The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Outcasts, BBC One

Outcasts, now mercy-killed after its first series - eight episodes that felt like sixteen - collapsed across the finishing line, had a lot going for it. The CGI was competent. The South African landscape was unfamiliar enough to most viewers, and spectacular enough in its own right, to stand in for an alien Earth-like world. The sets had moments and angles of promise. The lead actors were in their different ways good-looking. Some of them had been successful in other roles.

All that was wrong with it was the script. Clunky dialogue, kitchen-sink drama instead of plot, every character with a back-story like a tin can tied to a cat's tail. Every time something interesting threatened to happen, the kitchen sink got heaved at it. The extras were never seen doing anything that made you feel you were looking at a living community. They either walked briskly from place to place or gathered in front of the public telescreens whenever something had to be announced. The lead actors' talents were squandered on sub-EastEnders scenes with more Scottish accents. This was the BBC doing science fiction without the science fiction. Its ratings collapse and near-universal panning will probably convince the BBC not to risk doing SF again for a very long time.


One day later, relief: the second series of The Event has begun on C4! Already I'm rooting for the leader of the 'evil' faction of the aliens. At least, I am when I'm not wondering why, when the aliens crashed and were captured back in the late 1940s, the US government didn't follow the SOP for First Contact that worked so well at Roswell:

Kill and dissect. It's the only way to be sure.



Agreed, except: they were sub-Eldorado scenes.

"Audiences - we think - are as yet not interested in the mere exploitation of ideas - the "idea as hero" aspect of SF. They must have something to latch on to. The apparatus must be attached to the current human situation, and identification must be offered with recognisable human beings."

That's from a BBC report into the potential for science fiction as television drama - written in 1962. It seems the attitude still exists, except the 'recognisable human beings have been replaced with soap opera characters.

_Charlie Jade_ made so much better use of the South African landscape, and was fantastic SF as well. Well worth tracking down.

Paul - good grief. So that's why they do it. It's not incompetence, it's policy!

I highly recommend the comments on the Guardian's blogs about 'Outcasts'. I followed the blogs long after I'd given up on the series!

I was somewhat sympathetic to the Guardian's take on 'The Event':
The Event returns from its mid-season hiatus with a double helping tonight, but will it be welcomed back like a confused old friend or tolerated like an uninvited bore who comes round your house and won't leave no matter how many "subtle" hints you make? Like the BBC's Outcasts, it misunderstands the appeal of shows like Lost, thinking audiences just want baffling mysteries that move further away from resolution. We don't.

I thought Outcasts' political plotting was far more interesting than the SF elements. Series 2 would have been a religious/authoritarians v. utopians civil war - brilliant. Shame about the rest.

That old BBC thing about the "idea-as-hero" concept seems a valid point, and I'd say it's something that has to be borne in mind by the writers. They have to find a hook to get past that barrier.

You could have put Outcasts in the Wild West and, with a script like that, it would have flopped.

The overal idea of Outcast reminded me of Firefly except 10^10 times worse and made me want to cry. I atempted to watch it but it was just...awful. The thing is if you have a bad script but good actors you can have the chance of making it work but the actors just seemed to have lost the will to live with the show. It was unbearable to watch and an embaressment to Scifi. The sad thing is when the BBC does Scifi right it does it amazingly.


Having watched the first half of the Event series I'll be surprised if you do like it. I'll not spoil it other than to note it's extremely stupid and I hope it gets cancelled.

To M1k3y,

Charlie Jade!!

Now you're talking! That was awesome. I wish they'd spent more time in the cyberverse (green JoBurg?) than the other parts but I have good memories of that show. I'll have to go look it out of my archive!

To F Paul Cockburn:

Interesting quote from the BBC and extremely surprising given the success of Quatermass and the Pit some 4-5 years earlier.

"eight episodes that felt like sixteen"

Good grief, Ken, if you watched it all I have to worry about your tendency to self-harm.

Neal - I was a victim of the sunk costs fallacy, old chap!

At least it wasn't as bad as the 'Survivors' remake. I seem to recall you tearing that one apart.

Perhaps it's time for you to take note of the 'life is too short' aphorism.

This is one of the reasons I don't often give bad reviews of books - I never finish a book I don't like therefore cannot review it. TV is sometimes a different matter, usually because Caroline tells me off for giving up on programs too quickly.

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