The inspiration behind the original concept of Doctor Who is not the
most mysterious of territories. Sydney Newman’s teatime television
venture was born out of a number of ingredients, the central plank of
which being H.G. Wells’ groundbreaking novel
The Time Machine (1895),
which sees a Victorian inventor breach the fourth dimension and travel
into the far flung future.
|The cover of H.G Wells' novel,
'The Time Machine' (1895).
For science-fiction aficionados, Wells’ legacy is well known and
stretches far beyond his slim narrative on time travel. Along with that
other nineteenth-century visionary, Jules Verne, Wells set out the
concepts and ideas which, as the twentieth century unfolded, became a
brand new literary genre and gave rise to such writing greats as Isaac
Asimov, Frank Herbert, Karl Vonnegut
and J.G. Ballard.
Wells’ Victorian innovator may well have been the mainspring for the
mysterious Doctor, whose adventures have captivated children and adults
alike for nearly half a century, but there happens to be another
temporal explorer whose adventures are somewhat less well known, and
whose resemblance to the Doctor is really quite remarkable.
It was in 1906 that the French author, Arnould Galopin (1865-1934),
brought forth a new science-fiction protagonist by the name of Doctor
Omega. Galopin was one of Verne’s successors, and, although both
productive and successful in his own time, he has since become something
of a footnote in the history of twentieth-century French literature.
Fortunately, his enigmatic Doctor Omega has come to a new audience, by
way of a translated version of the original novel Le Docteur Oméga,
produced by the writer, translator and Doctor Who archivist
Jean-Marc Lofficier and his wife, Randy.
The Lofficiers have a long and successful track record in the business
of translating and publishing.
Their adaptation of Galopin’s
Oméga is no exception. The book presents the remarkable tale of Denis
Borel, a French gentleman who, upon moving from the hustle and bustle of
Paris to the rural tranquility of Normandy, becomes entangled in the
extraordinary doings of the titular character.
|The cover of Arnould Galopin's
novel, 'Le Docteur Omega' (1906)
Persuaded by the
mysterious Doctor Omega to accompany him in his studies, Borel soon
finds himself a crewman aboard Doctor Omega’s custom-built ship, the
Cosmos, for its maiden voyage into time and space. In no little time the
ship and its crew are fetched up upon the eerie landscape of Mars in the
long distant past, and face to face with the planet’s curious
In itself, the story is an engaging but by no means complicated affair,
and its style owes much to the works of Wells and Verne. But for Doctor
Who fans there is a little more to consider. For the similarities
between Galopin’s turn-of-the-century scientist-cum-inventor, and
Newman’s 1963 protagonist are striking.
First, unlike Wells’ time traveller, Doctor Omega is a stranger –
possibly an alien – cut off from his own kind. Second, his people
possess the power to travel through time and space through a rare
metallic element known as stellite. Third, his brisk manner is not
unlike the sometimes irascible nature of William Hartnell’s Doctor, and
his appearance – as represented in the original French illustrations by
E. Bouard and J.M. Breton – echoes this likeness. Lastly, he constructs
an incredible vessel, the Cosmos, which, through the presence of stellite, enables him to travel in time as well as space.
As well as its obvious echoes in the world of Doctor Who, it’s
noteworthy that this book is not only translated by the Lofficiers, but
also ‘adapted and retold’. This means that the English version has
undergone something of a minor makeover, which irons out the occasional
piece of tired plotting and emphasises the possible association between
Gallifrey’s most famous son and Galopin’s marooned scientist.
|The cover of Lofficier's retelling
'Doctor Omega' (2003).
Of course, the connections listed above are perfectly reasonable
coincidences, and given that Galopin was following in the footsteps of
Wells, as Newman himself did a little over half a century later, it’s
little wonder that a degree of similarity exists between the two.
as Jean-Marc Lofficier points out in a recent interview (see Whotopia 21
at www.whotopia.ca), it’s almost certainly the case that when Newman was
busy establishing the format for Doctor Who he had never heard of
Le Docteur Oméga. Rather, as Lofficier goes on
to argue, certain storytelling archetypes exist across history and the
apparent link between Doctor Who and Le Docteur Oméga
is just another example of this
repetition of characters and qualities across time.
That being said, I defy anyone to glance at either of the front covers
of the 2003 English editions of Le Docteur Oméga, as published by the
Lofficiers’ very own Black Coat Press and not mistake it for a new
Target-like novel presenting the adventure of some sort of combination
of the good Doctor and the renegade Time Lord Omega – and there’s
another debate just waiting to be started!
Lastly, along with their translated version of Le Docteur Oméga, the
Lofficier's published in 2011 a further collection of short stories
involving Galopin’s anonymous time traveller, entitled
Doctor Omega and
the Shadowmen. Both books are available from Black Coat Press at
© Copyright Jez Strickley & Doctor Who Online,