Judge Clark Douglas usually fails to live up to his inspirations.
Our review of Outcasts, published August 16th, 2011, is also available.
We have another chance—but will the human race make the same mistakes again?
"Things are going to get better."
Facts of the Case
Our story takes place in the year 2060. Earth has been reduced to a dying wasteland, forcing a number of colonists to travel to a "Goldilocks" planet (not too hot, not too cold, but just about right for human survival) in the hopes of a fresh start. The president of Planet Carpathia is Richard Tate (Liam Cunningham, Dog Soldiers), who works hard alongside the members of his team to make the new planet a better place. That task isn't too easy: Tate and friends will be forced to encounter deadly viruses, otherworldly threats and (most troublingly) internal conflicts that constantly threaten to destroy everything the humans have built on Carpathia. Can humanity survive the onslaught of threats to its existence?
For British science-fiction fans, Outcasts promised to be a welcome change of pace from more fantastical television programming like Doctor Who and Torchwood. Created by novelist/screenwriter Ben Richards, the program was designed to offer some thought-provoking "hard sci-fi" to BBC viewers. Right off the bat, it's obvious that Outcasts has ambitions to be the British Battlestar Galactica (a program that is quickly proving to be the most influential science fiction show of the modern era). Alas, if you were one of those folks who thought Stargate Universe was a pale BSG imitation, just wait until you get a peek at the anemic Outcasts.
The primary elements Outcasts borrows from Battlestar Galactica are the downbeat tone, the predilection for sermonizing, the fondness for shades of gray, and the somewhat murky religious conflict. However, it noticeably lacks the great characters, exceptional acting, smart dialogue, tense plotting, great action scenes, and dazzling technical virtues that brought so much to Ronald D. Moore's Syfy Channel program. Without those attributes, Outcasts often feels like a tiresome, self-important journey to an uninteresting destination.
I'm not saying that slow-paced, downbeat television is a bad thing, but the poor writing and thin characters make the program very difficult to sit through at times. For instance, the first episode contains a scene in which a terrorist (a guest-starring Jamie Bamber, adding to the whole Battlestar Galactica feel of the thing) waves a gun and shouts mockingly, "Do you really think you can do better this time? Do you really think human beings can live together in peace?" The terrorist is then shot by a female soldier, who then makes a dramatic pronouncement: "Yes, I do." Amusing irony, but the scene is meant to be taken seriously as a searing dramatic moment (further evidenced by the fact that the show is fond of repeating this scene during the "previously on" segments at the start of each episode).
Richards has created a world that feels rather complex, but one gets the sense the show's universe is a bit shallow. You know how some programs give you a sense that somewhere, there is a massive series Bible containing oodles of "historical" details that may or may not actually be implemented in the program? I seriously doubt Outcasts has such a valuable resource, as too many elements feel like they've only been developed as far as that episode needed them to be. A stray line of dialogue referencing the crumbling of earth: "Yeah, after the Oslo talks fell apart and the Shanghai rebellion…ah, but let's not talk about that."
It should be noted that Outcasts starts to pick up steam as it enters its second half, but then quits abruptly and leaves things hanging on a rather unsatisfying note. It's not an exceptional cliffhanger on its own terms, but it's particularly frustrating when you consider that Outcasts has been cancelled. I would have a difficult time recommending this set as the first season of an ongoing series, but given the unsatisfactory nature of what turned out to be the series finale, there's no way I can suggest that the average viewer spend eight hours of their valuable time with this exasperating show.
The 1080i/1.78:1 transfer is a bit underwhelming, as there are a lot of shots that look soft and muddled. I'm not sure why this is the case, but this definitely isn't as sharp as some of the other hi-def BBC releases I've seen. Facial detail is strong in certain shots, and close-ups generally tend to fare better than long shots. Black levels are okay, though better shadow delineation would have been nice. Audio is sturdy throughout, with the subtle scoring and sound design blending quite well with the dialogue. Louder sequences are well-mixed and manage to give your speaker system a solid workout. There are no extras of any sort included.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The series offers a number of intriguing ideas, occasionally hinting at the kind of complex drama it could have been. Production values are exceptional throughout, with nuanced set design, engagingly atmospheric music, strong special effects and involving cinematography. I also quite liked Liam Cunningham's performance as the troubled President Tate, even if he is basically a second-rate Bill Adama.
Props to Outcasts for trying to revive a more serious-minded brand of sci-fi, but the mostly-botched execution prevents me from being able to give it a pass. Here's hoping the BBC is still open to exploring stronger variations on this sort of programming, though.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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