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Outlander

Posted April 12 into Telly by John Birmingham

Outlander has changed my opinion about romance writing, the same way George RR Martin changed my opinion about fantasy writing (with a little help from Steve Stirling and Peter V Brett). Diana Gabaldon's time travelling thriller has plenty of action, lots of blood, villains of the darkest heart, a kick-arse female protagonist, and a surprising amount of sex. Surprising to me, anyway. As I said, this TV series has changed my opinion about romance writing. Apparently it's a lot raunchier these days.

The second series is airing in the US, but the first has recently dropped on Netflix here. Were it not for that, and an enthusiastic write-up in Esquire, I probably wouldn't have caught it. And that would have been a shame, because Outlander marks the return to the small screen of Battlestar Galactica's Ronald D Moore. He's also Star Trek's Ronald D Moore, but Galactica is what he is known for these days. On the evidence of the first couple of eps of Outlander, his latest series is better than BSG. There. I said it.

The premise is engaging in and of itself. Clair Beauchamp (pronounced 'Beachum' in the English fashion) is in Scotland to reconnect with her husband after the Second World War. She served as a nurse on the front lines, which will soon become important. He worked behind a desk in military intelligence. They didn't see each other for many years. They visit the Scottish Highlands for a second honeymoon, never really having had a first one. Their careful, slightly awkward attempts to get to know each other again are well handled and strangely compelling – at least for me. I don't normally dig on emotionally driven narrative, but this shit is mesmerising.

Moore, who wrote and directed the first episode takes the time to make us care about Gabaldon's characters. And then he tears them apart, throwing Claire back 200 years via some druidic jiggery pokery. She lands in the middle of a small but violent battle between Redcoats and Jacobin insurgents. Oops.

Her physical and emotional dislocation is totally believable, and all of the time spent building her backstory pays off when she applies the lessons learned surviving massive, industrial scale slaughter in World War II, to the equally challenging threats of a much earlier period in history. I'm only three episodes in, but I'm already hooked. Claire is not my usual sort of female hero. She doesn't even know kung fu. But she does know enough history and medicine to keep herself alive in the implacably hostile way-back-when and Gabaldon's twists and turns of plot are perfectly suited to long form television.

The period detail is rich and dense. You can feel her abject misery at being dropped into the real life squalor of a 17th century castle which she had recently experienced only as a quaint ruin. Every scene is so layered with this detail that it's tempting at times to hit pause simply to enjoy picking apart the set dressing.

The violence, befitting the preindustrial era, is intimate. Brutal, too. There is no squeamishness here. Bones break, flesh rends, blood flows freely. The characters whether central or bit player, are beautifully drawn, the actors having some excellent scripts to sink their teeth into.

If you've put off watching because Gabaldon is sold as a romance writer, get over it. This is the best time travel yarn I've seen in ages.

30 Responses to ‘Outlander’

jason mumbles...

Posted April 12
Perfect timing. I just finished Sense8 (awesome) and was looking for another binge worthy series.

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Sootynewt swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 12
Coincidence just started series today up to episode six well worth watching

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dman69 ducks in to say...

Posted April 12
I'd forgotten how raunchy the books were until we started watching this! Too true about it being a binge series - three episodes is the minimum for one sitting...

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Amanda mumbles...

Posted April 12
I will be interested to see what you think as the story evolves. It is so much more than romance! The cast, crew and author are really engaging on discussion panels and interviews, and as a fan of the book series, I have loved hearing about the adaptation process etc.

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Surtac mutters...

Posted April 12

Sigh. Another one to add to the list.

Btw, I'm on the third season of Justified now and thoroughly enjoying it.

Thinking of freaking out my work colleagues by changing my phone ringtone to the Gangstagrass theme tune.

Totally off-topic, but while I'm here: I came across a software product for Macs today that does ebook typesetting. Have a look at Vellum to see if it meets your needs.


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FormerlyKnownAsSimon puts forth...

Posted April 12
So is this the place where we can finally offload that I have actually read about 3 books in this series? (gimme a break it was a wet beach holiday with nothing else to do. Time travel is scifi/fantasy!). Romance is a rabbit hole best not to go down with its readership - it is varied and passionate.

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Blarkon has opinions thus...

Posted April 12
Dunno about time travel stories that don't involve Deloreans, Police Boxes, Starships or entire FKN aircraft carrier battle groups.

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JBtoo has opinions thus...

Posted April 12
The books started off really well; richly depicted historical fiction, based on solid research,with a fantasy twist - what's not to love. I thought the series went on too long and got a bit silly. I'll be interested to see how the TV version goes.

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NBlob is gonna tell you...

Posted April 12
I have a policy against period drama.
Recreations/ dramatisation in crap docos can be a deal breaker.
But it's time travel. So it's sort of SF. But it's Druidy which is close enough to Greybeard to warrant suspicion.
Much thinking this will require.

NBlob puts forth...

Posted April 12
La Bobette is reading Dragonfly in Amber. This is not an endorsement.

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Barnesm puts forth...

Posted April 12
"better than BSG" yeah but if this is series four BSG that's a pretty low bar.

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted April 12
Somebody had to say it. And it had to be you.

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she_jedi swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 12
I love this show so much, and it's been adapted from the books with much love and faith and attention to detail. The books are monsters, these things are frigging doorstops, so adapting it for TV is a bigger challenge than you think. Gabaldon's idea of a "short story" is any other author's idea of a full length novel.

I've just started season 2, via means best not mentioned, and the first episode was an absolute punch in the gut grip you by the throat job, so it's only going from strength to strength. Those of you who can now binge season 1 in its entirety, without having a 4 month break in the middle of the season like the rest of us did, will be spared a world of teeth gnashing angst at the cliff hanger we were left on. There were memes.

