; particularly the last two episode in which practically NOTHING happens. The series, in fact, comes to an end extremely weakly. Only episode 1 & 5 can I recommend as well-worth watching. The rest of the series sadly plays like a series left unrealized. Hazeldine and Jameson make two very good leads and it's a shame they weren't given more to do. Also the location shooting in Edinburgh is uniformly beautiful. But THE OMEGA FACTOR as a whole plays more like a good opportunity wasted.

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