Friday, 17 June 2011

Villain Study - Omega

Omega is a much vaunted villain in the Who fandom. More than just a rogue Time Lord, he is one of the key figures in Time Lord history and no less than one of the Doctor's personal heroes. Alongisde the morally ambiguous Rassilon, he was one of the founders of Time Lord society, yet his instrumental role in discovering time travel resulted in him being marooned in an anti-matter dimension without any hope of return. Naturally, this has left him rather ill-disposed towards Time Lords. So is this a complex and interesting character or an overrated man in a bad costume?

Spoilers for the serials The Three Doctors and Arc of Infinity are to follow:

Our first meetings with Omega in the Three Doctors finds Troughton and Pertwee, aided by the Hartnell's steady voice, kidnapped and taken to the anti-matter dimension. Therein they confront the man himself, and Pertwee's Doctor tries to go toe-to-toe with him in a, well, contest of wills. Demonstrated by the Dr fighting a man dressed up as cat. In the end, however, Omega is proven to be the stronger willed of the two, and the Doctor instead defeats Omega through his cunning.

In this episode Omega gives the Doctor the full Bond villain speech: "I created the Time Lords and they deserted me!" in short. He's a brilliant scientist even for a Time Lord, which are by definition a society of brilliant scientists, but also incredibly vain and prideful. His ridiculous hamminess in this serial is mostly a very entertaining, as he declares that "No one can withstand the will of Omega!". Yes, he refers to himself in first person.

Nonetheless, we do have something of a complex figure here. Omega's sympathetic streak comes from the fact that he has genuinely been wronged. Not necessarily out of malice on the side of the Time Lords, but from the fact that he was deemed to have essentially sacrificed himself. So whilst his wrath is misplaced, it also feels very much understandable. He’s been stuck in this anti-matter dimension for a long time with no one but his own constructs to keep him sane.

The most striking scene from the episode is undoubtedly the one where he removes his helmet to reveal...nothing. As a physical entity, Omega no longer exists. It is a clever twist on the episode’s incredibly lazy narrative mechanics, and the revelation that his will is the only thing left of him is indeed striking. This scene, however, is undercut by the scene chewing that had been entertaining up until that point. Due to the scene’s dramatic power, the reaction feels like it’s spoiling something genuinely good.

Omega emerges from the Three Doctors well, sympathetic and villainous and a lot of fun. In the Arc of Infinity he remains rather less intensely as the focus: he plays the part of the shadowy conspirator pulling the strings. For much of the serial his identity is a large part of the mystery. It is only during the climax that he steps out and we get a closer look at him.

It is rather a different character that we end up seeing too. Omega’s characterisation comes right at the end, where he reveals that he wishes to travel back to our universe in order to “Find peace”. He is a pitiable, Gollum-esque creature and the power balance has been very much reversed, as the Doctor is every bit the more competent of the two. It’s not a revenge driven fanatic this time, but a desperate and exhausted outcast seeking a return home. In The Three Doctors, Omega was basically a god, able to manipulate reality with a thought; quite the contrast.

As opposed as these two characters are – and they might as well be separate characters – I don’t think that it would be impossible to reconcile them into one person. Rather, I’d love to see such a thing happen, portraying a villain who is both indomitable and weak. It has great potential to amount to one of the great Who enemies, but as it stands we have two very contrasting portrayals with no real connection beyond plot ones.

In neither of the serials does Omega really do anything that marks him out as the genius he is meant to be. The Three Doctors has him just magic things out of thin air because he “willed it”. It’s never explained, and is incredibly lazy. Most of his acclaim comes from the Doctor talking about how great he is, and as ever telling is nowhere near as convincing as showing. The Arc of Infinity has him involved in a pretty standard plot, wherein someone in the Time Lord high council is working for him. He doesn’t do much of the work here, and relies upon his man in the council who ends up doing what he does with pretty thin motivation. Whilst he certainly makes an impression, in neither cases does he strike me as a truly great enemy.

I like Omega. He has a fantastic concept behind him and although he is inconsistently portrayed, there was a full decade between each of the serials, so it’s to be expected and forgivable to an extent. It would be nice to see some of the concepts behind him executed better, some plots that demonstrate what makes him a Time Lord legend and a fusion of both of his portrayals to represent a duality in his nature, further emphasising his tragic nature.

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