So, the BBC has a new, original sci-fi show that’s not a Doctor Who tie-in. It’s also not based on Earth in any way. And it looks like they spent real money on it. I could be wrong, but I can’t remember the last time that happened since Red Dwarf. And, although I love Red Dwarf, I don’t think they spent a great deal of money on that. (Possible exceptions would be children’s shows – I remember a few of those from the 90s, but they were largely Australian imports.) The point is: this is actually a big deal. I am excited by it.
It feels like it’s signalling a confidence boost in the genre. When they brought Doctor Who back there was a lot of effort put into not scaring the audience. The Doctor adopted a less flamboyant wardrobe, and there was a much higher percentage of episodes taking place on Earth. It was a little bit tamer, and probably less expensive than creating new worlds every week, too. Over the last few years it’s been expanding its field a bit, with episodes like Midnight having a bit of Old Skool monster-suspense on a crystalline planet, but Earth-based plots have still been predominant, and, in any case, Doctor Who has now become the sort of success where it can take a few risks. We haven’t had a British TV show doing what Outcasts is doing for a long time.
The premise appears to be this: something bad happened to Earth. It’s not really clear what, yet, but it was bad. Carpathia is the new planet where humans have come as refugees to start a new life. Survivors from Earth are still coming in, but infrequently, now. It seems pretty nice, on Carpathia, but there is some kind of tension, and possibly some kind of secret behind the human settlement’s currently semi-cushy life. Mitchell Hoban (Jamie Bamber) has been plotting to lead a separatist group to go live in an area outside the settlement where it is apparently forbidden to go.
In the first episode the plot revolves around Mitchell’s plan to leave the settlement, and what might be the last refugee ship from Earth. The ship is in trouble, and there’s meant to be some tension about whether it will sufficiently repair its heat shields on time.
I’ve read some fairly luke warm responses to Outcasts on Twitter, and I can sympathise with some of the complaints. The pacing is pretty slow, and we know so little about this settlement that uncovering what’s going on vs what’s a secret is a little bit of a struggle that interferes with the tension. Mitchell and his wife don’t seem to have much of a relationship, in the beginning, so it’s hard to care that she might betray him.
However, I still think the show has a lot going for it. It has a great cast. Although Jamie Bamber and Hermione Norris were the only ones I out-and-out recognised, it’s full of people who feel vaguely familiar, and they’re putting in good performances. Jamie Bamber is great. Of course, I was excited anyway because it’s Apollo (of Battlestar Galactica), and he’s using his own natural British accent. I’d heard it once before in an episode of Dangerous Davies, which included an incongruous moment where Peter Davison is struggling to jog besides him that was wonderful simply for the fangirl squee of ‘It’s the Doctor and Apollo and they’re jogging together!’. Anyway, on top of my fangirl joy, he’s actually very good, in Oucasts, and I enjoy seeing him be a bit gruff and crazy as opposed to polished and orderly. There’s also the promise of Julius Berger (Eric Mabius of Ugly Betty fame) in episode 2, which should be good. I enjoyed Ugly Betty, but I’m keen to see what else he can do!
This show has the ‘we spent money on this’ feel of BSG, but with the pioneer living-on-the-edge feeling of Firefly, mixed in with a healthy dose of Blakes 7-esque everyone’s-a-bit-morally-dubious. It feels like a piece of quality American sci-fi done by the British, which is exactly what I want it to be. Yes, the pilot was a bit slow, but it wasn’t bad – nothing made me cringe, and several things made me curious. Opening episodes often have teething trouble, and my feeling is that the issues it has are relatively minor. There’s a lot of potential, here, and I want to see it through.
Outcasts, on BBC1 and iPlayer – give it a go!