BBC's Outcasts

The BBC has a new show coming out on February 7th by the same people who've produced MI-5, Hustler and Life on Mars, titled Outcasts. The premise is one that reminds me very much several shows, with the seriousness of Battlestar Galactica, the western elements of Firefly and the exploration of the unknown from the novel Coyote. I don't usually get excited over previews and the random plot synopsis, but this time, I'm totally there, all the way through. [youtube=]

I've generally been impressed the BBC's track record with shows. Life on Mars is one of my absolute favorites in the speculative fiction genre, at least when it comes to TV, not to mention Ashes to Ashes and the occasional Dr. Who episode and one-off thing that they do. There's been some missed (Torchwood and Primeval, for example), but on the whole, they know how to put together an interesting story, and carry it through with little baggage that U.S. series seem to have.

The story here intrigues me more than most shows:

Time: our future. A fleet of anti-matter transporters departs Earth for a newly discovered, life-supporting planet in a distant galaxy. Those on board have one simple objective: to build a safe new home on this planet: Carpathia. Led by President Tate and his core team of Stella, Cass and Fleur, they took charge and settled here alongside Expeditionaries Mitchell and Jack. Years on and they are settled in the town of Forthaven on Carpathia, they are confident of their ideals and optimistic about the future. They work hard to preserve what they've built on this planet they now call home, having embraced all the challenges that come with forging a new beginning. But while they try to avoid the mistakes made on Earth, inevitably these heroes cannot escape the human pitfalls of love, greed, lust, loss, and a longing for those they've left behind. As they continue to work and live together they come to realise this is no ordinary planet... Mystery lurks around them and threatens their fragile peace. Is there a bigger purpose at work? Gripping, fast-paced and full of surprises, Outcasts features a cast of established actors and dynamic young stars and seeks answer to the critical question: how do you create a new and a better world?

There's some hints to greater things at work here, much as we saw towards the end of Battlestar Galactica, amongst a bit of a background of some of the modern realistic science fiction that's out there. One preview shows a human jawbone fossilized on Carpathia, and it'll be interesting to see what happens there. In the meantime, it appears that this show falls more into the space opera catagory, of which there's been very little of recently.

Space Opera on television has become a very rare thing: Babylon 5, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Farscape, and more have all had their runs, while Stargate Universe is still out there for at least ten more episodes. A number of science fiction shows out or about to come out seem to be focused more on Earth: Fallen Skies, coming out this summer, is an alien invasion show, while Fringe deals with alternative universes. Terra Nova has time travel and dinosaurs, The Walking Dead: Zombies. This is without counting the random grouping of superhero shows that have just come out. While there's a glimmer of hope for SGU to continue, Battlestar: Blood and Chrome is set to come out later this year, and there's the hope that Slingers will be picked up for a pilot and become a TV series down the line. Outcasts stands out in a very small field just by virtue of its existence, and from the trailers and pilot episode, I've really liked what I've seen with it.

I miss the shows set off on far away worlds, the visuals of a spaceship gliding through space and the various problems that the characters find themselves in. Stargate Universe was a welcome addition for that reason, and a number of the modern and unconventional shows such as SGU, Battlestar Galactica, and Firefly had a great take on how life in outer space would work, and various problems that people out find themselves in and solve.

So, here's hoping that Outcasts will hold up to the initial impressions and previews.


Sherlock Holmes seems to be all the rage at the moment. A major studio film has been released, an anthology by John Joseph Adams, The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes has been published, and one of Fox's top shows, House, MD, has a number of connections to Arthur Conan Doyle's famed detective and sidekick. There's a new version out, one that's possibly the best version that I've yet to see: Steven Moffat's Sherlock.

Set in contemporary London, the story of Sherlock Holmes has been reset to exist in the modern day. The titular Sherlock Holmes (brilliantly acted by Benedict Cumberbatch) is a self described sociopath, and a consultant for the London police. He's joined by John Watson (also brilliantly acted by Martin Freeman - who's also portraying Bilbo Baggins in the upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit), an Afghanistan war veteran who rooms with the troubled detective. The series, composed of three hour and a half long episodes, are amongst some of the best that I've yet to see in television. Where Hugh Laurie's House has allowed for a good update of the character, Cumberbatch's returns straight to the subject matter of crime and puzzles. Fortunately, there is a second series planned, although with Freeman's work on The Hobbit in a year, it would be interesting to see if there's an impact.

The first episode, 'A Study in Pink' sees the meeting of Watson and Holmes amongst a rash of suicides in London as several people are found dead after taking a poisoned pill. As the two get used to one another, Holmes deduces that a single person is responsible for the murders, and works to track down their elusive prey. The second episode, 'The Blind Banker', sees a break in at a major bank, where nothing has been taken, but with a symbol spray painted to the wall of a secured office. As the two investigate, they move further into a world of international organized crime and Chinese gangsters. The last episode, 'The Great Game', sees Holmes locked in a psychological battle with his nemesis, Moriarty, with a series of challenges and crimes to solve in an ever shorter time period.

It's worth noting once again that Benedict Cumberbatch owns Sherlock Holmes. His portrayal of the character is spot on, with more similarities to the modern adaptations of Laurie and Downey's own takes on the character, where he's psychologically tuned, observant, and socially clueless. Cumberbatch nails every element of his character, even if he looks more like Neil Gaiman in my own mind than what I've envisioned Holmes to be.

