“‘Spin-off’! Is there any word more thrilling to the human soul?” So sayeth that legendary Z-list actor Tory McClure, in The Simpsons episode ‘The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase’. It must be said, he evidently had a point: after all, who could fail to love more adventures set in the fictional worlds we adore? Certainly not studio executives and accountants, at least, with business plans seemingly all built around brand loyalty and identity, plus ever more content.
Just look at the plethora of Star Trek shows being churned out by Paramount+, with their aim of having some form of new Trek-branded show streaming all year round. Disney+ are also producing several dozens of hours worth of Marvel and Star Wars-related exclusive programming all for their platform, in the battle for your bucks. Franchises and spin-offs are now perhaps bigger business than ever, on screens both small and big.
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New (and, also, returning) Doctor Who showrunner Russell T. Davies was about a decade ahead of the curve, with both Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures capitalising on the success of the revived British sci-fi classic (a little later, we also got a further Who offshoot, in the form of Class, but perhaps the less said about that, the better). In an interview in early 2021, Davies felt the programme should emulate its Hollywood rivals and have its own shared universe, building on the empire he had started to establish.
Of course, back in the day, during that awful interregnum of 1989 to 2005, when Doctor Who was off the air, fans had to make their own entertainment, and so heralded a golden age of DIY video and audio projects, using properties which were owned by the individual writers, rather than the BBC. Some of the industrious fans would later go on to become industry professionals, and in some cases even get the chance to work on the programme after it was brought back to TV, following its 16-year hiatus.
That great tradition of fans creating a cottage industry which revolves around making new material based upon the (non-BBC copyright) worlds of Doctor Who has carried on, and one of the latest entrants onto the scene is Cutaway Comics, the independent company behind a growing range of titles that are based upon a number of ancillary characters, worlds and other concepts which they have been able to licence from all of the original creators involved, and exploring territory that lies outside the realm of the TV series.
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One of their recent mini-series has been Omega, which has only just finished a four-part run. The story – by writer Mark Griffiths – tied together two different ideas from the series, both of which related to the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords. Way back in their history, they meddled in the development of lesser planets and species, being seen as gods; however, it had unintended repercussions, and this led to the Time Lords introducing a policy of strict non-interference in the affairs of others (expect for the times when they turned a blind eye, and used the Doctor to do their dirty work).
One of the founders of Time Lord society – Omega – ended up being caught in an accident while he was working to give his people the power of time travel; while everyone back on Gallifrey thought he has been killed, Omega had been flung into a universe of anti-matter, trapped on the other side of a black hole, seemingly with no means of escape. In Griffiths’ storyline, he has managed to bring together Omega and the Minyans – each from entirely separate TV stories – and been able to join them up in an organic way.
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Not content with just the medium of print, now the Cutaway team’s aspirations have moved into an area which is chiefly the domain of Big Finish, the official licensee of Doctor Who adventures on audio, by producing a full-cast adaptation of Omega, which is now available on CD. To get things off with a huge bang, the central role of Omega has been given to the living legend that is Brian Blessed, now 85 years young, still in rude health, and evidently still as full of joie de vivre as he ever was, which is fantastic.
A true titan like Blessed is ideal casting, as when Omega was portrayed on screen, he was known for his outbursts and his moments of pure bombast; however, the Omega depicted in this tale also needs moments of subtlety and reflection, and one can easily forget just how accomplished an actor Blessed actually is. Anyone who has seen Blessed’s turn as Augustus in I, Claudius, including that memorable death scene, surely knows precisely what range and power the man has, and you can see that the part of Omega requires something far more than just shouting and bluster to make it work, which is why Blessed is such a good fit as the lonely god.
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The audio adaptation does stand up perfectly well in its own right, and does not need any prior knowledge of Omega, or even Doctor Who, as the whole piece works as a standalone, containing everything you require to understand the story. It also acts as a perfect companion piece to the original comic book version, although it does remain a surprise as to how it moves along at a fair old lick on audio, whilst still not feeling at all rushed, as on the printed page it took four whole issues to tell the same story.
The production itself is also of impressively high quality, and it has a wonderfully evocative soundscape, including a score that channels the stylings of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop from the ‘70s and ‘80s, helping to really sell the end product by serving up an extra layer of seeming authenticity. Fans of audio dramas, big sci-fi epics and Doctor Who alike will find much to enjoy here, and the CD also has a number of lovely extra treats, such as a bonus interview, plus a commentary by Blessed on all four of the Doctor Who episodes which he appeared in back in 1986.
Omega is certainly one Doctor Who spin-off which is worth giving a spin, and it seems to point towards a glowing future for Cutaway Comics. Definitely something that is well worth shouting about as loudly as Blessed in full flow.
Omega is available for pre-order from Cutaway Comics.