‘Outcasts’: Episode 1 review

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BBC One’s new expensive-looking sci-fi drama finally blasts on to our screens following much hype and talk, but is this new series going to light up the dreary February night television schedule? Well, judging by this first episode, no.

There’s certainly a sense of mankind’s eternal struggle with itself (exactly what we need…), coupled with beautiful imagery from another world (well, South Africa), not to mention spaceships (everyone loves spaceships, right?), but Outcasts won’t fill you with joy or hope. Or deliver laughs. Not yet, anyway.

Introducing us to the numerous characters who inhabit Carpathia, a planet “colonised” by Earthlings due to undisclosed problems on Earth, this opening episode focuses on the impending landing of a ship carrying many would-be settlers. There’s a problem, however: statistics say that the ship is not going to make it.

Reminiscent in tone of BBC One’s 2008 Survivors remake, “doom-laden” would be an apt description for the feel of the story. Meanwhile, the episode’s secondary plot – involving Mitchell (Jamie Bamber of Battlestar Galactica fame), a man with a past and grudges to boot – suggests that the brief history of the human’s time on their new home is already problematic.

Writer Ben Richards’ plots and the settings are expertly realised by production house Kudos (responsible for the glossy likes of Spooks, Hustle and Life On Mars) and the cast supply sufficient gravitas for the drama to work, but this is where some viewers will be divided – is Outcasts a science fiction show or a drama?

Clearly, after only one episode, it would be ridiculous to get off the fence and judge, but there are more tête-à-têtes in offices (albeit futuristic) and fights in gritty streets than any sci-fi adventure to behold.

The cast are of an undeniably high quality, but one yearns for a Captain Jack or a Malcolm Reynolds to illuminate the screen and have some, dare we say, fun? We’re also introduced to so many different people (though all with similar grim expressions) that there’s simply not enough time to start caring about any of the individuals. The monotone nature of the characters is at odds with their glorious surroundings and one hopes this is addressed in upcoming episodes.

Of course, if you like your sci-fi po-faced and humourless then you’ll be as happy as a sand boy, but those who want warmth and soul may have to wait a while.

Airs at 9pm on Monday 7th February 2011 on BBC One.