TV Well of course Outcasts. Outcasts goes without saying. You remember Outcasts, Party Animals creator Ben Richards’s sci-fi opus about a colony in space in 2060, scraping an existence on a dirt-ball whilst dealing with attacks from the mutant remnants of the failed experiments which led to them being healthy enough to survive (or something). Richards said he wasn’t a fan of the genre, that he was really interested in the human story. And it showed, as he managed to replicate many of the genre’s old clichés (see above), without any sign of a modern twist. The show’s self-defeating agenda was sci-fi for people who don’t like sci-fi and such divisiveness wasn't well received and it was quickly shunted from its prestige Monday night at nine to the graveyard 10:30pm Sunday night shift (and reruns on BBC HD where it presently is).
What didn’t help it, at least for Doctor Who fans, is that we really have seen it all before. Apart from the dozens of novels and audios on the same theme, there have been countless television stories in which colonists have faced comparable dangers in similar environments. The clearest analogues are Colony in Space from the Pertwee years and later Frontios, both of which saw similar colonies ransacked by the Doctor for their dark secrets and although Outcasts didn’t have the opportunity to reveal its alien hand, that’s obviously where the Solaris-lite supernatural forces were heading to. Of course, Star Trek fans can make much the same accusation. But note that Forthaven isn’t just a human colony. It’s a British colony of the kind which only Doctor Who, especially in the 70s and 80s, seems to produce.
In fact, there’s nothing in these episodes which disavows it from occurring the Whoniverse, really, especially if you glance at Lance Parkin’s Ahistory, that bonkers attempt to consolidate the entire chronology of the franchise with all its contradictions. Lance at one point ruminates that even Blake’s 7 fits if you squint enough and Outcasts doesn’t even require that level of ocular contortion. According to Ahistory by 2060, the Whoniverse’s Earth is conveniently experiencing nuclear wars with colonisation missions launched to other solar systems of the kind Outcasts might as well be dramatising thanks to some interpolation from spin-off novels mainly by Lawrence Miles (which are as about as canonical to me at least as anything else since they were the proper continuation of Who for many of us until its return to television).
And like Torchwood, (which is also canon sadly), Outcasts demonstrates what Doctor Who is like when the Time Lord doesn’t materialise. Many Who stories begin with a scene which sets up the world and the mystery before the blue box arrives and the entire duration of every episode of Outcasts feels like one of those set up scenes. As an ensemble show, it’s desperate for a more vital protagonist and if this had been Doctor Who, all of the revelations in episode eight would have been portioned out carefully across six episodes in classic Who or about half an hour in nuWho. At times it is frustrating to watch because the Doctor isn’t gadding about asking all the vital questions, putting two and two together, even though we know the writer would have used the usual narrative delaying tactic of locking him in Cass's (Daniel Mays) cell for the duration.
Equally frustratingly, all of the characters are precisely the kinds of archetypes Doctor Who writers include to become friends and enemies of the Doctor. Who is President Richard Tate (Liam Cunningham) but the kind of figure the Time Lord would have to butt up against until he worked out what his secret was? Isn’t Stella (Hermione Norris) the grudging ally in the mould of Adelaide Brooke from Waters of Mars or Fleur (Amy Manson) the fast if cynical friend who turns out be not all she seems ala Cleaves in The Rebel Flesh? That leaves Cass or Lily (Jeanne Kietzmann) or both to make friends with the companion and presumably die horribly and we’re left with the creeping suspicion that Richards was stretching the truth on how much he likes the genre and he had in fact got every story in broadcast order on a shelf in his bedroom, ready to whip out when he’s desperate for inspiration.
As the story plays out, and this is were the spoilers really begin if any of this has led you to Amazon to buy the thing, the planet even has enough environments to lend themselves to a perfect Who structure in which the Doctor hangs about sharing grumpy scenes with Liam Cunningham because his companion, let’s say Charley Pollard, has been kidnapped by ACs and he’s trying to discover why and what’s special about them. Meanwhile such things as the whiteout and AC attacks are available for cliffhangers. If you have seen the show or when you do see it, see if you can decide when would have been the optimal moment for the TARDIS to appear. As things played out, if I’d been the BBC, it would have been seconds in. Then the whole story could have been knocked off in an hour.
[Almost Doctor Who is an occasional series which previously studied the films Happy Accidents and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium just in case you thought this was tenuous.]