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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Outcasts: Season One (Blu-ray)
Outcasts: Season One (Blu-ray)
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // August 16, 2011 // Region A
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted August 12, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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The Show:
One of the reasons I'm a SF fan is that the genre lends itself to examining some of the big questions:  What does it mean to be human?  Why are we here?  Granted most SF (be it books, movies, or TV shows) don't bother with those philosophical debates, but it is great when they do.  That's why I was anxiously anticipating Outcasts, a BBC show from this year.  Set on an alien planet where the last remains of humanity have come to start again, the show asks "if we could wipe the slate clean, would mankind make the same mistakes all over again?"  Something that's just up my alley.  Unfortunately, while the show does have some admirable aspects, it's an experiment that fails on nearly every leave filled with dreadful writing, horrible characters, and frequent plot holes.  In addition, the series was cancelled at the end of the first season (a short eight episodes), so there are a lot of plots that will never be resolved.

In the not too distant future humanity has to leave Earth.  While it's never fully revealed just why, it's clear that things have gotten very bad on the mother planet and that humanity had little choice but to expand out to the stars if they were going to survive.
Ten years ago the first colonists arrived on Carpathia, named after the first ship to arrive and rescue passengers from the Titanic.  The planet is uninhabited, the only life being plants, bugs and some rare birds, and the only settlement is Fort Haven, the home to a "thousands" of people, possibly the very last remains of humanity.
As the show opens, the settlement is well established.  The initial period where everyone pulled together for the common good and survival has passed, and now there are some growing pains.  The government is ruled by a council which is headed by a president, and there is a police force, PAS (Protection and Security) as well as a military branch, the Expeditionary, which is charged with exploring the planet and protecting Fort Haven from external threats (more on that later.)

When Fort Haven gets a call from a transport ship from Earth, everyone is excited that they'll be getting more settlers but the call is met tinged with sadness.  The captain of the ship informs the president that his will most probably be the last ship from Earth, as things have deteriorated significantly.  Not only that, but the ship's heat shields have been damaged during the five year trip from Earth which makes landing very dangerous.
To start with the good aspects first, this show had a great premise and some outstanding production values.  Filmed in South Africa, the creators were able to film in some exotic locations that really did look like an alien planet.  Forget the classic Doctor Who where an old quarry was used for every extraterrestrial landscape, this series has boulder-strewn beaches and hills filled with odd rock formations that work extremely well.  The shots of a milky white cloud bank pouring over the top a low mountain range are effective too.  It really makes it easy to suspend your disbelief.
The set designers also deserve a lot of credit for the way they made Fort Haven come to life.  They built a town set on location and they really gave it the feel of a settlement.  It wasn't apparent at first but the rooms and buildings were made from shipping containers, and a lot of the every day items that people use were recycled packing crates and boxes.  A lot of the city was scavenged from the ship that brought them to Carpathia, naturally, so spaceship doors and bulkheads were used to create living quarters and offices.  A lot of attention was paid to detail in the construction of the Fort Haven sets and they did a fantastic job.
With all that going for the show, it's a tragedy that the show itself wasn't better.  To put it bluntly, the writing was atrocious.

The show was basically asking "Are humans inherently destructive or could we build a peaceful society if the slate were wiped clean?"  They make sure that you don't miss this point by having someone pose the question every couple of episodes.  Unfortunately the answer is an unequivocal "Yes, people are an evil plague with few redeeming qualities."  That makes the show not only bleak, but a bit unpleasant.
One of the big problems with the show is that absolutely all of the characters are unlikable.  Just a few examples:
-The wife of the Expeditionary leader is spying on him (even though it's established that she loves him dearly) because the government asked her to.
-Said leader beats his wife to death when he finds out about it and kidnaps his son.
-The president orders the execution of dozens, probably hundreds of innocent people in his care and then covers it up.
-The head of the police has proof that a new arrival has committed grievous crimes, but covers it up since he's a popular religious leader.
-The new head of the Expeditionary kills a prisoner of war in his care with a trial, then publically strings up the body.
-All of the teenagers are druggies or thieves.
-A police officer promises to help his partner, and then betrays her in the most callous way.  She then, inexplicably, runs to him for comfort afterwards.
Now let me make this clear:  THESE ARE THE GOOD GUYS! I've described the main characters that are the focus of the series.  There are villains too, and they're even worse.  The main antagonist is a murderer and a pedophile who is paving the way for an invasion and planning on killing many of the leaders.  He has everything except cloven hooves and horns.  There is an external threat to Fort Haven too, and they're just as bad as the people inside, if not worse.
I could accept that if the show was about putting people into grey areas.  If the protagonists were placed in a situation where the moral thing to do wasn't clear or if they had to make a choice without enough information it would be interesting to see how they reacted and why the made the decisions that they did. That's not the case here.  Though I think the show was aiming for that, they were never really able to establish a moral dilemma that worked.

