There’s a sorry lack of proper science fiction around at the moment. There’s a fair amount of things that are nearby on the genre scale – supernatural stuff, superheroes or just playing with science fiction ideas and concepts and making them more ‘mainstream’. But if you want an honest to goodness spaceship or alien, they’re pretty few and far between these days.
That’s why I was pretty delighted to see Outcasts appear on the radar a few months back. Then clips started appearing in “2011 on the BBC” adverts, and eventually full trailers. Things were looking good! Not only was it proper science fiction in the sense that there was a spaceship and an alien planet, but the plot seemed full of science fiction ideas about humanity and what happens when normal people are put in extraordinary circumstances? Thank you BBC!
The first episode aired last night and I really wanted to get this review out before the second episode airs tonight. Unfortunately that pesky day job got in the way so I’m cutting it pretty fine; airing two episodes next to each other is great when it comes to maintaining the pace and the intensity, not so great for reviewers with other commitments.
As it was science fiction I got to watch this with my house-mates. We were pretty silent for the majority of the show and when it finished they went “wow, that was great!” and I went “really? I thought it was a bit naff”. After a bit of conversation they brought me round to their point of view a bit more, but I was fascinated that we came away with such different instinctive reactions.
We both thoroughly agreed that the concepts and the story were fascinating and well told. It was doing everything I love about science fiction – taking fairly unremarkable people, and making ‘normal’ for them something that’s completely alien to us. So on top of the usual hassles of love, life and Murphy’s law, they also have to deal with setting up the next home planet for the human race. It reminded me a lot of Earth2, a little seen 1 season wonder show from the 90s about humanity’s less than successful attempts to colonise another planet – a show I loved and still miss 15 years later.
The show also looked great. It looked lived in and gritty (literally, there’s a lot of sand). It didn’t look like everything was blue screened and except for some overuse of lens flare at times, for the most part it was smoothly and unobtrusively directed.
What I got hung up on was that the acting and dialogue didn’t live up to the quality of the rest of the show. While the high level story was well written with little twists and turns carefully integrated, the line by line script felt forced and un-natural. In turn that made the acting feel hammy and overblown, but I don’t think it was actually the actors faults, I think they were just struggling to chew through some clumsy writing. For example there are a lot of secrets bubbling around, but everyone seems to feel the need to tell everyone that there are secrets and endlessly drop hints that they “know something you don’t know”.
That was a shame, because I was genuinely intrigued about the plot, what had happened in the past to get them to their current predicaments and mental states, and how the immediate mysteries would unravel. It certainly kept me entertained and engaged for the full hour and I’m very glad that SOMEONE is producing this kind of science fiction. Hopefully they’ll tidy up the writing and improve a bit in tonight’s episode to move it from the “entertaining” category into “actually pretty bloody good”.
There seem to be 8 episodes total, and next week at least is repeating the Monday/Tuesday pattern. Episode 1 is available at iPlayer, and episode 2 airs tonight.