Over the ages, man has created many gods to act as creators, teachers, and lawgivers. They are usually all seeing, all knowing, all powerful and generally perfect. Consequently, if these gods are perfect and perfection is an absolute, then a perfect creator cannot create anything superior, only inferior. If they did surpass themselves then these perfect creators would do themselves out of a job. This is how bureaucracy survives. If you are too good at your job you risk making yourself redundant. For example, if Microsoft ever creates the perfect operating system then they risk self-induced obsolescence. No more upgrades or technical support required. And what is the point in being omnipotent if you are just going to make yourself redundant? Gods are perfect. But science does not have a monopoly on paradoxes. In fact, many philosophical ideas involve such problems. “What came first the chicken or the egg?” (It was the egg, by the way.) So these fictional gods are created in our own imperfect image making them just as deeply flawed and fallible as any of us – if not more so.
Time Lords are the nearest things to gods in the Doctor Who universe – and even they have creators to look up and aspire to. Aside from Rassilon, there is, at least, one other architect and innovator of Gallifreyan society. And like most creators, he is imperfect and perhaps the most tragic persona in the whole of the Doctor Who canon. There are few Time Lords are as recognisable and yet as enigmatic as the founder of Time Lord Society: Omega.
Bob Baker and Dave Martin scripted the program’s tenth-anniversary story The Three Doctors (1973), which originally had the working title of ‘The Black Hole’ and featured a new nemesis for the Doctor. Bob Baker and Dave Martin had devised a three-part symbol called Ohm. Each part reflected the Doctor’s own subconscious triumvirate of an Id, Ego, and Superego. Throughout the story trios are important.
The name Ohm had been chosen because upside down it looks similar to the word ‘Who’. Terrance Dicks (script editor 1969-74) and Barry Letts (producer 1970-4) decided to drop the name Ohm considering it too much of an in-joke. Ohm is also the Greek letter for the symbol Omega. In Indian religions, Om – or ‘Aum’ – symbolises god, self or the entirety of the universe, depending on schools and traditions. The symbol itself consists of three parts. Each part has its own distinct meaning – too lengthy to go into here. Occasionally written in Sanskrit as ‘o3m’ this symbol and the meanings are sometimes compared with Einstein’s famous equation.
In Einstein’s equation, “E equals MC squared”. Well, that much is certain. And in the Bible, the Devil is said to masquerade as an angel of light. Light being just as important to Omega. In The Three Doctors, a beam of light attacks Gallifrey. Physics tells us that matter is condensed energy. The Higgs field can be thought of as a layer of cling film, thus giving matter density. Anything that fails to interact with the Higgs field is massless. Without the field, matter would revert to uncompressed energy and we would all shoot off in beams of light. However, if you were to remove all the space between atoms, as happens in the hearts of neutrons stars, you would be able to fit the whole of the human race into a space the size of a sugar cube. So the massless antagonist (M) drains energy (E) using a beam of Light (C). Creating an imbalance. An act against the universe, and therefore, an act against its creator or god.
The character returned in Arc of Infinity (1983) (working title: The Time of Neman), by Johnny Byrne. The original storyline, a creature from the antimatter universe called The Avatar. Inducing waking nightmares in the Doctor, the Avatar attempts to replicate the Doctor’s form and establish a bond. This would allow the creature to exist in our universe. Once through, and having taken the Doctor’s form, the creature travels to Amsterdam and assumes the name, Neman. A name reused from a role in The Keeper of Traken (1981). Later it was suggested to Byrne that this persona should be changed to Omega and the writer received tapes of The Three Doctors to watch. After viewing the tapes Byrne decided that the character should come back with more emphasis on his downtrodden side.
Enough of the history lesson, what of the character? He is often painted as a simple narcissist. But this belies a deeply tragic and hard-done-by persona that appeals to the sympathy of the viewer. Stephen Thorne’s ranting portrayal of Omega in The Three Doctors doesn’t help show that side of the character. Omega has been driven to the edge of sanity by his fate with the role of a vengeful deity thrust upon him. By the time he reappears in Arc of infinity, Omega is much more a victim of circumstance.
Back to our law of diminishing returns, though. Omega’s attempts to mould the Gell Guards and Ergons in his own imperfect image. The oddly formed manifestations lack the capacity for speech and, seemingly devoid of free thought, reflect the mind of their troubled creator. In Greek mythology Hephaestus created Pandora. Aphrodite made her beautiful and Hermes gave her the power of speech. Omega wasn’t so generous to his subjects. His speechless creations are glove puppets; mere extensions of his own personality. Created by his own hand.
We are social animals. Deprived of company, even if it is the company of criminals, our mental well-being suffers. Consider how you would feel trapped in a confined space with a number of criminals and then consider how you would be punished if you were in prison. They would put you in solitary and deprive you of the company of murderers and their ilk. We crave company so much that even in prison the withdrawal of the company of reprobates is considered punishment.
Most Time Lords live in cities. So it’s fair to assume that they are also mostly social animals, with perhaps different social norms. Set adrift in aeons of isolation, Omega’s loneliness is compounded by being deprived of even the company of criminals. He doesn’t want to take over the cosmos or even the world. Much like E.T., he just wants to go home.
The price of survival in the antimatter world has divorced Omega of any corporeal identity. Also, can we assume that after millennia his character has not changed? Even without considering the ability to regenerate, had he always been such a dominating and fearsome figure? If we compare Omega to other high-ranking Time Lords – Borusa and Rassilon – then perhaps not. Though Borusa wasn’t always as ruthless and desperate to defeat his life expectancy, as seen in The Five Doctors, Rassilon’s position seems to have vacillated between saint and sinner.
