Does this bold new series prove there’s life in contemporary British sci-fi drama or are we once again bracing ourselves for disaster?
We’ve come a long way since the days of the tongue-in-cheek Blake’s 7 and flimsily cardboard sets on Doctor Who. Yet even now, in the new millennium, sci-fi drama seems to be a particularly difficult genre for the BBC to tactical. With the exception of Doctor Who, sci-fi serials that are more serious in tone have been hard to come by.
Do you remember Bonekickers? Probably not. Or, how about last autumn’s The Deep, which started relatively well before sinking into a disappointing mess of political sub-plots and absurd returns from the grave.
It seems those of us who were hoping for a more believable drama may finally have had our calls answered.
Outcasts, a bold new sci-fi series set on an Earth-like planet, from the makers of Spooks and Life on Mars, premiered tonight on BBC1. An ensemble of British talent is on display, with Hermione Norris, Liam Cunningham, Jamie Bamber, Daniel Mays and Ashley Walters. Written and created by Ben Richards, the story concerns a colony of humans who’ve set out to build a better future on a distance planet called, Carpathia – perfectly located in “the Goldilocks zone” so it can sustain human life.
This first episode pushed the needle ever so slightly, but already established an edgy tone for the series. Feelings of discontent and mistrust arise as once-revered expeditionary Mitchell Hoban (Bamber) goes renegade, with separatist motives. And as we know from dramas following isolate groups far from home, breakaways threaten to disrupt the entire group – like Sunshine and its intergalactic cabin fever.
Meanwhile, seeds are already being sewn for the coming episodes, with those oh-so-lovely decisions “for the greater good” that end up being excuses for mass murder and the like, more enemies within the walls and, of course, indulgent temptation. Beyond that, where Outcasts really proves its desire to treat new ground – ahem – is in its locations.
Yes, the customary grey corridors are here, but the series has also been shot out in the wilds of Africa – and believe me when I say it shows. The picturesque world of Carpathia can be witnessed before our very eyes, its endless woodlands, barren deserts and shimmering lakes captured in all their majesty. The scenes with Cass (Mays) and Fleur (Amy Manson), appropriately dressed in Millets’ new line of potholing gear, could have transported us to a backpackers’ adventure tour.
That’s the crux of Outcasts. It feels grounded. A not-too-far-flung slice of drama that keeps its sci-fi theme without abandoning the human stories. It will be a while yet before I can truly say Outcasts has pioneered in its genre, but it’s already showing great potential. Here’s hoping it’s brave enough to push the boat out with its band of future settlers, who are all just as flawed as we are today.