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Outcasts

Outcasts

  01:21:35 am, by   , 968 words  
Viewed 8234 times since 18/02/11
Categories: TV/Movies

I'm British. That makes this a difficult admission, but frankly it's impossible to hold out any longer. Americans make better TV than we do.

This probably won't come as any great shock to the majority of people reading this, but it's only within my lifetime that the change has come about. While I was growing up in the 70s and early 80s, American TV consisted of the Dukes of Hazard, Dallas and Dynasty. American TV was renowned for its bad acting and general awfulness. Of course, there was always Star Trek, but that was also badly-acted... it was the special effects that made it stand out (believe it or not).

In Britain, our TV was generally cheaper but better-acted. We had seminal crime series like Z-Cars, original soap-operas like Coronation Street, and most importantly (from my point of view), outstanding Sci-Fi like Quatermass and Doctor Who.

The last couple of decades haven't been kind to British TV. Sure, we've kept our lead in comedy with series like A Bit of Fry and Laurie and The Office taking up the baton from Q and Monty Python's Flying Circus, but in almost every other respect we've fallen badly behind.

The most obvious decline is in Sci-Fi. We led the world. The early episodes of Doctor Who were utterly ground-breaking, and other series took up the baton and ran with pride. We could even do Sci-Fi/Comedy crossovers like Red Dwarf and make those brilliant too. Meanwhile, though, America was plotting. First came the... well let's call it "patchy" Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. These were programs that were more about effects than writing - par for the course in American TV at the time. That was in 1979-81, and then there was a bit of a gap. On this side of The Pond, Doctor Who was still going strong, and we had things like Space 1999 around then too. Then came the various "tech" series like Knight Rider, Street Hawk and Automan that weren't really Sci-Fi but were close enough to keep me happy. Except for Automan, which was rubbish.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and in 1988 came Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was round about here that the tide started to turn. At the same time ST:TNG was stumbling through its first - and let's be honest, pretty awful - series, Doctor Who was dying a death due to bad writing and lack of interest from BBC executives. When Sylvester McCoy left the screen in 1989 it looked like the Doctor was gone for good. Star Trek, however, started to get good. Once things had settled down and they stopped trying to remake old Trek episodes, we were treated to some decent stories. With Patrick Stewart came exceptional acting, and the writers started to take advantage. When ST:TNG ended after seven seasons in 1994, American Sci-Fi was going strong.

Even though TNG had finished there was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, almost certainly the best Trek series. There was Star Trek: Voyager, a testament to missed opportunities but still worth watching in places. There was the X-Files, often overlooked in the annals of sci-fi, but sci-fi nonetheless. Later came Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly; three utterly fantastic bits of sci-fi writing. Add in Babylon 5 and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and the other stuff I've missed out, and you have some seriously good TV.

In the UK, we had... err... nothing.

It wasn't until 2005, when Doctor Who was taken out of the deep freeze, that we started making SF again. Then, of course, the BBC basically attached a milking machine to the still-defrosting teat and sucked the franchise for all it could give: not just Doctor Who, but Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, K-9, Doctor Who Confidential and Totally Doctor Who. It's a credit to the writers that the output has remained broadly decent despite the pressure.

This has all been a long-winded way of saying that the BBC has made a new Sci-Fi series, and it's called "Outcasts". And it's bloody awful.

Fans of the re-imagined BSG will recognise Jamie Bamber in the first episode, and might start to hope that the series will be as good as that one. It's not. It's boring, dry, humourless and generally awful. The lowlight of the first episode is a point where a character gives a speech to the crew of an incoming transporter and they applaud him instead of vomiting loudly into the zero-G sick bags. I suppose the writer (Ben Richards) had to give himself a round of applause because everybody else was facepalming instead.

Instead of BSG's tense, taught plot we have a flabby series of events that are only loosely linked from one episode to the next. Some of the acting is right back in Star Trek days for sheer awfulness, and the sets look like they were lashed together from material found lying around in a nearby skip.

What really annoys me is that I have to keep watching. If the BBC is going to start making proper SF again - and I want it to do so - it needs viewers. The ratings for Outcasts have been very bad so far, and even though the first series ends on a cliffhanger (apparently - I've heard it does but I don't know for sure) there's no guarantee of a second series. What's worse is that if this program tanks, there's less of an incentive to make any more SF.

So to all Brits: watch the damn thing. If you've missed it so far, catch up on the iPlayer. Even if you don't watch it, just download it to boost the viewing figures. The UK can be a world leader in SF again, but we have to get through this first.

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3 comments

Comment from: Dave scfi soap box [Visitor]
Dave scfi soap box

agree with you in the main, the concept is really good but, the lack of brit humour is frankly not realistic. The dialog is appalling and the protagonist cheap. It could be sooooo much better. They are on another planet and have managed to bring with them all the computers and flat screen tech… but no transport other than shanks’ pony. Not even a child’s scooter! When are the BBC going to remember that some of the viewing public are intelligent and want more than a soap on a different planet. The story is fine, it’s the way they’re telling it that erks me, am I so thick that every detail needs to be explained? I really want these programs to be better, more sophisticated….. oh I don’t know it just winds me up. It could do better and the BBC don’t seem to be capable.

05/03/11 @ 04:06 pm
Comment from: Apollo Quinn [Visitor]
Apollo Quinn

I have to disagree with you on this. Admittedly, the first ep was quite hammy generally, but towards the end of the series things had improved significantly - the acting had improved as they started to warm to their roles, the plot twist kicked in, and it got really enjoyable. I had the “cobbled together” look down to limited resources, and thus thought it a nice touch, enhancing the “just clinging on” feeling. As for the tech level complaint, they have all that great technology in the command centre because it’s the repurposed transporter - that was on there anyway, and limited space means that they couldn’t bring much else.

29/03/11 @ 03:29 pm
Comment from: Ruth Hill [Visitor]
Ruth Hill

This is the best review of this DLC I’ve seen. After reading several other reviews that said it was worth it, I bought Dead Money and was really, really disappointed. If I had found this review first I might have saved myself some money.

21/03/13 @ 05:22 pm


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