I'm not even going to start with the "if you loved X you'll love Outlander..." comparisons, it's time travel via Stonehenge, there's blood, guts, sex, rebellion, politics, did I mention sex?, and a heap of well handled WTF moments, as Claire's proto-feminist 1945 assumptions smash up against the societal expectations of 1745 and leave her reeling. This is handled beautifully, because her native time is as alien to us in some ways as the time she's thrust into, and it's super compelling.

And if you're still put off by the romance tag, this show (and the book) is surprisingly brutal. Not GoT torture porn brutal, but real world, inescapable, shock you brutal. My best friend and I made a pact to watch a certain episode together because we'd read the books and knew what was coming, and she didn't have the stomach to sit through it alone.

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JPetherick is gonna tell you...

Posted April 12

My wife was anxiously awaiting the start of Season 2 on Showcase in Canada. It is quite good television drama, regardless of genre, with probably the most realistic depiction of sex and violence available right now. And the characters suffer from that violence for more than a single episode. There is definitely a reason that it is broadcast at 10 pm on Sunday night, well after the kiddies are in bed. And, to be honest, way more male nudity than female ... which may be why my wife likes it so much. The episode that you mention - well, I haven't seen it's like on television for some time.



she_jedi puts forth...

Posted April 12
I don't think I've ever seen its like; it's not something that would ever have made it on to a commercial channel. This is the great strength of the cable channels, they have the freedom and often courage to push the envelope way beyond their audience's level of comfort.

The brilliance, if I can call it that, of the direction and staging of that episode is that the events in that episode are so pivotal to the story as a whole, to have shied away or edited what happened in any way would be detracted entirely from the story, and damaged the credibility of the series as a whole. I deeply respect the producers and show runners from not flinching from this one in the slightest, they did an amazing job.

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Miss Maudy swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 12
I've just started watching the series (well, I've just watched Episode six, after which I needed a cold flannel and a lie down, followed by a couple of episodes of Daredevil to recover my equilibrium) after reading all the books. It's so well researched and so well written that I look forward to the next one even though it's going to be yearsandyearsandyears. It's not often the actors in a telly show are exactly how they're imagined, but oh my goodness, they are.

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WarDog mutters...

Posted April 12
Really? Truly?
Gee JB all that credit you built up with me over the years, down the gurgler in one post. We kept watching this til the last episode of season 1 hoping that it would finally redeem itself. In the end we just wanted those hours back.
And there was nothing wrong with BSG until the final 2 episodes of season 9 when the writers (or whoever replaced the writers they must have shot) went all Deus Ex Machina.

Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted April 13
BSG had nine seasons, who knew?

WarDog mumbles...

Posted April 13
John I thought we had a no cylons policy on this list.

Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted April 13
I'm not a cylon! - though that's just what a deep cover cylon would think.

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Rob mutters...

Posted April 13
those are my wife's favourite books. Our conversations go like this,
me: what are you reading?Her:outlander again, I love her diologue, such good stories.Her: what are you reading?me: turtledoveHer: nazis or lizard stories?Me: lizards again, the nazi stories are miserableHer: Just read Dave Hooper again, or something happy you miserable bastard.

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Spanner is gonna tell you...

Posted April 13
Damn you JB! Damn you to heck. Just when I got my Netflix addiction under control and back under my download limit you come along and do this. Imma get MrsS to hold you personally responsible when our internet gets throttled (again)

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Tourist mutters...

Posted April 13
I've found Outlander to be the perfect thing to share with Mrs Tourist. It provides the a good balance of swords and muskets to keep me interested, and dashing Scottish boys saying romantic things so that Mrs Tourist can get her fill of romance... and by that I mean alternating between looking wistfully at the TV and back at me in that "why can't you be more like that" way.

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Therbs puts forth...

Posted April 13
Time Travel? All you really need is The Time Tunnel.

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Sandra R swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 14
I'm so glad you like it, and I'd love your thoughts once you've seen the first series, especially as this show is genuinely shown through the female gaze. Episode 7 is on repeat in this house. As much as it's centred around a central female lead, Tobias Menzies steals every scene he's in, and you're going to loathe him by the end. Thankfully, the first series was a great adaptation of the book, it's so good to see my favourite series come to life. It's one long love letter to Scotland.
The books are huge, dense and extensively researched, whether it be a herbal remedy, Gaelic phrases, 18th century surgical techniques or obscure battle references, but they are very hard to define. Historical romance they definitely are not! I love them all, but books 2 and 3 are especially good. Get into Season 2 as soon as you can.



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AuntyLou ducks in to say...

Posted April 15
Well I started watching this a week or so ago. A number of female friends were waxing lyrical about it. So far the most interesting bit has been recognising that the castle in episode 2 is the same one used by the Monty Python crew for Holy Grail. Hubby & I spent a lovely afternoon singing silly songs on the grounds of Doune Castle whilst using (attraction supplied!) coconut halves as nature intended ie percussive instruments. That is about it for me. The girls assure me that I will change my tune around episode 7. I don't do swooning over muscles...so we will see.

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Mike would have you know...

Posted April 16
Damn really? I figured this HAD to be terrible, but now I need to watch it.

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CathieT is gonna tell you...

Posted April 18
I read the books several millennia ago - and was delighted to hear that the series was on Netflix and even more delighted to see the lady author herself as an executive consultant.
Up to Ep 7 (small binge) and am really enjoying it.

I could say that Sam Heughan is a fabulous James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser - but I don't want to demean this post by bletherin' on all girly like aboot his muscles, so I'll just pull up right here!!

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Sue mutters...

Posted May 16
I can't believe you didn't even mention Jamie.

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted May 16
Ah, when I wrote this post, I had really progressed far enough through the series to see how important he'd become.

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