I am a big sci-fi fan. I count Firefly and the recent Battlestar Galactica as two of my all time favourite shows that I could watch again and again. So when I heard the BBC were making a new sci-fi series, with a big name (if a little overused) cast for a primetime slot needless to say I was excited. When I started writing this blog I had in mind that I would begin an episodic review of Outcasts in the same way I do Being Human. So how do I feel having watched the opening two episodes?
Disappointed. In fact, I don't think disappointed even begins to cover it. The premise of the show is interesting, a group of humans have fled Earth and established a new colony on 'Carpathia', the South Africa location looks visually impressive and the actors all have a strong back catalogue of work both inside and out of the genre. Unfortunately however, from what we have seen so far the negatives by far outweigh the positives on this one.
The script is clunky and the opening episode was so exposition heavy it was ridiculous. I believe sci-fi fans to be some of the most loyal and also most intelligent viewers, and I don't think we need to be hammered over the head with Important Elements Of Plot quite so much as we were here. Rather than integrating plot points or character detail into the interactions or visuals with subtlety, we were given scenes such as President Richard Tate making a leaden (But Clearly Very Important) speech to an incoming transporter, ending with him apparently unable to recognise the noise created by CLAPPING, a noise which they felt the need to outwardly explain to the viewers.
For anyone that has ever watched any sci-fi series before, it all seems so very familiar. My aforementioned love of Battlestar Galactica meant that I watched Outcasts with an increasing feeling of deja vu. Destruction of earth? Check. Band of survivors seeking to establish a new colony? Check. A baby that may unite two warring races? Check. Gaius Baltar, sorry I mean, Julius Berger? Check. There is nothing wrong with these ideas per se, but we have seen it all before and better. It would have been nice to see more original ideas in Outcasts so it felt like the show had an identity of its own. President Tate even seems to be channelling Jean Luc Picard, to the extent that my non sci-fi watching father walked in and asked if he was trying to 'be Patrick Stewart'.
The (SPOILERS) death of Jamie Bamber's character Mitchell Hoban in episode one was clearly meant to come as a huge shock. Unfortunately the killing of a recognisable sci fi actor early in a series is in danger of becoming a trope in itself and I wasn't remotely surprised to see him bite the dust so soon here. It was Freema Agyeman 'starring' in similar BBC vehicle Survivors all over again. I am all for killing characters off if it benefits the story or the other characters, but unfortunately Hoban seemed to be the only interesting character in Episode 1 and so it was a disappointment that we would not be able to watch him further.
It pains me to be so critical of a series that I really hoped I would love. It is a drama on BBC1 that isn't set in a police station or hospital after all and those are too few and far between. However I always feel that many people are so prejudiced against sci-fi shows to begin with and I hate to see shows that are so stereotypical that they merely reaffirm prejudices and cause viewers to reject genuinely brilliant sci-fi such as BSG.
I am the kind of person who perseveres with a series once I have started however and so I will probably continue to watch Outcasts. Episode 2 was better than Episode 1 so I hope it will continue to improve. The cast are all very talented actors, I particularly love Daniel Mays and Amy Manson and it is their characters that have so far had the most screentime and development. If the pace is quickened, the script tightened up and some original ideas introduced Outcasts may well start to carve out an identity of its own. Here's hoping.