TV REVIEW: Outlander - Episodes One to Eight

This review of Outlander's first eight episodes is spoiler free, but Becky will be reviewing the remainder of the season individually and with spoilers, in our usual Buffery manner.

Based on Diana Gabaldon's rip-roaring and bestselling historical series, Outlander follows Claire Randall, a nurse in the Second World War who embarks on a holiday in Scotland with her husband, Frank, six months after VE Day. Whilst there, she finds herself drawn to a mysterious stone circle at Craigh na Dun and is pulled back in time to 1745, when Scotland was building to another Jacobite rebellion and intelligent, forthright women were viewed with suspicion. She attempts to get back to the stones and to her own time, but is soon drawn into the machinations of the MacKenzie clan and into a marriage of safety with the dashing Jamie Fraser.

Outlander has a huge weight of pedigree behind it, created by none other than television impresario, Ronald D. Moore (having previously worked on both Star Trek and the excellent Battlestar Galactica reboot), who brings his assured hand to Gabaldon's work. It's a smooth adaptation, streamlining out the story into something a little more manageable for a television audience that could be both in love with the books or without any knowledge whatsoever. Additions such as focusing on Frank in 1945 trying to find his wife, which didn't feature in the first book as it was Claire's first person narrative, builds the world up more and keeps alive the sympathy for an important character.

The world of 18th century Scotland is beautifully realised as the series sweeps through the Highlands. Muddy, brutal yet elegantly romantic, Claire's foray into the past carries the inherent thrill of seeing a world unknown, though it's considerably more bodice-ripping (literally) than your usual period drama. The sex, nudity and violence running through the story isn't sanitised from its source material, but nor does it feel gratuitous. Whilst there is the tendency carried over from the books to put Claire in as many potential sexual assault situations as possible, it's never supposed to be titillating; the focus on Claire herself in these moments ensures the focus is on her fear, not the man's enjoyment.

As Claire, Caitriona Balfe captures the character near-perfectly, from her belligerence in the face of 18th century attitudes towards women to a wicked sense of humour that bubbles beneath the surface. Claire already feels like a fully rounded character, naive in the face of these traditions for which she is an outlander, but learning to adapt quickly. It also helps that she has an excellent chemistry with both Tobias Menzies, in the dual role of Frank Randall and his 18th century ancestor, the Black Jack Randall, and Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser.

Menzies has a particularly tough role in distinguishing the noble academic Frank from his sadistic ancestor. Black Jack Randall is the show's current outright villain and Menzies clearly relishes portraying someone who is convinced of his own inability to be redeemed. Frank is a gentler sort, but there are still the odd tics and reminders of their heritage, particularly when the desperation of both characters comes to the fore.

On the other side of Claire stands Jamie Fraser, the Highlander with a price on his head whom she helps when she first arrives in 1745. Heughan cuts a dashing figure in plaid and recreates Jamie's honourable ways as well as his wry humour that made readers all over fall in love with him on the page (myself included). Like the other main characters, Jamie arrives fully formed and the show works quickly to establish his back story, which will affect how the narrative develops.

It's a strong start for Outlander's first season, one which provides enough information for those unfamiliar with the story whilst hitting all the right narrative beats for those who are. There's a clear understanding of what makes the books work here and Moore has successfully translated that to the screen. Knowing what is to come for the remainder of the season adds a special level of tension to the developing relationships and I have every confidence that the show will continue to excel.

- Becky

Outlander is available to view now on Amazon Instant Video UK.

Follow @AssortedBuffery on Twitter
Or like our Facebook page

TV REVIEW: Outlander - The Reckoning

DVD REVIEW: Two Night Stand