|Successes, failures and cancellation|
Join GeekChocolate as we look back over the short run of a much maligned science fiction show and ask whether it would have been more successful had the critics and the audience gone into it with open minds rather than expectations based on other shows.
It is often said that life imitates art, and for the production team of Outcasts, a show concerned with the fight for survival of a few determined individualists under difficult circumstances in a strange and unknown territory, the leaders beset by hostility and constant criticism, the irony cannot have been lost on them.
It was a remarkable show from the outset: a high profile, big budget international collaboration broadcast on BBC One, an organisation usually resistant to the concept that science fiction can also be serious drama, though their faith may have stemmed from their relationship with production company Kudos, whose long running Spooks shared writer Ben Richards and actor Hermione Norris with Outcasts.
Filmed in the stunning scenery of South Africa in mid 2010, it debuted in February 2011, and was swiftly dismissed by critics unsure what to make of a show that took the trappings of hard SF and played them in a realist and introspective manner, unlike the fantasy of the BBC’s other science fiction flagship, Doctor Who. Accusations that it was dull and self important were unfair, for Outcasts was primarily a drama, showcasing believable performances and high production values, the alien setting just the canvas the story was painted upon.
Concerned with the struggles of taming the hostile and unpredictable wilderness of an alien world, it was more reminiscent of Kim Stanley Robinsons’ Mars trilogy than traditional televised science fiction. The colonists of Forthaven are struggling on the harsh world of Carpathia despite the benevolent leadership of President Richard Tate: resources are scarce, and contact with Earth has been lost. The approach of a transporter bearing supplies and news of home offers hope, but with damaged heat shields, it is uncertain if it will be able to enter the atmosphere of Carpathia safely.
While each episode was standalone, they also carried ongoing threads, with President Tate’s authority under pressure from newcomer Julius Berger, and the threats the colonists have created themselves. Chief among these are the Advanced Cultivars, genetically engineered to survive on Carpathia, but exiled when they were blamed for the spread of the virus that decimated the children of Forthaven during the early years of settlement.
Scraping out a meagre existence in the wasteland, the AC’s are resentful and violent, and seeking to galvanise the colonists to secure his position, Berger demonises them and calls for their eradication, allying himself with Jack Holt, leader of the armed Expeditionary force, a loose cannon who already bears a grudge against Tate.
All the characters were flawed or compromised – as a President, Tate was an administrator rather than a leader, prone to keeping information to himself, and always optimistic that situations would resolve themselves without direct intervention. His closest ally, Dr Stella Isen, was more adept at perceiving true intentions and so better at seeing the developing unrest, yet was unable to form any relationship with her own daughter. Tipper Malone, the voice of Radio Free Carpathia, was determined to broadcast the truth as he saw it, even though that information might further destabilise Forthaven.