As its release date draws near, Ronald D. Moore took to San Diego Comic-Con to reveal more details about his upcoming series Outlander. Moore, known for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the 2004 Battlestar Galactica series, announced last year that he was working with cable channel Starz on an adaptation of the popular Diana Gabaldon novel, first published in 1991. This weekend, Starz released a full trailer for the series, and Moore answered questions about it at a panel and a private press session.
The series has been called Starz' Game of Thrones — it's a period-style drama with fantasy elements based on a series of heavy tomes with a large existing fan base. One of the central cast members even played Game of Thrones character Edmund Tully. In contrast to that series' ensemble cast, though, it's focused exclusively on the story of Claire Beauchamp, a World War II nurse who finds herself thrown back in time to 18th-century Scotland.
This fantastical detail aside, Moore and Gabaldon are making a strong bid for realism. Aside from periodic flashbacks to Claire's native time period, we only know what she does. Her extensive narration provides background, for instance, but long conversations in Gaelic — which most of the central cast had to learn — remain untranslated. "I think that was a big attraction," says Moore. "Because it is unusual, because people don't typically do voice-over or such a central single narrative. That was another way to set the show apart, and it was also just true to the book."
The series has been called Starz' 'Game of Thrones'
In the first two episodes that were pre-screened, however, it also means a slower pace, without the copious intrigue that characterizes Game of Thrones. The story is held together by Claire's growing relationship with Scottish warrior Jamie Fraser, as well as her attempts to survive in the past. Outlander is best known as a time travel story and a romance between Claire and Jamie (or, alternately, a love triangle between Claire, Jamie, and her 1940s husband Frank, whose distant ancestor is the book's antagonist.) Besides that, though, it's a detailed account of the politics and society of Scotland during the violent Jacobite uprisings, which means that unlike Moore's previous work, it's set in not just one but two time periods that actually existed.
"A lot of the primary research Diana had already done," he says, but costume designers, weapons specialists, and others were tasked with closely recreating places like Inverness in 1743. "There's some things that are somewhat anachronistic, but we always try to minimize that. ... Maybe a building we're shooting at might have been slightly older or slightly more recent than what we're saying it is, but you'd have to really know that particular molding, or that window, or that kind of stuff." At one point, they had to shoot street scenes around a single house whose owner refused to let them add set dressing or remove a "For Sale" sign.
"They're willing to trust the audience more."
Gabaldon is famously protective of her work — her site includes a request that fan fiction writers not touch the series — and she said that previous attempts at adaptation have made her "turn white or burst into flame." She was sold not only on the strength of Moore's script but on the fact that the story would have an entire 16-episode season, not just a two-hour movie, to play out. It's also, in a first for Moore, on premium cable. "They're willing to trust the audience more," he says. "You don't have to lead the audience by the hand and over-explain every little thing, just trust that okay. They're going to get it. They're smart." In less abstract freedoms, it allows him to keep the sex and violence that's integral to the book.
The prominence of Outlander's love story could raise fears that male viewers won't watch the show. It's the kind of series that will almost inevitably end up being described as "fighting for men and romance for women," despite Claire's frequent presence as a battlefield doctor (she also, at one point in the book, strangles a wolf.) In a panel at Comic-Con, Gabaldon resisted the classification of a "romance novel" — a category that, no matter how popular, is often denigrated and dismissed. "I just don't think it's a man's show or a woman's show," said Moore, quoted by The Hollywood Reporter, at the panel. "It's just a ripping good yarn."
Outlander will premiere August 9th on Starz, while SyFy will continue to carry Moore's science fiction series Helix, which was renewed for a second season earlier this year.