Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Outcasts: Episode 1 - TVReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash

Taking a look at new drama...

Welcome to Forthaven, the year: 2040. Ten years ago thousands of travellers left Earth in search of salvation. They discovered Carpathia, a planet named after the steamship that had rescued survivors of the ill-fated RMS Titanic in 1912. This new world was to be their home, a colony. It was to be a place of new beginnings, peace and prosperity, hardships and sacrifice perhaps. But death came. Children became sick. A virus took hold. In the end quarantine was ordered. Life continued. Other spacecraft had been dispatched from Earth, long ago. No one else arrived. At least, that is not until last night.

And this is where we join Outcasts, a new sci-fi drama from the BBC. The trouble is, I am not really convinced by the "sci-fi" label. Yes, it had a spaceship, and stars, and the whole piece was set on a distant planet (which takes five years to reach from Earth) but for most of the time it gave us Lost instead (and I found that absurd and boring).

There wasn’t even any sign of native wildlife to give us an inkling that we really were on an alien world. Remember, these settlers had been on Carpathia for ten years by this point – are the writers really trying to tell us that a world capable of supporting life had no local inhabitants to begin with? I find that very difficult to believe. Maybe Episode Two will shine some light on this question. Or not.

And so, what are the positives…? From start to finish Outcasts had us wondering just where the excitement and action would jump out at us from. Of course, the first episode was completely focused on character development, but maybe that is another thing wrong with all of this: some of the characters just didn’t sit right with me. It certainly didn’t help that a couple of the actors just couldn’t… act. Or, to be frank, they acted badly. OK. It wasn’t all negative. I was very impressed with Liam Cunningham as the President of the colony; his interaction with the captain of the newly arrived transport certainly had its uses – it was during this dialogue that we learn of the virus that had infected their young.

Hermione Norris and Amy Manson as Stella Isen and Fleur Morgan respectively gave nice performances, Isen the head of Protection and Security and Morgan as PAS Officer. Daniel Mays as Cass Cromwell, however, failed to deliver any real depth. For a man who gave us such a compelling performance as Uday in the 2007 television drama Saddam’s Tribe, Mays disappointed. Yes, Cromwell was a geezer, but one whose presence could have been easily ignored in the opening episode. Even Jamie Bamber’s presence wasn’t indulged further. His character, Mitchell Hoban, attacked his wife after discovering that she had been spying on him, kidnapped his son from school, and went on the run beyond the colony. But this was extremely short-lived.

PAS Officers Morgan and Cromwell are sent after him, find him and he is killed. Hoban’s son is alive and well. As a fan of Battlestar Galactica, I would have welcomed more of Bamber in this. Oh well. The real drama remained with the transport and its passengers, survivors from Earth. From the start we learn that the spacecraft is in danger of breaking up during atmospheric entry, the ship has already gained severe damage during its voyage and repairs are needed. But nothing is certain.

And so we are left hoping, our fingers crossed. We learn that Stella Isen’s child is also aboard the transport. This, quite clearly, adds to the apprehension that we feel for Norris’ character. It is therefore a sad moment when we learn of impending disaster for most of the transport crew and passengers. Escape pods are launched, though only a small number of people will survive. We are given a glimpse of the craft as it burns up, a sad reminder of the true-life 2003 disaster when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members. This, for me, was the true drama of the episode. Ironically, RMS Carpathia was sunk by a German U-boat in the Atlantic on 17th July 1918 during the First World War. Maybe this is an omen: for either Carpathia 2011 or Carpathia 2040.

You decide.