Outcasts – Is there anybody out there?

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.

Aaron Lee

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  • Derek Williams

    Outcasts? Outcastzzzzz more like! While I heartily approve of there being some new British sci-fi, I find it hard to accept this show.

    I knew little of it before hand despite the BBC having been heavily promoting it (so I’m told).So it was approached with a certain excitement as I love sci-fi and I’ve got a pretty low threshold for approval.

    The first 20 minutes had me interested. Seemed a fairly neat idea, if somewhat like the series of Battlestar which took place in a miserable camp on a new planet. I was patient in allowing it to set the scene and introduce characters.

    However after these 20 minutes it seemed to continue on and on in the same style without anyone really saying or doing anything interesting. Maybe that’s more realistic but if I want real I can go and look at it outside. For a tv show I want entertaining. It’s not terribly entertaining watching people largely sit around expositioning about everything.

    There is a vital spark missing in this show and it’s a mixture of direction and script. Jamie Bamber couldn’t liven things up despite his obvious charisma. He and Jeanne Kietzmann were about the only two who seemed confident in their roles. Most other actors seemed stilted and characterless. Daniel Mays was a mistake in such a prominent role as he quite frankly comes over as a smug annoying twat who is completely unsympathetic.

    The worst moment of the show was when the two security officers/police seeking out a fugitive have a deep and meaningful conversation in pretty much total darkness. Also The repeated use of the innocent young child asking questions only served to irritate and annoy through its cliched nature.

    I might be convinced to give it another chance but golly that episode did nothing to entice such a thing.

  • Robert Knight

    Seriously, this was terrible.