If, like me you didn’t see the original series of The Omega Factor starring James Hazeldine as Tom Crane, Louise Jameson as Dr Anne Reynolds and John Carlisle as Dr Roy Martindale when it originally aired in the summer of 79 (I was only two and a half!) then chances are you’ve come to the series through the work of Big Finish. Unlike the three series they have already produced, this latest offering comes in the form of an audiobook, written by the series creator’s daughter, Natasha Gerson.
While this story fits in nicely with what Big Finish have introduced us to in their series, with Natasha Gerson herself being involved in both performing as Morag (a reprisal of her role from the T.V. series) and having written one of the episodes of series three, Festival of Darkness is very much a story of the original series.
It may well be Adam Dean who starts and ends the story, but it is his father Tom Crane’s tale to tell, through one of his old files. A brief telephone call from Dr Anne Reynolds is all it takes to convince Crane to make to long train journey from London to Edinburgh and back to his old acquaintances at Department 7, researchers in the psychic, the paranormal and the unexplained. Despite an initially less than happy return Crane is soon convinced to renew his working relationship with the Department’s Dr’s Reynolds and Martindale when the lives of young and unusually gifted children, all a part of the Mercury project, are becoming threatened. Set against the backdrop of the Edinburgh Festival and in that famously haunted city at the tail end of the 70’s, when the occult and the mysterious were still a popular fascination, this is a story that has a real sense of both place and time.
What unfolds is a taught and well-crafted story that has equal measures of intrigue and creeping horror, as Crane, Reynolds and Martindale are plunged into a nightmare of psychic visions, visitations and manipulation. Why did these children’s gifts only start to develop after selection for the Mercury Project? What is the significance of the channelling sessions the children undergo with the graceful and benevolent ‘Boss’ Imogen Crow, and why is Crane seeing a Pierrot clown accompanied by the mysterious girl Morag at every turn?
Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different primary character, keeping the narrative fresh and engaging and the story is rooted in the familiar and every day, meaning when the horror comes it has greater impact. On more than one occasion I took Cranes advice and didn’t look behind me, it doesn’t do any good.
Natasha Gerson’s chilling story is bought vividly to life by the multi-talented Louise Jameson, who of course played Dr Anne Reynolds in both the television series and the subsequent Big Finish productions, and she does so spectacularly. Louise Jameson has one of those instantly recognisable voices that has a warmth and clarity of diction and she gives each character their own unique identity, her vocal range and array of accents making this an easy to follow listen. It is clear that for both Gerson and Jameson The Omega Factor Is something very dear to their hearts, so they have evidently put their all into making both the story and its presentation the very best it can possibly be. In much the same way that you just can’t put down some books this became something I did not want to switch off or pause.
Both compelling and chilling The Omega Factor: Festival of Darkness is a perfect introduction to the original world of Tom Crane and Department 7 and I may very well be doing some online shopping for the original series on DVD this weekend. Jeff Goddard