Star Death (DWM No. 47) was the first in a trilogy of comic strips by Alan Moore. The comic strip sets out the events of Omega’s experiments and apparent demise. The Black Sun Order send their agent Fenris into the past Qqaba. There Fenris sets about sabotaging the time-travel experiments, and causing Omega’s banishment into the black hole universe before suffering a similar fate at the hands of Rassilon.
The Infinity Doctors references Qqaba. Lawrence Miles states on his blog (Lawrence Miles’ Doctor Who Thing):“Alan Moore’s back-up strips were an obvious influence on both Marc Plats view of ye olde Gallifrey and my view of its future (Alien Bodies shares 95% of its DNA with its closest relative, 4-D War.)” Rassilon even weeps for his friend Omega in The Virgin Books New Adventures novel Lungbarrow by Mark Platt. Whereas, Big Finish’s Omega (2003) provides an alternative account, and one that names Rassilon as the mastermind behind the sabotage and downfall of his fellow Time Lord. The Target novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks propounds a similar view. Plus, The General in Hell Bent mentions how Rassilon started as a good man but became corrupted by power.
Generally, gods are surprisingly immobile. So they don’t tend to get out much. Usually preferring to mete out retribution from above. Remote stellar manipulators such as the Hand of Omega are just the latest in celestial persuasion, allowing the user to deliver their wrath in true science-fiction style via bleeding edge technology. As the name suggests, the Omega Arsenal is where forbidden weapons are locked away (The Day of the Doctor, 2013). Maybe not all Omega’s technological achievements were tools designed to benefit the advancement of Gallifreyan science. But bad decisions are often made with good intentions. And as we saw in Remembrance of the Daleks (1988), even interstellar manipulators, such as the Hand of Omega, can easily destroy whole planets in the wrong hands. And in this case the Doctor’s. Cast adrift from his own society, and even his own universe, this more nuanced figure presents something unique compared to most of the Doctor’s adversaries, such as the Master.
Leaving his world dispossesses him of his powers and his motivation. Striped of his usual motive does he revert to becoming a Master-type of character, driven by a desire for mischeif and mayhem? We already have one of those.
Once outside of his universe, in Arc of Infinity, we can see for ourselves. He wanders the streets of Amsterdam listening to music and watching children. He takes in the simple pleasures. As much as you can while being pursued by people who want to throw you back into an antimatter prison.
Gallifrey still stands but after millennia away there is nobody he cared for to welcome him home. In the TV series, despite the protracted lifespans of Time Lords, Rassilon’s era is considered ancient history. So if home is where the heart is then does this count twice as much for a Time Lord?
In Lance Parkin’s The Infinity Doctors (1998), published to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the program, Omega has a wife. Big Finish’s Omega introduces us to an institutionalised antagonist. He still wants to go home. Even though he is now on the other side with a fiancée! He has also given up on revenge. And suffering from a guilt complex he now wants to make amends. He is Pandora, but trying to put himself back into the box. (Although, Pandora’s box was actually a jar.)
In 1928, the folklorist and scholar Vladimir Propp issued a paper on narrative structure titled Morphology of the Folktale. Propp outlines the basic structure of many folktales in a school of thought currently known as Formalism. His work outlined many familiar components of popular folktales. Among the 31 functions outlined number 11 is the rite of passage known as departure. In Star Wars (1977), Luke leaves the family home to seek adventure. Likewise, J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has Hobbits leaving the comfort of the Shire to fulfil a quest. Like all the best villains, Omega is an inversion of an aspect of the Doctor. Both the Doctor and Master either rejected or were rejected by their society. And in The Three Doctors they both want the same thing: To end their imprisonment either on Earth or in an antimatter universe. The Doctor ran away and Omega wants to go back.
Back on Gallifrey, Omega started life as Peylix the Time–Plumber (Omega). A Time Lord blessed with endless curiosity, but burdened with an inauspicious beginning. After submitting an essay on the possibilities of harnessing the power of exploding stars to generate the sufficient amounts of power needed to allow time travel, Omega’s teacher, Luvis mocked and poured scorn on his student’s efforts, awarding Peylix the lowest possible, and before then never awarded, grade: Omega.
The Infinity Doctors provides some symmetry between the Doctor and Omega. In Lance Parkin’s novel, the Doctor has barely managed to pass his Ph.D. and used this as inspiration for his name. Or maybe this is commonplace on Gallifrey. Does the Master have a Master’s degree? The book also refers to the Master as the Magistrate. While, Terror of the Autons (1971) notes that the Master’s academic achievements might surpass the Doctor’s – his degree in cosmic science being of a higher class, so this seems unlikely.
Writers urge us to feel sympathy for a character by making them victims of undeserving fates. We are not asked to feel sympathy for Davros, the Rani or the Master. Omega, on the other hand, has had more than his share of misery and disappointment.
Unfortunately, the persona non grata remains too tied to his environment to keep returning. Allow him to return and he loses much of his motivation and what makes him unique. Consider the Time War and this could be more problematic. He couldn’t have returned while Gallifrey was lost and if they were still fighting with which side would he align? Nev Fountain ingenuity allowed him to get extra mileage out of Omega’s attempts to break into one world from the other.
A broken mind, maybe even a broken heart but not broken spirited. Omega’s will stayed stronger than ever. Imposing order through his will on chaos. And yet his will, the very thing that saved him, keeps him trapped. Everything being equal and opposite in the mirror universe means that he is not so much a product of his environment as his environment is a product of him.
Thrown out of heaven. Lost and alone. A vicious and vengeful victim of circumstance or perhaps the tragic target of espionage in order to remove him from grace. The Time Lords didn’t only create their own gods but their own demons as well.
Then again, it has been postulated by some physicists that our universe sits inside a black hole. So maybe, it’s not such a bad place to be after all.
Article by Steve Traves