It's curious that Holmes has popped up in a number of places lately. The stories have been incredibly popular throughout their publication history - Holmes is the most adapted character, ever - but it seems like he's popped up in a number of high profile areas lately. Sherlock did incredibly well on the BBC; a second series has been commissioned (and after the ending of Series 1, it's needed!), while the film has spawned a sequel, which is due out in the next year or so. At the same time, House, MD, is well into its seventh year. Personally, I'm hoping that we'll see a House hallucination of the famed detective at some point.

I think Holmes works well with any time period that he exists in. Doubtlessly, we'll see future adaptations of the character (I wonder how many science fiction stories have included him thus far), because the things that make him tick are really timeless. It's not the technology, the settings or backgrounds of Holmes, but the awareness of observation and superior cognition that he displays that fits everywhere. Add in a good look at the character and recognizing that it's not the hat and pipe that defines him, but the social ticks (the modern motion picture versions attribute Aspergers to the character, at least in part) that are more recognized in the modern day. Here, we see Holmes work well with cellular phones, city maps, computers and the like to solve his crimes.

Moffat's Sherlock is one that's destined for recognition, and I hope that it'll become as recognizable as some of the other classic versions. It's a fantastic drama, and the next series will be well anticipated. It’s exceedingly well thought out, acted and shot, and represents the best of what television can do with a familiar character.

Strung Out on Heaven’s High: Ashes to Ashes Finale

Ashes to Ashes, the follow up show to 2006’s Life On Mars, ended on a high note, finishing out the series and presumably the entire franchise, answering some questions lingering from Sam Tyler’s experiences in 1973. At the same time, Ashes to Ashes has continued an interesting story, pushing the stories to the extremes of the medium, and providing a genuinely surreal experience for the viewer.

In 2006, Sam Tyler, a Manchester DCI, was hit by a car and awoke in 1973. Discovering the reasons for his abrupt time travel, he returned to the present, only to commit suicide and return to the land of Gene Hunt and his band of lawmen. Ashes to Ashes picked up the pieces shortly after Tyler’s death, with police officer Alex Drake receiving a bullet in the head, propelling her back to 1981, where she navigates the past once again to try and figure out just what is going on.

The show had a lot to live up to: Life on Mars, likewise named for a David Bowie song, provided one of the more interesting, exciting and thought-provoking show to hit the airwaves. A gripping look at changing values in a country that has changed dramatically, the show did exactly what good science fiction should do: present a story in different contexts. In this instance, it does it quite literally, but the original show introduced an element of surrealism to the storyline, something that Ashes to Ashes has continued.

A sense of the surreal has been a larger part of Alex Drake’s storyline. A police psychologist, she was an investigating officer when it came to Sam Tyler’s case, and throughout the show, recognizes that her surroundings aren’t real, whereas in the prior show, there was an element of uncertainty to Sam’s predicament, right to the very end. Life On Mar’s finale revealed that Sam had been killed, and Ashes to Ashes does a fantastic job carrying the momentum forward, delving further into the franchise’s mythology, characters and story.

One of the best points about the show was the return of Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) and Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster), and newcomers Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) and Shaz Granger (Montserrat Lombard) who brought back a fantastic performance and new direction for the storyline. Rather than repeating the successes of its predecessor, which mainly focused on procedural elements (as well as Sam trying to return home), much more of the back story to the cast is brought in, and it’s clear that Gene Hunt has remained at the forefront of the action, metaphorically and literally.

While I’m not convinced that Ashes to Ashes had a better ending than Life on Mars, it was a good one, wrapping up where Life On Mars left off, and making it clear that Life On Mars was just one story in a much larger one. Gene is revealed to be something of a main figure in a purgatory for deceased police officers, helping them settles the major problems that they all faced before releasing them from that existence. The world of Gene Hunt is one of the restless dead, and he is their shepherd, acting out all of his own flaws and insecurities in the meantime.

In the run up to the finale, the surrealistic elements really come to their proper form, as Chris, Ray and Shaz begin to realize that their lives aren’t what they seem, and the points where they watch their own deaths is an interesting one, revealing much that’s been build up around the characters over the past three seasons.

I’m rather sad to see the show go away, and with the reveal at the end, it’s pretty clear that this franchise is largely at an end, something that I both applaud and lament. On one hand, it feels as though this sort of storyline really could have used a third series to better build up the suspense and tell some interesting stories. I would have loved to have seen a series set in the 1990s (which is coming up on the 20 year mark soonish), but at the same point, the BBC has had the foresight to really end the show before running it into the ground, something that American channels do only inadvertently when they can’t figure out how to market a television show to an audience. Life On Mars is a particularly hard one to sell, and here in the U.S., it failed to garner a second season, although they did do a decent job adapting the story – until the end.

The main problem with the Ashes to Ashes ending was that we already really knew what had happened to Sam: he’d died, and returned to the sort of dream world, and the revelation that Gene Hunt was a specter of coppers deceased really isn’t the surprise that it should have been, all things considered.

With that in mind, the final episode was far more intriguing than anything that I’ve really come across in U.S. mass media, and very rarely can something as interesting and surreal (Twin Peaks, Pushing Daisies, and LOST) as Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes come onto our television screens. It’s a real shame, but at the same time, it’s good to treasure those shows as they do come across.