The press around Outlander, which premieres on Starz Saturday night but has already released its pilot on Youtube to nearly one million views, has been very positive—and often filled with caveats that it’s “feminist fantasy,” or at least directed at female audiences.
People have made much of the genre shift showrunner Ronald D. Moore made by going from his best-known previous project, the sci-fi epic Battlestar Galactica, to Outlander. The latter, an adaption of Diana Gabaldon’s book series, follows Claire Randall, a World War II nurse sent back in time to 18th-century Scotland. It panders to audiences who like attractive Scottish men, and British period pieces, and cool accents. The former, a remake of a 1970s series, follows the titular Battlestar Galactica as it searches for earth in the midst of Cylon (robot) attacks. It panders to audiences who like complex mythology, space operas, and meditations on post-9/11 politics.
But let’s not pretend that those two shows are really that different—or that the either show is just for drooling fanboys or drooling fangirls. Here are all the reasons why Outlander’s just like Battlestar Galactica—and why both are awesome.
1. They’re both written by Ronald D. Moore…
Outlander is Moore’s big return to the small screen after Battlestar and its less successful prequel Caprica. Moore’s known primarily for these projects (and his luscious hair), but he also worked various producing gigs on Helix, Roswell, and Carnivale. All of these shows involve either magic or science fiction, so at least the guy’s consistent. He’s also brought along a good chunk of his Battlestar crew, which means Outlander comes…
2. …with music by Bear McCreary.
Battlestar’s soaring score was half the fun of the show. It combined everything from military marches to tribal chanting to Bob Dylan (no joke) as it scored everything from intimate moments to screeching space-fighter fights. Moore brought McCreary back to score Outlander, which makes a lot of sense. Why? Well, as anyone who’s listened to Battlestar’s soundtrack knows, he likes using big orchestral arrangements complete with…
3. So many bagpipes.
Compare Outlander’s theme music, to Battlestar’s theme for the human fleet. And let’s get this straight: The Cylons annihilated most of human civilization, but the bagpipes survived?
4. They have female leads…
Kara Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), a.k.a. Starbuck, is the best Viper pilot in all of Battlestar. (Apollo fans, step aside.) When she’s not in a space-fighter, she’s usually drinking and/or punching people. Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) is a less obvious badass, until you remember that she worked as a nurse throughout World War II—and that her medical skills are keeping half of her new Scottish friends alive.
5. …who mysteriously disappear.
In season three, Starbuck suddenly falls into a space vortex thing before showing up several episodes later. Claire does the same thing, except instead of a space vortex, she touches the wrong druidic stone and ends up 18th Century Scotland. Given the choice, go with the stone—if only because you won’t return as a ghost/angel/higher being.
6. They have irresolvable love triangles…
Starbuck has mind-melting chemistry with Lee Adama (Jamie Barber), but neither wants to act on it because Starbuck used to be romantically involved with Zak, Lee’s younger brother, whom she taught at flight school. It’s kind of her fault that Zak died during training. Later, Starbuck gets married to Anders (Michael Trucco), so there’s also that. Claire has mind-melting chemistry with Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), but that’s complicated by her marriage to Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies), who’s stuck in the 20th century.
7. …with the same actors playing more than one character.
Someday, Tobias Menzies should call up Grace Park and Tricia Helfer and just chat. Because just as Park and Helfer played multiple good and evil versions of Cylon models 6 and 8, Menzies plays good and evil takes on the Randall family line. Claire’s married to the affable, kind-of-frigid, history loving Frank, but when she arrives in 1743, she runs into Blackjack Randall, Frank’s ancestor. The English officer tries to rape her pretty much on sight.
8. There’s lots of fan service.
Let’s just say that the Battlestar and Outlander teams are well aware that their actors are more attractive than the average human (male or female). They’re not afraid to play that up.
9. The heroes are fighting against greater numbers.
The Scotts in Outlander are camped out in a war of independence against far larger, and more well-trained, English forces. The humans in Battlestar (all 50,000 or less of them) are fleeing a much more massive Cylon fleet. Moore’s a fan of underdogs.
10. The shows have terrible taglines…
Battlestar spent five seasons repeating this mantra: “The Cylons were created by man. They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan.” It would’ve been cool, if the Cylon’s plan made any sense. Outlander asks, “What if your future was the past?” Which at least straight-up doesn’t make any sense.
11. …and prophetic old women…
Before she’s sent back in time, Claire has her tea leaves read—and we’re told all sorts of eerie things about how she’s got a really weird future (ahem, past). Battlestar’s President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) routinely consults Elosha (Lorena Gale) about her involvement in a separate prophecy—though this one’s more about finding a new Earth and less about her love life.
12. …which brings up a conflict between paganism and Christianity (or something resembling it).
Both prophecies tie into struggles between pagan mythologies (the Scots’ druidic beliefs, Battlestar’s human Greco-Roman lore) and oppressive monotheistic ones (the redcoats’ Christianity, the Cylons’ one god). For the most part, the polytheists are the good guys on Moore’s shows, but that’s complicated by all this lore in season four of Battlestar (which you need a Ph.D. in theology to get into). God exists. Maybe?
13. They’re both big deals for up-and-coming networks.
Syfy picked up Battlestar Galactica as a miniseries back in 2003—those happy, pre-Sharknado days when it was known as simply SciFi. The buzz was enough to greenlight a series that ran for four seasons and amassed huge critical acclaim, earning the relatively small cable network a much bigger name. Starz is looking to pull the same trick with Outlander, as the channel’s earlier scripted programming (Spartacus, The White Queen) hasn’t yet made a big impact. If the streaming numbers from the pilot are any indication, Outlander could be just what Starz is looking for.
14. They’re adapted from decades-old source material…
The Outlander book series, which began in 1991, has sold over 20 million copies. The Battlestar Galactica series of the ’70s was critically reviled, but is now remembered as classic sci-fi schlock.
15. …that’s really hard to explain to people who don’t get it.
“So there are these people who live in space colonies, and they were at war with robots, but then then robots come back—and wait, some of the robots look like humans but the humans don’t know that—anyway, the humans want to find Earth but they don’t know where it is…”
“So there’s this World War II nurse, and she’s on vacation with her husband, and then she’s send back in time to Scotland—and wait, her husband’s also there but also not really—anyway, now she’s helping out the Scots who are fighting the English…”
“You know what? Just watch the show(s).”