Wednesday, 9 February 2011


Outcasts - Pilot and Episode one (BBC One). In 2040 on the distant planet Carpathia, a group of human pioneers led by President Richard Tate lives in Forthaven. They have lost contact with Earth some years ago but the unexpected arrival of a last transporter ship brings hope. One of the settlers, Head of Expeditionaries Mitchell Hoban, is frustrated and wants to leave the community.

Outcasts is an ambitious science fiction series produced by Kudos Film and Television and BBC America for the BBC. Created and written by Ben Richards (Spooks, The Fixer), it was filmed in South Africa and it is co-produced as an official South African-German co-production by Film Afrika and ApolloMovie Beteiligungs. The cast has the attractivity necessary to a project of this scale: Liam Cunningham, Hermione Norris (Spooks), Daniel Mays (Ashes to Ashes), Amy Manson, Ashley Walters (Small Island), Eric Mabius (Ugly Betty) and Jamie Bamber (Law & Order: UK and, above all, Battlestar Galactica).

The pilot and Episode one are directed by Bharat Nalluri. When he's at his best, Nalluri is more than a director, he's a genius stylist. He directed the premiere episodes of Spooks (2002), Hustle (2004) and Life on Mars (2006). He actually got the idea of Hustle and he's the man behind the stylistic identity of these three hits which established the reputation of Kudos as an indie. As often he works here with talented cinematographer Adam Suschitzky and the result is beyond what you can expect from artists of such caliber, undeniably inspired by South African locations.

And it takes some talent to raise interest on a drama which seems to have been done a thousand times. Outcasts has shows like Earth 2, Lost, Battlestar Galactica or Survivors in its DNA and the characters played by Liam Cunningham and Hermione Norris, Tate and Stella, channel Space: 1999's Commander Koenig and Dr Helena Russell. But on planet Carpathia there is regrettably no form of life, the protagonists are wooden and the only one interesting is shot at the end of the pilot episode. This pilot is plagued by heavy exposition and the dialogues of Outcasts sound endless, even for "intelligent" science fiction.

The words "high concept" should be banned for ever by the television industry as it usually ends (when it can end) in some purgatory - maybe all the citizens of Forthaven are dead. And has Eric Mabius's Julius Berger met "a man of wealth and taste"? Ask Daniel Mays... Oh, there are clones too. No matter how they will be used here, clones have become in many respects the narrative device equivalent in sci-fi of "the dog ate my homework" and should be banned too.

Production designer Edward Thomas (Doctor Who) does a great job, as usual. And the score, by Paul Englishby, is superb - like in most Brit TV dramas. Thank God theme tunes still exist on this side of the pond, and this one is very Babylon 5. But unfortunately it's all Outcasts shares with its illustrious predecessor. Looking forward to watch the new series of Doctor Who and Torchwood before total despair.

Jane Featherstone, Simon Crawford Collins, Faith Penhale and Ben Richards exec produce for Kudos Film and Television and Matthew Read is executive producer for the BBC.

1 comment:

FRANK said...

I've only seen the pilot and read and interview with creator Ben Richards so far but my view is that he's trying to make a science fiction drama when he doesn't really like science fiction and is aiming it squarely at people who don't really care for science fiction. Hence, the murmurings of 'high concept' so as not to frighten the horses.

It borrows heavily from BSG, Survivors and Earth 2. Hence we get Jamie Bamber more or less turning up as the character he played in BSG. However, he was good and it's a shame they killed him after the first episode. And by the looks of it the Julius Berger character will turn out to be another Baltar.

As you say, it spends an awful lot of time with characters just emitting a lot of exposition without really developing them as characters. There is a conspiracy type back story in the middle of it all but it needed a great big hook to interest viewers for the first episode and unfortunately I think most will have given up in hope of finding one.

Looks pretty but again visually it borrows heavily from BSG and from Abram's Star Trek movie with all the lens flares bouncing around. Nice locations but they do remind me of the setting for Earth 2. And at least Earth 2 had an indigenous alien population to add a bit of spice.

A bit dull and worthy I'm afraid. I'll give it one more shot and then see.