The Words on the Page

Outlander

March 28, 2017

 

Outlander

Written by Ronald D. Moore, based on the novel by Diana Gabaldon

Revised Network Draft, April 2013

Sci-fi/Drama Pilot, 60 pages

 

"What's the matter? Looks like you've seen a ghost." - Claire

 

The basic premise of Outlander is that WWII nurse Claire Randall is ripped out of her 1945 life and finds herself back in 1743 Scotland. Unlike most time travel pieces, there seems to be only the one jump (for now), and it appears to be left a mystery, or at least mostly unexplained. When I heard about this piece, I became intrigued by the idea of living in the past when you already know the future, so I couldn't wait to check the pilot out.

 

I was able to find an April 2013 revised network draft. Written by Ronald D. Moore (and based on the novel by Diana Gabaldon), the pilot quickly sets up, through a series of voiceovers, that this is Claire's story. Although we flash back to the War, by page five it's present-time 1945, and Claire is with her husband, Frank, in Inverness, Scotland, which is introduced as a magic, superstition-filled land. The voiceovers also quickly set up that Claire is somewhere else, somewhere that is no longer 1945 Scotland, although the time traveling doesn't occur until page 31 and we don't find out until page 34 where she's gone (of a 60 page script). For me, the pilot worked quite well. There was a sense of mystery and magic, and it remained a compelling read throughout.

 

Even on the page the character of Mrs. Baird, the Inverness innkeeper, comes alive. The phrasing and word choice in her dialogue makes her just "foreign" enough from the other characters that she feels otherworldly (but still real). An example: "Like up at Mountgerald, the big house at the top of High Street? Ay, there’s a ghost. A workman killed in the eighteenth century as a sacrifice for the foundation." I'm immediately sucked in, and I appreciated the fact that a flavor of an accent was written in without making this a difficult read.

 

One script quirk that I found interesting is that the slug lines strictly used time of day ("Day," "Dusk," etc) but opening actions sometimes used transitions like "moments later." I'm not sure if this is a choice I'd use myself, but it kept the movement of the story clear.

 

Another useful tidbit I noticed was a scene jump around pages 22-23. Frank had just seen "a ghost" looking at Claire from outside of the inn, and he hightailed it up to their room to tell her. We've been with Frank and saw what he saw, so we don't need to hear the story. The script cuts away from Frank just after he's confessed to seeing something strange and then jumps ahead a few moments in the scene to Claire pouring them tea. It's evident that he's already told her as she says, "Looking at me? Are you sure?" This is a technique I'll file away to possibly use in the future.

 

As for the story, there are a lot of parallels in this piece. Frank's obsessed with Claire's hands, specifically the lines on them, and Mrs. Graham, a housekeeper who reads palms, says that Claire's are unlike any she's ever seen and that they don't have a pattern like most do. And, of course, the ancestor that Frank is obsessed with researching, Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall, just happens to be the same man that "captures" Claire back in 1743 (and is played by the same actor, according to the script).

 

The plot point that had the biggest impact on me was Claire's attitude toward sex. While I don't think we gained anything from seeing her breasts as the nudity did not move the story forward (And why is it always the woman who has to get naked?), I appreciated that Claire took charge in her sexual encounters with Frank. She wanted it, and she showed it. This contrast truly brought out the evilness in the attempted rape by Jack, and I thought it was a nice touch.

 

In fact, the duality of the two worlds is what drives the story. I would have liked to see a bit of how knowing the future is going to impact her new (old?) life, but I have the sense that will come to fruition as the show progresses.

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Writing for film, television, and the stage is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult - and most rewarding - art forms. The language needs to be visual and evocative as each script must achieve two important tasks...
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