The year is 2032 and London is in a state of emergency, supplies running low, the homeless crammed in shelters as the world grinds to a slow and ugly death, the smell of end days permeating the air, but rather than standing on a street corner proclaiming “the end is nigh,” pastor Peter Leigh tends to his unwashed flock, feeding them and caring for them as best he can.
“God has plans for you,” his wife Bea told him on her deathbed. “Big plans. He told me himself.” He sat and read to her from the Bible as she passed, but it is not God who has now called for him, it is David Morgan, a man who once dismissed Peter when he told him to his face that he wanted to create “a world without the treacherous illusion of faith.”
Those words thrown back at the courier who comes to the chaplaincy to find him, Morgan has now sent a message to Peter to recant, to say that a spiritual presence is needed in the new world after all and that it has to be him, begging Peter to join them on Oasis even though both he and Bea fought against the project.
For Oasis genuinely is a new world, the first permanent human colony in space on a distant desert world, hostile and barely habitable, and from the USIC launch facility in Kazakhstan Peter will leave the Earth to make the jump to a missionary position unlike any other.
Inspired by The Book of Strange New Things, written by Michel Faber with the intention that it will likely be his last published novel, Oasis has been developed as a pilot for Amazon Prime by The Eagle‘s Kevin Macdonald with the prospect of a full season should it be well received, as with previous successes The Man in the High Castle and The Tick, currently in development.
While Jonathan Glazer’s interpretation of Under the Skin, Faber’s first novel, was abstract, introspective and ethereal, Macdonald’s realisation is more immediately grounded and functional, the brief opening scenes in London recalling the grim fin de siècle of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men or The Quatermass Conclusion of three decades earlier, and as with the Planet People the hopeless need something to cling to.
Religion and science fiction are strange but not infrequent bedfellows; the moral paradox of James Blish’s A Case of Conscience, the devout archivists of Walter M Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, yet in this initial hour Game of Thrones‘ Richard Madden serves little purpose other than decorative as Peter, recalling accusations directed at the often underestimated Matthew McConaughey when it was announced he was to play the key role of Palmer Joss in the film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s Contact.
That Madden underwhelms is not his fault; adapted by Bridge of Spies‘ Matt Charman, Oasis is far from refreshing, plodding across the sand with the leaden grace of ill-fitting army boots to a mystery which neither entices nor tickles the imagination with its originality, the footprints of Solaris and Event Horizon stomped all over a landscape which makes the viewer long for the more fully realised majesty of Arrakis.
The atmosphere breathable but unpleasant the newcomers are warned there will be side effects, “pressure on the optic nerve” causing hallucinations, but what is seen is specific: long lost loved ones and family, their memories bringing with them regrets and negligent inattention which has already led to three deaths. Oasis is not a planet which forgives mistakes, but nor are the colonists overwhelmed by an abundance of competence.
Peter was whisked into the mission at the last moment, replacing a much needed engineer, yet dyslexic botanist Sy (I’ll Follow You Down‘s Haley Joel Osment) has been in training for months but still can’t cope with the basic requirements of the job, and the refusal of security officer Sara Keller (Pandorum‘s Antje Traue) to allow others to know details of her investigation says more about her fear they’ll do a better job than her than confidentiality.
Desperately lacking in plot or an appreciable hook, Oasis is going through the motions of hard science fiction without any understanding of the genre, the mission blasting off with an apparently chemical powered rocket before the unexplained “jump” conveys them at considerably faster than the speed of light to “the edge of galaxy,” the vague wording making it unclear whether it is a hyperbolic turn of phrase or a inexcusable lack of astronomical knowledge, the passengers inexplicably placed in “induced comas to preserve muscle condition.”
Despite the promising source material this pilot has squandered any potential and does not warrant further investment unless a significant increase in quality can be guaranteed. As it stands, it is less ambitious and less engaging than BBC’s short lived Outcasts which, even with a full season in the can before broadcast, was exiled from prime time before it even completed that brief run of eight episodes.