Why Outcasts is Star Trek + BSG (it's more than just Jamie Bamber)

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:31 PM EST

Remember how Gene Roddenberry pitched Star Trek to TV execs? He called it "Wagon Train to the stars." But it wasn't, not really, and it took Joss Whedon to truly mash up sci-fi and westerns with Firefly. Now it's the BBC's turn to saddle up for space—and they're taking BSG's Jamie Bamber with them!

Outcasts is about a group of survivors some time in the future establishing a new home on the planet Carpathia. It's sort of like a western, in the new frontier. They always called Star Trek a western anyway, and Outcasts has a little bit of future technology.

"It's been like sort of Star Trek and warp factor, although we don't mention warp factor at all," series creator Ben Richards (who knows he shares a name with Arnold's character in The Running Man) said. "We have to cheat a few things. They're always nanoteching stuff. Basically they had to build their own community on what they landed with. The transporter in which they landed is very high-tech and very modern, and they can do all kinds of stuff. People live in very rudimentary [ways]. That's that western feel. It's a frontier town kind of thing."

A rescue ship comes to join them, and all the old disagreements and fighting from back on Earth starts to happen again. That's the BSG part, only without the robots. Also, Jamie Bamber's in Outcasts. "Although Battlestar Galactica does this as well, I think it's much more firmly rooted in sort of human emotional and political stories," Richards said. "So I would say it's a couple of notches down the level of sci-fi from Battlestar Galactica."

The director of Richards' first episode reined in some of the sci-fi. Richards would have gone further with phasers and blasters, but director Bharat Nalluri (BBC's Life on Mars) decided to give the characters modern-day guns. He even quoted Star Trek, too.

"I would rather lazily write in the script, 'Cass pulls out a gun. A red light streaks across the screen.'" Richards said. "The director would just go, 'I don't think so. We're not having any "set phasers to stun." We are not having any of that crap. You're going to have to just trust me on this.' What you get, actually, is a bizarre mixture."

The primitive planet setting keeps Richards from worrying too much about BSG comparisons. "Apart from being fairly honored to be compared to Battlestar Galactica, it certainly wouldn't be a kind of problem for me in that respect," he said. "I think the big difference is probably the actual 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 early episodes of Battlestar."

Still, Trek and BSG aren't a bad club to belong to. Richards made sure to embrace his sci-fi roots while trying to distinguish himself. "I hesitate to say it's not sci-fi, because I think that's quite condescending as well," he said. "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.' Well, every drama is about the human spirit. I don't think you have to reject sci-fi as a genre. I certainly don't. I think the best sci-fi always has that element of the western in it."

Outcasts is currently shooting in South Africa. BBC America will air it in December.