Skip to main content


September 9, 2014

Why Starz’s Outlander is a Perfectly Braw Adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s Beloved Series


If there is one series that has crossed multiple generations and genres, it is the Outlander novels. The books, the first of which was published in 1991, have slowly but surely acquired a large base of fans, many of whom who have been reading the series for over 20 years. Author Diana Gabaldon prides herself on the genre accessibility of her novels, and she has resisted categorization --- it’s true that those who are looking for historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy and even mystery, can all find their favorite elements of story in these tales. In fact, Gabaldon even criticized book giant Barnes & Noble for shelving her books in the romance section. She insisted that though her novels include elements of romance, the primary focus of Outlander involves much more.

It’s no wonder then, that with the success of HBO’s televised “Game of Thrones,” a similarly epic tale that also provides audiences with tastes of magic, political warring and an “other-worldliness,” Outlander would soon enough follow suit and make an appearance on the small screen. Critics have even gone so far as to dub “Outlander,” produced by Starz, the female “Game of Thrones,” due to its female-eye driven sex scenes (far from the frequently --- and sometimes unnecessary --- appearance of naked women in “GoT”) and, of course, its female lead, Claire, played by Irish actress and model Caitriona Balfe.

Ronald D. Moore, of “Battlestar Galactica” fame, was the first producer to successfully pitch Gabaldon a script that, in her words, “did not make her want to vomit.” Gabaldon, who is notoriously protective over her characters and story, felt that other versions had taken too many liberties with the plot, and Moore’s was the first that would remain a faithful rendition of the Outlander novels. It also helped that Moore had proposed a show, as opposed to a film which --- with eight giant books and counting --- may not have covered any of the detail of the novels.

So far, the Outlander Starz series has done well for itself. Fans seem to agree that the casting choices of Balfe and costar Sam Heughan (who plays Jamie Fraser) have done their legendary characters justice. Balfe is appropriately stubborn and quick-witted as Claire, and Jamie is endearingly rough around the edges, with a slap of irresponsible bravery to boot.

Five episodes in, and the plot has veered little from Gabaldon’s original tale. Of course, the show can’t avoid making any changes, for the sake of both time and viewer’s attention span. For instance, added sex scenes early on more quickly amplified the relationship between Claire and her 1945 husband, Frank (played by Tobias Menzies). In addition, Moore has plans to expand characters such as antagonist Black Jack Randall (also played by Menzies), and Claire’s eerily suspicious Scottish friend, Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek). Moore has also added flashbacks throughout the series, to better understand Claire and Frank’s past, and more adequately display the loss she feels after being transported from 1945 to 1743 Scotland.

Still, the show has maintained the integrity of the series, only altering what minimal aspects due to the changed medium. In general, fans have responded positively to the changes, accepting their necessity and reveling in the live versions of their favorite characters. A common (and somewhat frequent) complaint from fans and new viewers is that Claire’s constant narration --- meant to replace her first person narrative within the novels --- is overdone, and occasionally distracting. Voiceovers often have this effect, since an invisible voice can do nothing but remind viewers of the fantastical nature of the show, making it more difficult to become fully immersed. Unfortunately, Claire’s lone status --- being the only character at this point aware of her true history, intentions and griefs --- makes the voiceover a necessary evil until plot points can be discussed using dialogue between characters. Ideally, Claire’s narration will decrease as viewers become more comfortable in her story, and Claire begins to confide in another person within the show.

Moore and the production cast have done fantastic jobs with scenery choices and costume design. Choosing to film in the novel’s actual setting, Scotland, was an easy given, but great lengths have also gone into perfecting the period costumes, teaching the cast Gaelic (and using it, without subtitles, frequently within the show) and taking advantage of the picturesque landscape their surroundings offer them. As a result, Outlander is a visual journey as well as an exciting story.

With only five episodes aired, and another 11 before the end of the season (which will break for the holidays midway through), it’s still difficult to determine whether or not the series will fully live up to reader expectations. Gabaldon, at least, seems pleased with the outcome, and interest has been high enough to already guarantee the show a second season, which will be based on the second novel in the series. The series will no doubt gain viewership for Starz, which many may not realize is already part of their cable package (check here for lineup info), and Starz Play, and will also be catering to Netflix viewers, who will eventually be able to order the first season on DVD.

Gabaldon will continue penning the series in her free time. Her most recent addition, WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD arrived this past June, and she’s fairly sure the ninth installment will be the final novel in the collection. She has also begun an additional series, the Lord John Grey novels, which she considers part of the Outlander collection, but focused on Lord John (a character who arrives later in the third Outlander novel, VOYAGER) as opposed to Jamie or Claire.

It seems Outlander, 20 years since its origin, shows little sign of slowing down. So Gabaldon fans can rejoice with the new show --- and at least one future novel from the world famous author!