So said a member of the Outcasts cast late in the show’s abbreviated run and it’s a shame because a story set in the future should be about that very thing. Creator Ben Richards wrote earlier this year,
“The inspiration behind Outcasts was the desire to tell a pioneer story, and the only place you can do that really now is in space.
“I wanted to explore second chances, most fundamentally whether humanity is genetically hardwired to make the same mistakes again and again.
“The stories that kick start the series are intense, and hopefully moving, but the world view is never cynical or willfully pessimistic.”
In other words, he was hoping for the critical success of Battlestar Galactica but told stories more worthy of Space: 1999. The BBC series ran eight weeks earlier this year while it came to America in June to meet the same dismal critical reception. Now, BBC Video releases the complete series on a three-disc set.
Never heard of the show? That says a lot about how poorly received it was on both sides of the Atlantic. It was a serious-minded SF series, a counterpoint to the more over-the-top SF from England including Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Primeval. Sadly, it may have suffered more from self-importance than bad production.
Set in the middle of the 21st Century, mankind has ruined the Earth and its survivors have been coming in drips and drabs to the world of Carpathia, a mere five years’ travel distance. The remnants of humanity are trying to forge a new society but they all come with such baggage that fresh starts seem impossible. We join them ten years after the first colonists arrived and long after regular contact with the nuclear-devastated Earth was lost. A ship, perhaps the very last from Earth, arrives as we begin the series. We then see how life tries to work with the Protection and Security team keeping the peace while the Expeditionaries goes foraging for foods and medicines while studying their new home.
Richards wrote five of the eight episodes and may have had good intentions, but his internal story logic and execution left a lot to be desired. There’s a sprawling, attractive cast ill-served by their individual storylines and they never really gel as an ensemble. His talkative scripts rob the show of momentum and its slow pacing, reminiscent of 1999, doesn’t help.
His characters all feel like ones we’ve seen before, in far better science fiction concepts. There’s the President (Liam Cunningham), the madman (Jamie Bamber), the better former VP (Eric Maibus), the man with a secret past (Daniel Mays), and so on. It’s an international group, trying to reflect humanity so there’s Maibus the American, Bamber the Brit, and the South African (busty model Jeanné Kietzmann). If only we grew to care about them.
About the freshest element in the series is the notion of the Advanced Cultivars, artificially created humans designed to survive in the alien environment and blamed for unleashing a virus that killed many of the colony’s children, threatening the humans’ future.
The thing is, each episode should be advancing stories and themes but there are a lot of retreads and flashbacks and no real sense that the society is settling in. Still, there’s something, some quality to each episode that keeps you watching, keeps you hoping things get better. By the sixth episode, things feel like they are finally coming together then the subsequent episode spins its wheels and the final episode ends on a less-than-compelling cliffhanger. One that will never be resolved because the ratings dropped so dramatically that the series was yanked from its high profile time slot after five airings and dumped on late Sunday nights when good British telly watchers had gone to sleep. The day after the finale aired, the BBC announced the show’s cancellation.
The episodes look fine in high definition and there was at least some interesting thought into the colonization of this alien world that is as bleak as the stories told on its surface. One of the set’s extras if a set tour for Forthaven, which details the thinking. The other is “Reach to the Stars”, a featurette that has cast and crew try to convince you they’re doing something unique and wonderful.
You can judge for yourself whether this was a missed opportunity or hidden gem. Either way, these eight installments are all you’re ever going to see of this world and its dreary inhabitants.