sat 15/08/2020

Outcasts, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Outcasts, BBC One

Outcasts, BBC One

A sci-fi drama that misfires by boldly going where Battlestar Galactica has been already

Hermione Norris and Liam Cunningham contemplate the unthinkable: a second series of 'Outcasts'BBC pictures

I only needed to see the trailer of this new eight-part science-fiction series for the words “Battlestar” and “Galactica” to spring depressingly to mind: the neutral colourlessness of everything, the characters looking meaningfully into the middle distance, the scrubby Earth-like landscape of Carpathia (rather than its almost anagrammatic Caprica from Battlestar), and the fact that this was another bunch of disenfranchised humans trying to settle on a new planet. But then to top it all, one of the leads from that cult American series (British actor James Bamber) also appeared in the opening episode, as if the producers were mockingly saying, "Yeah, we know – but what are you going to do about it, sci-fi geeks?"

However, whereas the tackling of big themes such as religion, race, ethics and the very nature of what it is to be human worked in Battlestar Galactica, having the same bunch of themes pored over again so soon and so ponderously by this new bunch of Earth refugees/pioneers has already become unbearably irritating after just three episodes. Yes, the direction and production values pass muster: lived-in interiors seem lit by either 40-watt bulbs or light slanting film noirishly through vents and slats. But you can pile on the atmosphere until ET comes home, it’s still not going to work unless you care about the fate of the characters. And this lot seem to spend much of the time just standing around as if they’d really rather be somewhere, anywhere else.

As soon as I saw Rodney Bewes lookalike Daniel Mays (pictured below) as a salt-of-the-earth but short-tempered south Londoner with a pet cloned pig, I was already bristling with impatience. Clearly this everyman character was there solely to make everyone else seem more charismatic and important, and to function in a rather patronising way as the viewer's way into the action. Then there was some kid you just wanted to laser because he kept reciting William Blake, and a few credibility-stretching punch-ups which seemed to occur purely to bulk up each episode’s action quota. Old TV favourites like Hermione Norris (Spooks) and Liam Cunningham did their best to imbue every portentous “we will survive” speech with all the gravitas they could muster, but one couldn’t help but suspect they’d only taken the gig so they could spend six months in South Africa (where the series was shot).

outcasts1Another problem with Outcasts is that unfortunately it’s become unfashionable to put monsters/aliens in “serious” sci-fi these days. This is ironic given that it’s now possible to create both cheaper and more credible critters than ever before with state-of-the-art CGI. And it’s a real shame too, given that everyone – including sophisticated adults such as your reviewer – loves a chillingly unstoppable alien foe. It has been hinted at in Outcasts that there’s something unpleasant lurking just over the horizon, but I bet it’s just more boring, grumpy humans. For while science fiction continues to strive self-consciously for intellectual and artistic credibility, aliens seem to be out, leaving us with just humans not getting on very well with other humans; in other words, EastEnders in space. So there’s one couple about to get married, there’s a woman hoping to be reunited with her daughter, there’s a smug religious bloke who’s obviously going to turn extremist, and people – soap-style - just handily bump into each other in the street (which looks depressingly like the Barbican complex).

Even the often excellent Battlestar Galactica fell apart under the black-hole weight of its own metaphysical pretensions but that was after 76 episodes. Outcasts is floundering after only three. The real test for me came halfway through last night's episode when a “white-out” (kick-arse dust storm to you and me) threatened the lives of everyone in the community. I’m sorry, but I wanted them all to die. And given that these people were quite possibly the last human beings left alive in the whole universe, that’s not good.

What saddens me most is that this series's creaking, grey, déjà-vu awfulness could negatively effect the likeliness of future sci-fi dramas getting the green light at the BBC. Almost by definition, sci-fi is the one genre with unlimited possibilities. It can be movingly subtle as in both the movie and the novel Never Let Me Go, or it can have energy and panache as in the best episodes of Doctor Who. In other words it can turn your world view (or universe view) upside down with the paradoxes of time travel, the possibilities of parallel universes or the poignant tragedy of clones bred solely for their organs. So it’s particularly distressing when a huge sack of money gets spent on going rather less than boldly where many men have gone before.

I’m sorry, but I wanted them all to die

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Comments

Spot on review, absolutely dire. Makes me want to watch the remake of Survivors again, that was rubbish but at least you could have a laugh at how rubbish it was. This is just tedious. It'd be like being trapped on a desert island with a bunch of suburbanites.

actually,i like the show. I think it's nuch better than the series made by sci-fi. Since there are already enough monsters on tv shows nowadays, i dont care whether there will be aliens showing up. Characters and beautiful scenary from africa is enough.

Slow, dull, dreary: like a grey, damp, weekend in the Midlands suburb of my youth. I tried hard to sit through episode one, manfully trudged through some of episode two, but - so sorry - wiped it off iPlayer after 20 minutes or so. And I've been a sci-fi fan since Dan Dare battled the Mekon, so I always give the genre my best shot.

I'm enjoying the series as it happens...a bit different and a welcome change to the normal cop/cooking/lawyer/period drama we normally have at 9pm week day slot ! Shame its been moved to a Sunday this will undoubtedly stop any chance of a next series ! Nevermind !

So sorry that there will be no second series as I've really enjoyed the show, such a change to have intelligent, character led sci fi drama. Can see that it isn't enough green skins and zap guns for the sci fi lot and yet those who like good drama won't touch anything labelled sci fi so Outcast has lost out.

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