Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Omega Factor: Child's Play

Perhaps I had better come clean at the beginning of this post, and admit that I do myself have some quite incredible psychic abilities, which gave particular trouble when I was at school. I actually went though some real trouble as a result of my abilities. The PE teacher insisted that it couldn't possibly be the ghost of a dead footballer who kicked the ball which hit him in the back of the head. He was just as reluctant to believe that despite his often-expressed opinion that I would never be any good at sport (funny idea of teaching, he had), when I suddenly showed a remarkable aptitude for rugby in the one term we played it, that it was because I had channeled the spirit of the boy at Rugby School who first picked up the ball and ran with it. The art teacher, who was also convinced I 'couldn't' do his subject (in fact the more I think about it, I wonder what the point of that school was at all), refused to believe that it was 'automatic painting', dictated by Matisse himself, when he was reluctantly forced to admit I had come top of the class. The French teacher was reluctant to believe that Moliere had actually intervened in her class, and the RE teacher was sceptical that St Thomas Aquinas was behind my essay (despite apparently firmly believing that the two jars on his desk contained a feather from the Holy Spirit and St Joseph's last breath, respectively). Anyway, you get the gist. When strange things happen around teenagers, wise adults look for naughtiness as the most obvious cause.
And that is what is wrong with this episode of The Omega Factor. Although we know that Colin is not behind the events which have caused him to be expelled from school, there is no way on earth that the headmaster or his mother would think that. There is no way that the headmaster of his last school would simply believe the story spun by Anne, that the trouble surrounding Colin is a result of poltergeist activity brought on by his adolescence. No way on earth. None. This is the point at which The Omega Factor begins to describe an alternative universe, one in which government agencies are set up to investigate this weird shit, and headmasters begin to believe the weird tales spun to them by 'experts'. The show had got away with the invention of Department 7 because its purpose was never really clearly explained, it was very apparent that the government would step in to prevent any real weirdness, there was an aura of plausible denial, and finally because it could always be explained as a way of keeping a handle on the number of weird things going on in the society of the time. The shadowy goverment agency is just about explainable, but the headmaster who insists he would expel the boy if the poltergeist activity continued, is beyond the limits of comprehension.
On the other hand, it is a pity this episode wasn't made as a children's programme. Stuff of dreams and nightmares for a children's programme, this episode. Nightmares, because what adolescent wouldn't be cringingly embarrassed by the presence of poltergeist activity? And what adolescent wouldn't sell their back teeth to live in a world of adults who believe that as the reason for odd things happening? 'I didn't break it, mum, the poltergeist did'. What a dream of an excuse!
Another good thing about this one as a story is that it doesn't overdo the poltergeist activity. It was just before this that the Enfield poltergeist story was raging in the press. Like so many poltergeist stories, that one is best ruled out from an evidential point of view, because there is evidence that the children helped the phenomena along. A lot. Colin doesn't help it along so that it doesn't become ridiculous. In fact this story is also a parapsychologist's dream, because the strange phenomena around the boy are accepted by the experts and it is taken for granted that he could bring these things under control with the right training. His mum rightly takes him away from these weirdos, and back to the normal life of a teenage boy, before giving in under pressure.
The pressure comes from a nameless official of an unidentified government department, providing shades of The X-Files onces again. There are even visual similarities to some of the questioning or torture scenes in the X-Files, when Crane and Dr Reynolds find Martindale experimenting on Colin, who has been put in a wire cage, which looks sinister beyond all belief. Martindale falls for what we may call the Krishnamurti syndrome - adults take a child and make him into a progeny, rather than letting him live a normal childhood. In reality, turning Colin into a progeny would have resulted in him being roundly hated by jealous other children, and unable to adjust to a world which would always see the gift before the person. The X-Files overtones are made complete with the dodginess of what the department is doing in this episode, and the fact that our heroes are emphatically against Martindale's over-intrusive experimentation.
The ultimate message of this one is to be careful of gifts, and particularly progenies, because Colin is ultimately a fairly scary child.

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