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Outcasts – Creator Ben Richards on survival, sex and the drive for power

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Outcasts - Ashley Walters, Hermione Norris
Outcasts - Jack Holt (Ashley Walters), Stella Isen (Hermione Norris) © Kudos/BBC 2011

From the creator of the popular series MI-5, Ben Richards, comes the high concept drama, Outcasts. The series takes viewers into a new world as it explores survival, sex, politics and the drive for power in a post-Earth era.

With Earth no long habitable, a group of courageous pioneers have traveled to another planet to begin again. They’ve built the town of Forthaven on Carpathia and have the unique opportunity of creating a better future, led by President Tate (Liam Cunningham).

As the series begins, Forthaven has lost contact with Earth. The arrival of the last known transporter with Julius Berger (Eric Mabius) on board, signals fresh hopes and dreams, but Tate’s anxiety about the imminent arrival of Berger indicates he is suspicious of Berger’s true agenda.

What is the basic premise for Outcasts?

Outcasts 1.01 - Liam Cunningham
Richard Tate (Liam Cunningham) © Kudos/BBC 2011

It’s about second chances. And it stared from a quote from Stephen Hawking, who said, ‘If humanity is to survive, we have to reach for the stars because we have to move to another planet, if the species is to survive.’ And we took that as our starting point.

And so while it’s sci-fi, it’s also very much a pioneer drama. It’s about the idea of what would happen if a small group of humans started again in another place. And the classic question is, would we make the same mistakes?

The series focuses around the team who are a basic incipient police force, who have to deal with the protection and security of the planet. But it’s not cops in space. They’re not dealing with the crime of the week.

Then into this world comes Julius Berger, with his shenanigans and his sinister agenda. It’s very much about the conflict between two men, President Tate and Julius Berger, who has a completely different agenda. So it’s sci-fi, but it’s very much rooted in human conflict.

Why is the planet called Carpathia?

Outcasts 1.02 - Langley Kirkwood
Rudi (Langley Kirkwood) © Kudos/BBC 2011

It was named Carpathia because it was a survival ship. And the planet is seen as some kind of survival ship. They are the aliens on this other planet. And there may or may not be another life force there that may or may not be a threat to them.

The idea of it is, in a slightly philosophical sense, that there is hope for humanity, and there is the potential for survival.

One of the books I particularly hate is Lord of the Flies because it suggests for me that humans are inherently evil, and particularly children filled with original sin. I don’t believe that for a moment. So one of the things that I wanted to say in it is that humans are neither good nor bad, they’re just humans, and that’s really what this is about.

But just to follow on that, when I think of Carpathia, I think of Dracula.

You’re not going to get any vampires. Sorry, I didn’t follow that association. It was absolutely based on the survival ship that came to rescue the Titanic survivors.

Do you liken this to old westerns?

Outcasts 1.03 - Jamie Sives and Conrad Kemp
Leon (Jamie Sives) and Grant Anderson (Conrad Kemp) © Kudos/BBC 2011

I think you absolutely can. And I think western and sci-fi genres go very much together. One of the shows that I particularly love is Deadwood. I love sci-fi, and I think sometimes when people are trying to be clever about sci-fi, they go, ‘Oh, it’s not sci-fi. It’s all about the human spirit.’

Every drama is about the human spirit. I don’t think you have to reject sci-fi as a genre. And I certainly don’t. But I think the best sci-fi always has that element of the western in it, and precisely Eric is sort of riding into town.

In your mythology, what is the reason that these people have to leave Earth and find somewhere else?

That was something we talked a great deal about. When you start any show with an environmental catastrophe, I immediately want to hit the remote control button. I find that kind of Armageddon too over-familiar.

The hints that we plant all the way through it is that actually they’ve managed to solve the environmental issue up to a point. There is some kind of global conflict involving American and China, which also conveniently explains why most of the people on our new planet are not from the super power [countries], but are from the good old United Kingdom.

So it’s a war?

Outcasts 1.06 - Eric Mabius
Julius Berger (Eric Mabius) © Kudos/BBC 2011

It’s suggested but not spelled out that there has been a nuclear exchange. So characters make references to the ghosts of Shanghai and Chicago. So it’s more suggested that it was nuclear global conflict.

What is the distinction between this and Battlestar Galactica, because they seem similar?

Apart from being fairly honored by be compared to Battlestar Galactica, I think the big difference is probably the level of sci-fi involved. We’re not at any point on board transporters, jumping through space. We don’t have the kind of aerial battles that you see in the early episodes of Battlestar.

This is much more firmly rooted in human emotional and political stories. So I would say it’s a couple of notches down the level of sci-fi from Battlestar Galactica. As yet, I haven’t seen Caprica, and I guess there might be more comparisons there, because it is set in one particular location.

I think we’re less mythical as well. We do introduce a life force on Carpathia, but we try to ground it all. It’s a drama so there are going to be some leaps of plausibility on some issues. But we still try to make everything based in what potentially could happen, so they do encounter another species that could have evolved there.

It’s not necessarily the kind of classic alien trope. This is more grounded in the human and the real.