The future. Much of Earth’s population has blown itself to pieces in some sort of nuclear/environmental/cooking catastrophe, and the remaining survivors have taken off across the other side of the universe, eventually settling on the far-flung planet Carpathia.
So begins the first episode of Outcasts, the new, high-concept science fiction series commissioned by the BBC. Liam Cunningham stars as President Richard Tate, the conflicted, exhausted looking leader of the planet’s community of survivors, while Hermione Norris plays doctor Stella Isen, forced to leave her husband and daughter behind on Earth.
As the show opens, the mood among the colonists is grim. A craft carrying a fresh wave of survivors is closing in on the planet, but its shields are low and the chances of it surviving the descent into Carpathia’s atmosphere aren’t high.
Meanwhile, there’s growing unrest among the colonists on the surface. As Tate declares a ban on all firearms, maverick hero Mitchell Hoban (played by Battlestar Galactica‘s Jamie Bamber) is quietly planning to form a break-away community elsewhere on the planet.
Going for the terse mood and slow build up of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, Outcasts‘ roster of characters spend much of their time staring bleakly into monitors and handsets, or engaging one another in quiet conversations pregnant with drama. Like the cosy writings of John Wyndham, Outcasts‘ is a distinctly British, middle-class vision of a society on the brink of collapse. Young boys repeatedly quote poetry by William Blake, while Stella talks wistfully about her happier life back on Earth, where she enjoyed seeing La Traviata.
There are, however, hints throughout of the colony’s dark, turbulent history (and it’s immediately apparent that President Tate has been forced to make some grim decisions in his time), and suggestions, too, that tensions will escalate considerably in future episodes.
Outcasts‘ premise is undoubtedly filled with intrigue, but this first episode does surprisingly little to quicken the pulse.
At the same time, it’s important not to write off Outcasts too hastily. It’s clear that Richards is going for a series that builds up its drama steadily over multiple episodes, and it’s possible that, as its characters grow in familiarity and depth over the coming weeks, we’ll come to care more deeply about their fate.
At the screening I attended, a lengthy teaser reel gave a better flavour of how the rest of the run will pan out, and appears to suggest that Outcasts’ pace will pick up in future episodes.
Outcasts is set to premiere on BBC One in the next month or so. When we have firm transmission details, we’ll pass them on.
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