Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 3/23/18 5:32 am
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In Spider’s Web, the first original novel from Big Finish for The Omega Factor, Adam Crane, sifting through his father’s old files, stumbles across a particularly intriguing file. The file describes a case that his father, Tom Crane, and his colleague, Anne Reynolds, were involved in, back in the early days of Department 7. A strange case of the seemingly spontaneous combustion of a school teacher in the middle of lessons baffles the authorities and local media, and attracts Tom Crane’s attention. But his superiors at Department 7 seem unusually concerned with making sure that he and his colleague, Anne Reynolds, stay as far away from the case as possible. But Tom and Anne persist, though they are soon to find out that the reason Department 7 wants them to leave it alone is for their own safety. Spider’s Web is a strongly engaging tale from writer Iain McLaughlin, marking his debut with The Omega Factor with a horrific, mysterious tale, that only minorly stumbles at times with the romantic aspects of the novel. McLaughlin does a fine job crafting a smart, intriguing plot, greatly benefiting from the longer format afforded by the format, while his work on the characters, both old and new, is generally solid. An audiobook reading of the novel by Louise Jameson does a fantastic job to highlight both the story and the excellent abilities of Jameson as well. Overall, as the first original novel Big Finish has produced for The Omega Factor, McLaughlin does a fine job adding an immensely powerful story to the narrative, helped by some fine writing and a great adaptation.
Iain McLaughlin dips his toes into The Omega Factor for the first time, with an engrossing tale that showcases the best the series has to offer; children with unfathomable psychic powers, unexplained death and destruction, and a simple, powerful emotional centerpiece to the story that proves the key to saving the day. Spider’s Web finds Department 7 investigating a series of grisly deaths around the country and beyond, all seeming to center around a group of kids who all share heterochromia and red hair, as well as similar upbringings. What seems on the surface to be a simple case, instead turns out to be a long-running government conspiracy, involving an incredibly powerful psychic using these children as pawns in his quest for revenge. The plot is the highlight of McLaughlin’s story, in my opinion. He does a fantastic job creating a tense yet deeply engaging story, with lots of fantastic twists and turns, and an incredibly effective central “hook” to the story, as Tom and Anne are pulled into the mystery more and more. Certainly, the plot of a group of powerfully gifted children being used by their even more powerful father in a quest for revenge is a gripping tale, but the addition of elements of a government conspiracy help to deepen the impact of the story. It’s a story that recalls both the Cold War setting and it’s theme of government mistrust, as well as more topical events, of vast government conspiracies and secrets.
The longer format certainly affords the story far more time to breathe, and certainly helps to improve it. The longer length allows Iain McLaughlin more time to craft an emotional impact for the story, such that by the time the story has ended, it’s hard not to feel a sense of sadness for the characters of the story. It also gives him far more time to work on crafting a deeply disturbing, horrific tact for the scenes. A lot of the horror of the story is in the implication; by and large, McLaughlin teases the horrific events of the story, from the drowning, to the immolation of the school teacher, and so on. But when McLaughlin chooses to go into detail, the results are excruciatingly dark. My favorite scenes of the story are the times that Tom Crane goes under to try and make contact with the children, and they turn their psychic powers against him to make him experience the various deaths around the country. They’re exhausting scenes, in some respects, because they’re so gripping and powerful, despite being relatively simple. However, one part of the story tends to drag from this expanded focus, and that is the romantic tension between Tom Crane and Anne Reynolds. The romantic aspect of their relationship is nothing new to the series, and indeed, it’s a fundamental part of things. But it seems that nearly every interaction between the two characters serves to highlight that romantic tension, and it gets tiring after a while. McLaughlin has stated that this was meant to work as a story that could slot into the middle of the series, and certainly it works well that way. But the romantic angle of the story does very little to benefit the story, and indeed, it runs the risk of comically dragging the story down near the end, but thankfully McLaughlin is able to avoid the “love conquers all” trope near the end.
Iain McLaughlin’s story also excels with the character work throughout the tale. The characters of The Omega Factor have always felt well-defined and intriguing, as Jack Gerson was able to craft a deeply engaging world back when the show originally aired. McLaughlin is able to harness those characters well throughout the story, apart from the aforementioned romantic subplot, and use them extremely well throughout. I particularly liked his work on Tom Crane, as he was able to bring the character to life extremely well, showing not only his personal relationships and moral code, but also his thought processes as a journalist and investigator. It’s an intriguing bit of character work, and works exceptionally well throughout the story. But where McLaughlin shines is in the work he does creating the many new characters who inhabit the story, namely the children of Gareth Riley, and the man himself. The children often show up throughout the story, and are very seldom speaking or the focus; most of the time, they are described through Tom Crane or Anne. But those descriptions show off a formidable group of characters, and the few insights we get into their actual thoughts and psyches, namely in the opening scenes, as well as the psychic sessions that Tom has in the middle and end of the story, are incredibly powerful. But it’s the presence, or lack there of I suppose, of Gareth Riley that serves as the best testament to McLaughlin’s character work. Riley is a looming presence throughout the latter half of the story, ever present, but across the entire book, he is never seen once. McLaughlin was wise to choose this route for the villain of the story, as it does so much more work establishing him as a character, than it would actually bringing him into the story. There’s a tantalizing sense of mystery to the character that works so well, but when we see glimpses of the character and his actions, such as the scene where he murders an entire group of guards who’ve come to kill him in a little over a minute, the impact is far greater than anything that the character could say or do if he were actually physically present within the story.
Spider’s Web was also given an audiobook reading, read by series star Louise Jameson, and directed by Neil Gardner. Jameson once again proves her mettle as an actor with this absolutely brilliant audiobook reading. Jameson’s talents are on full display throughout the six-hour long audiobook, pulling out a wide range of voices and delivering some excellent readings that serve to enhance the emotions and the tone of the story. Her voice work is deeply impressive; there are so many different voices and accents afforded to the large number of characters throughout the novel, that I almost wonder if she has any sort of limit to the number of voices she has. Each character has their own voice and accent that makes them distinctly their own and recognizable, with or without McLaughlin actually saying which character is talking. Even the accents she uses, despite not being flawless, are strong and enjoyable, instantly giving the story a largely, more widely representative feeling. But the highlight of the audiobook for me was the way she told the story, which was done so well that I felt it actually enhanced some of the messier parts of the story. Jameson is a steady and very talented narrator, that much is obvious from her character work. But the hard work she did on this story really helped to make the story pop, far more than just reading it would’ve done for me. She highlights so many of the horrific and emotional scenes with her narration throughout the story; the scenes in Tom’s head have a breathless quality to them, while the quieter, emotional scenes have a much deeper impact, thanks to Jameson’s narrative work. The story was already strong, but her narration provides the story’s audiobook with a depth that really serves to highlight the story, all thanks to Jameson’s exceptional performance.
Overall, Spider’s Web, the first original novel based on The Omega Factor to come out from Big Finish, is a deeply engaging and powerful tale by writer Iain McLaughlin. He is able to craft an intense, engrossing tale of horror and evil that really pops off the page so well, with a tale that both fits into the mold that The Omega Factor has had for all these years, while taking it in an interesting direction. The plot of the story is exceptional, deeply disturbing but always entertaining, and his character work, despite some missteps with the large focus on the romantic relationship between Tom and Anne, is exceptional. An audiobook reading by Louise Jameson serves to highlight the best aspects of the story with a powerful, dynamic reading, while also showcasing the narrator’s many talents and her acting chops. Overall, Spider’s Web is a brilliant, intense bit of drama, with a fantastic plot and strong character work, and certainly is one of the highlights of the range. Final Grade: 9/10