Outlander, based on the bestselling book series from Diana Gabaldon, follows Claire Randall (Catriona Balfe) who sets off on a trip to the Scottish Highlands with her husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies) in 1946. The pair are looking to reconnect after the trauma of the Second World War in which she was a nurse and he worked for British Intelligence. However, circumstances beyond their control sees Claire whisked back in time to the 18th century and straight into the turbulent clashes between the British Redcoats and the Scottish Highlanders. Granted protection by the Scots, she forges a relationship with the dashing Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and changes her future in the process.
When you try and explain Outlander to someone who has neither seen nor heard it before, they often give you a slightly quizzical look because it is a rather unique concept. It’s one that transcends genres; the time-travel angle gives it science fiction leaning whilst the actual process of time travel through standing stones feels more fantastical. Then there’s the historical fiction aspect with Gabaldon setting the bulk of the story in the eighteenth century, a time when Scottish political tensions were running especially high, but with a soaring romance at its heart.
Ronald D. Moore and his production team have managed to weave together a beautiful adaptation, one which successfully balances all of the above elements with a cast that are as vividly memorable as Gabaldon’s literary counterparts. Claire is played beautifully by Balfe, capturing Claire’s strengths as well as her flaws in a nuanced lead performance and she’s matched by an excellent Heughan, who embodies Jamie completely. Menzies has the toughest job and handles it with ease, portraying the honourable Frank with an innate nobility and contrasting him sharply with his ancestor, the decidedly dishonourable Captain Black Jack Randall, also played by Menzies.
Key to much of the show’s success is the attention to detail in building the world around these characters. Outlander creates a believable and detailed landscape for them to inhabit. The impressive array of featurettes provided on the home release (Blu-Ray and the Deluxe DVD & Blu-Ray Collection) offer a great behind the scenes look at how Outlander was transferred from page to screen. ‘An Epic Adaptation’ is an introduction to Gabaldon’s early Doctor Who-based inspiration, the battle to get it made as a television series rather than as a feature film and the pressure felt by everyone involved to get the series right. Other featurettes include a look at the magnificent work done by the costume department, the cast’s ‘boot camp’ to get used to fighting, riding and talking like a Highlander and the important casting process.
The Blu-Ray also offers over thirty deleted scenes from throughout the series. The book on which Outlander is based, Cross Stitch, is quite the tome and naturally a few story elements fell by the wayside in order to fit Claire’s story into sixteen episodes. The Reckoning, a fan favourite episode with an exceptionally tricky plot point to navigate, gets an extended edition, allowing us to see more of Jamie’s perspective. Elsewhere, the short deleted scenes, some with insightful introductions from Ronald D. Moore himself, grant us the opportunity to see a few of those missing elements alongside some nice character moments.
With the vast selection on offer, it seems a little churlish to want more, but it would have been great to have a featurette devoted to the music of Outlander. Bear McCreary’s score is easily one of the show’s strongest elements, an intelligent blend of traditional Scottish music with 1940s flourishes that captures both Claire’s contemporary world and the historical one in which she finds herself. There is also the amazing theme, a reworking of The Skye Boat Song with lyrics born out of a Robert Burns poem, the construction of which would’ve been an interesting process to learn about.
That is a small quibble though and there is plenty for the discerning Outlander fan to get stuck into. The series itself is very accessible for those audience members who haven’t read the books to be able to dive straight into Claire’s story, whilst the attention to detail ensures that book readers will revel in seeing it brought to life.
Outlander, The Complete Season 1 is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD.