Mindy Newell: Outlander

“It’s just a big story, you know? The book is a big tale. It travels a lot and it goes to a lot of different places. And as I looked at it… the rights holder initially was trying to do it as a feature and I knew that it was never going to be a feature. You would lose everything that was special about the book once you stripped it down to two hours. And still, if you want to do the story justice, if you want to actually enjoy the experience the way the reader enjoys the experience, you have to take your time. You have to sort of drink in the landscape. You have to get to know the people. You need to let the moments breathe. You need to let the story just unwind a little bit. And to create that feeling in television, it just required a bigger spread of hours.” Ronald D. Moore, Executive Producer, Outlander, A Starz Original Series based on the book by Diana Gabaldon.

First, a confession.

I’ve never read the Outlander series of books by Ms. Gabaldon.

I’m not sure why. Certainly all the ingredients are there:

  • Time travel: As those of you who regularly read this column already know, and as any newbies are about to learn, mention a time travel story to me and my mouth starts watering like Pavlov’s dog – Doctor Who, various episodes of various Star Trek shows and movies, Connie Willis’s series of short stories and novels concerning the time-traveling faculty of a future Oxford University;
  • A woman protagonist who is not only a registered nurse, but a combat nurse in World War II – for those of you who don’t know, I’m an R.N., as was my mom, who served in the Army during the war, and my dad was a fighter jock in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theatre of operations, first piloting P-40s and then, for the majority of his time in service, flying the ultimate war plane, the Mustang P-51. (Okay, the Brits may argue with me on that one, defending the very worthy and impressive Spitfire, in which the R.A.F. pilots won the crucial Battle of Britain.);
  • History and great historical fiction, especially the incredible history of the British isles and the great historical fiction about our cousins across the pond – I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before here, but I’m sort of a British royal history geek, reading everything from Shakespeare’s plays to Anne Weir and Eric Ives to Jean Plaidy and Phillipa Gregory and watching every movie from The Private Life Of Henry VIII (starring Charles Laughton and directed-produced by Alexander Korda) to The Lion In Winter (starring Peter O’Toole as Henry II, Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitane, Anthony Hopkins as the future King Richard “The Lionhearted” I, and Timothy Dalton as France’s King Phillip II) to various Masterpiece Theatre productions – Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R – to Cate Blanchett and Helen Mirren’s turns as the Virgin Queen. Not to forget Ms. Mirren in the 2006 movie The Queen.

And there was a time when I loved what are commonly referred to as “bodice-rippers,” i.e., romance novels. You know the ones I mean, the one with the covers of some impossibly gorgeous man of a past era with impossibly gorgeous pecs holding a beautiful, sensuous, and amply endowed woman dressed in a disarrayed bodice (hence the term “bodice ripper”). Also referred to as “soft-porn,” these books are formulaic, usually involving a young and innocent heroine and a rich, powerful man who she initially and distinctly H-A-T-E-S, but with whom she eventually, and eternally, fall in love. The seduction of the heroine happens frequently, and, I have to admit here, that some of the sex scenes are I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E, giving Fifty Shades Of Grey a run for its money; I can heartily recommend, for those of you interested in “genteelly” getting your rocks off, The Flame And The Flower by Katherine Woodiwiss, Sweet Savage Love and its sequels by Rosemary Rodgers, and the hottest, most licentious, incredibly sweaty and sexy Skye O’Malley series by Bertrice Small.

But The Flame And The Flower was first published in 1972, Sweet Savage Love in 1974, and Skye O’Malley in 1981. IM-not-so-HO, these were the books that really started off the craze, but since then the romance genre has been flooded with thousands of knock-offs by, again, IM-not-so-HO, too many really, really lousy writers incapable of really, really, sweat-inducing bedroom (and other places) scenes, and, again, IM-not-so-HO, the genre has suffered.

In other words… I was turned off. Not turned on.

Which is why I never picked up Outlander.

Which, BTW, was in a sub-sub-genre of bodice rippers called “time-travel romance,” which was a sub-genre of bodice rippers called “science fiction romance.”



When I read that the adaptation of Outlander was being exec-produced by Ron Moore – he of some of ST: The Next Generation’s best episodes, including “Best Of Both Worlds Part I,” and of course, of the reboot of Battlestar Galatica, my “on button” went green.

So this past Saturday, August 9th, at 9 P.M., I turned on the TV and went to the Starz channel.  And guess what?

Not only wasn’t I not disappointed… I was intrigued.

First off, the production is shot on location in Scotland. Scotland is beautiful, eerie, and full of history.

Second, Mr. Moore introduces us to the heroine, Claire Beacham Randall, at work in the field hospitals of World War II. Mr. Moore added this scene, which apparently is not how the book opens; it should have. Right away the viewer knows who this woman is: brave, resourceful, knowledgeable, and able to stand on her own two feet.

Third, the first half-hour is dedicated to the relationship between Claire and her husband, Frank Randall, a historian. They have been separated by five years of war, and are trying to reconnect through a holiday in Scotland. And by watching them reconnect, we connect to them. Plus there is some hot sex between the pair, including a scene in which Frank goes down on Claire in an ancient, ruined Scottish castle.

Fourth, we believe Claire’s reaction to being thrust back into time and what initially happens to her there because, as I wrote, we already have a sense of what type of person Claire is, and we have become connected to her through the first half-hour.

Fifth, the Scots whom Claire meets speak Scottish as well as English; a nice bit of reality.

And, finally, that ancient, ruined castle pops up again. Only it’s not ruined, it’s not ancient, and its flags are flying over the turrets; a nice bit of foreshadowing by Mr. Moore…and, I’m presuming, Ms. Gabaldon, since I haven’t read the book.

But I will.

I just ordered in on Amazon.

Now I just have to decide if I want to read it before the next episode of Outlander airs this Saturday night.