Outcasts: Episode One

Outcasts, the BBC’s new Monday night science fiction drama, isn’t bad. I’m surprised. Although not too surprised because the series is produced by the same team behind Hustle and Spooks. The basic scenario is a fairly sound foundation for some good drama. It’s 2040 and a group of humans having been living Carpathia for ten years after leaving behind a doomed Earth. There’s a lot of fronter politicking which makes me wonder if this is taking the look and feel of the New Caprica episodes of Battlestar Galactica and trying to do a Deadwood with it.

I doubt this. Although the elements seem to be in place for a narrative of isolated human strife over the right way to run a civilization this is the BBC and this has the label of science fiction attached to it. There have already been hints towards something spooky and strange is going on in the Carpathian wilderness.

Which is a shame, because although some of the dialogue is a bit ropey in places the actor’s they’ve managed to get are making a decent job of it. The special effects aren’t on par with American SF shows, but surely we all know by now that the size of the budge and the amount of special effects has little baring on the quality of the final product. I like the use of a digitally altered South Africa as a backdrop. The fashion and prop design has a nice familiarity to it as well. It looks like that tomorrow I’d be able to go into John Lewis for my alien planet kit.

At this stage of the series, after one episode, many of its problems can be attributed to being a BBC science fiction drama shown at prime time. This series has to work with two distinct audience. In the UK domestic market, it has to appeal to some notion of the average viewer. In foreign markets, by which I really mean the USA, the audience I imagine is intended to be existing fans of British SF or dramas like Battlestar Galactica. Most of the tedious explanation in dialogue of what is happening can be understood to help the less SF literate average viewer along.

There is one final element of Outcasts which I really appreciated. This show is calm. Each thread of the first episodes story contained elements which in other, more SF, programs would have involved shouting and running around. Yes, in Outcasts it appears a kid can be kidnapped and the president threatened by a mad libertarian, but no one is going to get too vexed by this and the situation will be dealt with by careful, rational adults. Maybe the air in Carpathia is full of mild sedatives.

Will I watch tonight’s episode? Sure, I’ll give it a go. I’m interested to see if this turns into low-fi version of Battlestar Galactica’s best moments (the New Caprica episodes) or into a mess no one can agree to like. I hope this turns out well.

2 Comments

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  2. DragonLady February 9, 2011

    Good to see a well considered revue of this instead of the usual anti BBC snark. I thought they got the balance right. After all it’s meant to reach a wide audience, ie one beyond the tedious SF anoraks. I like the set design too – even what you call the John Lewis element – after all a quick look at history is enough to prove that things do not all change at the same pace. When the telephone was invented people still wore suits and ate boiled eggs, now we have computers, but men still wear suits and people still eat boiled eggs. Some things don’t change, I think that’s part of the point of the series; how much time and circumstance change us, or not. The sets and costumes are meant to signify this, hence the prosaic rucksacks and thought reading machines, all in the same place.

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