Liam Rudden: The Omega Factor still chills & thrills

THE Omega Factor, BBC Scotland's ground-breaking paranormal drama, ran for just 10 weeks in 1979. Its impact has lasted much longer.

Friday, 9th June 2017, 5:20 pm
Updated Friday, 9th June 2017, 5:23 pm
Actor James Hazeldine in the Grassmarket during the filming of The Omega Factor TV series for the BBC in February 1979
Actor James Hazeldine in the Grassmarket during the filming of The Omega Factor TV series for the BBC in February 1979

Created by Jack Gerson and produced by George Gallaccio it starred Louise Jameson, the late James Hazeldine, John Carlisle, and veteran actor Cyril Luckham.

Weaving together themes of the supernatural and paranormal, The Omega Factor quickly found itself on the radar of Mary Whitehouse of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, which, at the time, had enough clout to ensure it was never developed beyond that first series.

The drama centred on journalist Tom Crane. Played by Hazeldine, Crane was a man with latent psychic powers.

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When his untapped talents bring him to the attention of Department 7, a shadowy government organisation set up to investigate paranormal phenomena, he finds himself being used to wreak revenge on rogue psychic Edward Drexel, played by Luckham.

Unlike anything that had gone before, it laid the foundations for series such as The X Files some 14 years later.

Watching The Omega Factor as a teenager, it was the most chilling drama on the box.

The chemistry between Jameson, as Dr Anne Reynolds, and Hazeldine made the most incredible episodes completely believable.

Carlisle’s Department 7 boss Dr Roy Martindale was suitably sinister, and Luckham oozed malevolence. It was a dream cast.

But perhaps the thing that really drew me in to this dark world was the fact it was shot on location in Edinburgh - the Royal Mile, Holyrood Park and Warriston Cemetery all featured.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight to discover Big Finish Productions were resurrecting The Omega Factor as an audio drama.

The big problem? What to do about Tom Crane? Hazeldine, who had become a household name playing ‘Bayleaf’ in London’s Burning, died in 2002.

Thankfully the easy option, recasting the role, was eschewed in favour of setting the action some 30 years later, promoting Dr Reynolds to head of Department 7, and introducing a new character, Crane’s son Adam Dean, played by John Dorney.

And so, more than three decades after first being captivated by The Omega Factor I found myself falling under its spell anew.

Again it was down to the chemistry of the lead actors; if Jameson and Hazeldine were electric together, the connection shared by Jameson and Dorney is even more charged, albeit in a very different way.

Another beauty of the new Omega Factor is that due to its audio nature, the paranormal elements are played out in the imagination. It makes for compelling drama.

The good news is that with a second series just released, a third has been commissioned. Soon, audio episodes will outnumber those of the TV series. I wonder what Mary Whitehouse would have made of that?