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Friday, 11 February 2011

Outcasts, BBC1

Well that’s us ugly folk doomed, then. The scrap of humanity jettisoned from a dying Earth to a new life on the remote planet of Carpathia appears to have been selected in large part for their looks.

You can imagine the ugly, deformed and misshapen banging angrily on the gates as the demure Stella (Hermione Norris), rugged Mitchell (Jamie Bamber), feline Fleur (Amy Manson) and charming Tipper (Michael Legge) were escorted on to the first transport to salvation. Of course, they are also blessed with the sort of prodigious talent usually exclusive to lazy American films where they can’t be bothered to characterise properly and instead toss out easily recognisable attributes such as ‘straight-A student’ or ‘ex-Navy SEAL’ or ‘top lawyer’ or, well you get the picture.


Tipper Malone for instance comes across initially as an Irish rogue, dealing in contraband and seducing Stella with merely a twinkle of the eye. We later find out he’s a child genius gone dissolute. Mitchell, meanwhile, is a fearless pioneer who scouted out the surrounding environs of the ramshackle outpost of Forthaven that serves as the one and only town. Or at least he did until he murdered his wife for spying on him, kidnapped his son and was shot dead by Fleur.


The reason he went mad? He wanted a better life for his son, and didn’t feel that was happening in the current status quo.


Alone his rather rudimentary psychological motivation for acting irrationally might have been intriguing. However, some plague – perhaps akin to the lethal child-killing virus C23 – seems to have devolved the inhabitants of Forthaven into a amorphous bunch of ciphers whose every action is, or has been, centred on their children.


Stella’s daughter is on the last spacecraft to exit Earth that explodes on entry into the atmosphere. Was her daughter on one of the escape pods? Well, if you didn’t know the answer Stella kept bloody reminding you until you hoped her daughter was a pattern of shattered atoms in the Carpathian wastelands.


President Richard Tate (Liam Cunningham) justified his order to remove the clones sent with the initial expedition out into the wastelands to be executed as he wrongly believed they were the carriers of the C23 virus that killed his children.

The clones themselves, who were spared execution by Mitchell, threatened murder upon Stella’s daughter – and later some of the Outcasts – unless one of their infant offspring was cured of pneumonia.


And then there’s Aisling, whose brainwashed mother donated her pass on to one of the escape pods from the doomed transport to the creepy Julius Berger (Eric Mabius) and tries to stab him for his alleged crime.


This widespread obsession with family turns the characters into a neurotic, amorphous mush that it’s hard to care much about. And to top it all, you have the tiresomely pious Fleur lambasting them for their irrational decisions.

And in spite of all these flaws, we quite liked Outcasts.

The tight plotting – partly due to the absence so far of any beguiling characters (though we have our eye on Julius and Cass) – combined with the potential of an alien planet provide cause for optimism that the EastEnders-esque obsession with families may soon dissolve to be replaced by storylines that will exploit the unexplored wilderness that surrounds them.


It’s already been touched upon with the C23 virus and mentions of species such as birds and insects.


However, moving in this direction would be what you would expect from a sci-fi show, and for all its tricks and traits Outcasts isn’t a sci-fi show. It lacks the invention and ideas common to something like Star Trek or even Blake’s 7. In fairness, it doesn’t try to be, and instead aims more for a Robinson Crusoe study in how humans react in a confined, unfamiliar environment; a scenario that has been a boundlessly rich source of drama throughout human history.

After two episodes, we fear that Outcasts may lack the imagination, or the bravery, to make this leap.

We’ve enjoyed the first couple of episodes of Outcasts, but wonder if it can evolve into a thrilling series with the legs for three or four series.

If we had our way, we’d reintroduce the C23 virus into Forthaven to kill off all the children so the survivors could concentrate on complex adult themes rather than the drab melodrama more commonly found about an hour or so earlier in Albert Square

1 comment:

Daryl said...

Absolutely right. I can only hope that darker, more complex themes are explored in future episodes. I have been looking forward to a thoughtful, gritty, adult sci-fi show since this was announced. A British BSG if you will. So you can imagine how my interest was piqued by Jamie Bamber being cast. And my subsequent disappointment when he was swiftly killed off. I cling to the hope that this will be more than just 'Survivors' in space.

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