I have to admit that at the end of the season a plot developed that could possibly have made the show more interesting.  [Big Spoiler]  It turns out the planet is inhabited by native, intelligent creatures which may be noncorporeal.  These creatures don't want the humans on their planet and have threatened them with extinction.  Since the people can't leave, they're trying to negotiate, but what it that fails?  We'll never know because that plot was just started as the series ended. [End Big Spoiler]
On top of that there are horribly huge plot holes that really sap a viewer's enjoyment of the show.  I'm not talking about "Hey, that's too much of a coincidence" or "What do they eat?"  These are "I don't understand what's going on" plot holes.
One that really had me scratching my head occurs in the first episode and it involves the Expeditionary.  It's mentioned several times through the series that the Expeditionary are the "protectors" of Fort Haven, and they always travel (on their frequent 'missions') outside the settlement walls fully armed with machine guns, hand guns, and knifes.  It's even a big deal when a law is passed stating that they can't carry their guns inside the Fort.  So I assumed at the beginning that there were aliens.  Maybe there is not intelligent life but dangerous animals at least.  Nope.  It's clearly established that there is nothing except some birds on the planet, and that's been confirmed over ten years.  So why on Earth (or should I say Carpathia) are they always armed to the teeth??  (It turns out there is an external threat, but no one knows about it until the first episode.) 
That's just one example of many.  How did the president explain the absence of the Advanced Cultivars (ACs) after he ordered their execution?  Did people not wonder what was going on when dozens (at least) of people turned up missing?  What happened to the killer doppelganger that was discovered in one episode?  They didn't kill her (obviously) but did they let her go?  Why? Why did the ex mafia hitman keep the only papers on the planet linking him with his past?  Just burn them dude.  Why is a neurologist head of security??  Why are people wondering who killed the AC in one of the later episodes when he was in the custody of the Expeditionary?  Why isn't there an official investigation, especially when the president ordered the AC to be released?  And the list goes on....
[End Spooilers]
In addition the scripts are very 'talky.'  That's not always a bad thing, but in this case it is.  There are long sequences of people explaining things that are pretty obvious or wondering, yet again, if they could make a better world than the one that they left.  It does get better as the series progresses, but it really slows down the show and makes the overriding emotion while watching ennui.

The DVD:

The eight episodes that make up the first and only season of this show come on two Blu-ray discs housed in a double case.
Okay, here's where things go from bad to worse.  The only audio option is a 2.0 DD track.  This show could have really benefited from 5.1 audio.  With wilderness scenes, some battles and whispering disembodied voices, a full soundstage could have really made this show jump off the screen.  As it is the mix is okay, you can hear the dialog (though some of the accents were hard for this yank to decipher) and the music and effects are mixed well, it's just flat.  That's really too bad.
This was the first TV show to be shot with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio (at least to my knowledge).  Unfortunately the BBC cropped it for broadcast and that's what they've done for this home video release too.  The cinematography is excellent and I would have loved to have seen the program the way it was intended to be seen.  Alas, that was not to be. 
As it is, viewers get a 1080i 1.78:1 image that's okay.  The colors are nice and the level of detail is fine, but the semi-frequent night scenes have a bit of noise, especially in the dark backgrounds.  Not a fatal flaw, but it was more than a minor irritation.
There are only two extras, a half hour behind the scenes featruette, Reach Out to the Stars, and a five minute look at the exterior sets, Fort Haven: Set Tour.  The first was a typical EPK with the cast and crew gushing over the production and how fantastic the show was going to be (they got that wrong) and the latter was a nice look at the set.  Neither was too exciting.
Final Thoughts:
This is a show looks magnificent but doesn't have anything else going for it.  Looking back on the whole series, I can't say I enjoyed watching it at all.  With some sloppy writing and a cast of wretched characters it would be hard to recommend this to begin with.  The fact that the show ends in a cliffhanger with many of the plot lines dangling just makes it worse.  Add a mere two channel audio track and a cropped image on top of that and this is one release that you should skip. 
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