With only a handful of precious, tedious weeks to go until Outlander’s third-season premiere on September 10, fans are being steadily treated to tiny glimpses, through production stills and multiple trailers, into the adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s third novel, Voyager, which is a whirlwind of love and loss, separation and reunions, friends and lovers and children, and physical and spiritual distress. In this amalgam of adventure and mystery and romance, characters carry the weight of sacrifice, grief, and compromise with them as they fight their way back to the peace of home, whether home is a person, place, or idea.
PopWrapped caught up with Outlander series creator Ronald D. Moore at the ATX Television Festival in June, where he was attending a panel with cast and crew of his earlier hit science-fiction epic Battlestar Galactica, and had the opportunity to chat with him about his experiences in and love for the genre, the nature of fandoms, and the evolution of his work on Outlander and beyond.
PopWrapped: People often associate science fiction with outer space (even my students when I was a teacher and librarian), but your shows have shown that sci-fi encompasses so many things. There’s such a variety of storylines that your shows have exhibited. What is the appeal of the science-fiction genre for you?
Ronald D. Moore: It just lets you broaden the canvas of how you can tell a story. It’s a big game of “what if." What if you could go back in time to the 18th century? What if Hitler didn’t die (as in the first season of the Amazon Original dystopian drama The Man in the High Castle)? What if you were traveling through space and met an alien race? You get to play with a lot of big-picture ideas. You also get the opportunity to examine things that are happening in the world around us, but by putting it through a science-fiction lens you allow the audience to think about the deeper themes without getting hung up on “Well, is that really ISIS? or “I don’t agree with the way they are looking at Republicans!” But you can get into really interesting political discussions in science fiction without sort of setting off those alarm bells in the audience.
PW: You just answered one of my other questions. Due to the common time-travel element in science fiction, setting your shows in either the past like Outlander or the future like Battlestar Galactica can provide commentary on contemporary times. You create a dialogue with the audience especially concerning sexual situations or political intrigue. What or who are some of your influences?
RDM: Mostly classic sci-fi pieces from Star Wars to 2001, Forbidden Planet and Blade Runner - all the usual suspects that you could think of, I love. In terms of authors, I don’t read as much as I used to when I was a kid but Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison were the giants that I tended to read.
PW: It almost seems Bradburian what Claire is going through in that a lot of those stories you were going into virtual worlds and it’s almost like Claire is dealing with the virtual realities that she’s going into.
RDM: I think that’s fair. I agree with that. I liked and read a lot of Bradbury. I thought The Martian Chronicles were one of the seminal books when I was growing up.
PW: I still read them.
RDM: They’re great.
PW: Your shows often have established, longtime, diehard fandoms. Even coming in with Star Trek, Battlestar, and programs such as Carnivale and Helix that have huge online fandoms that want those shows brought back, what is the biggest challenge with these types of fandoms and advantage for your shows?
RDM: I have a very benign view of fandom. Fandom, to me, is predicated on love: these are people who love the show and the characters for whatever reason, and so they are expressing that love in different ways whether it is dressing up in costumes or writing their own stories or arguing whether this is a good episode or not.
Some of them express their love in negative ways. Some of my favorite reviews of things I’ve written start out: “I’ve watched this episode four times and it gets worse every time I watch it.” That’s someone who loves the show. You don’t watch something four times if you actually hate it. You’re just expressing [love] in a sort of weird, backwards kind of way. I tend to accept fans as that: they all love it, I am grateful that they are there, and I used to be a fan before I was a professional writer so I have a great empathy and memory of what it was to do that. I know [fans] like to understand how things are done and why decisions are made so I always try to have a dialogue with fandom.
I think that you get into a dangerous area if you start listening to fandom because it is not a democracy, and we are not going to vote on what the best scene is here or where this show should go. The fact that some people don’t like a certain character that I like, I just don’t care because I really do write the shows for myself and what I think is good. I have to have my own internal voice that is telling me “this is good” or “this is bad” and I really hope that you agree.
PW: I am very excited that you are producing four and writing two episodes of [the anthology series Philip K. Dick’s] Electric Dreams. Can you tell us anything about the episodes in which you are involved?
RDM: I’m one of the producers so I’m certainly involved in all of them. I wrote one of them that has already been shot. I saw it and thought it turned out really, really well. There’s ten episodes altogether, each based on a different short story by Phillip K. Dick, and we gave each of the writers free reign: do you just want to be inspired by an idea contained within this short story, or do you want to adapt this short story or change it up? It was really a big canvas for each writer to come at and do it, and as a result, it’s a very diverse show. Each episode is really different than the other episodes, so it’s in the grand tradition of Twilight Zone where you never knew when you tuned in what show you were going to watch that week.
PW: Regarding Battlestar Galactica, Outlander, and the female characters in the shows that you develop, sexuality and sexual situations constantly evolve. The way topics are discussed or shown on screen gives [viewers] something to think about and discuss with other fans. In the third season of Outlander, we will see characters such as John Grey, situations such as with Geneva, and the two main characters (Jamie and Claire) will age by two decades. I don’t even know of a science-fiction show where we see, from one season to another, such a huge change. What do you hope fans will take from the storyline in the third season?
RDM: I think it will be interesting to see. No other show really does a story like this; it is a unique tale on television. The story is evolving so much and each season looks so completely different from the one before, and then to do these big time jumps, age the characters, and move the location. Leaving Scotland in the third season. If you ask most people on the street if they’ve heard of Outlander, they’ll say “Oh yeah, the one in Scotland.” Now we’re about to lose that. There will always be a foot in Scotland, but essentially the show is very much going to live in the Colonies from now on, and that’s a big change. I’m curious to see how the audience who doesn’t know the books will accept that. I hope they embrace it as part of the evolving, traveling show that we’ve always been giving them, but you never know. Change is difficult, and viewers like comfort, they like familiarity and knowing that the show they are going to see this week is the same as the show last week, and that's not what we’re giving them. So, it’s a bit of a risk but I feel confident that people will go along for the ride.
Season 3 of Outlander will premiere on September 10, 2017, on Starz.