• (Outlander - steaming now on SBS On Demand)
Outlander is the story of a woman trapped between two worlds and two loves.
Rochelle Siemienowicz

18 Oct 2016 - 11:53 AM  UPDATED 21 Oct 2016 - 9:39 AM

Time travel, sexy sex, exciting history and lashings of stunning Scottish scenery, Outlander is the next top-shelf TV series you absolutely MUST watch.

Based on the Outlander series of novels by Diana Gabaldon, the adaptation has been celebrated by its fans for its compelling blend of adventure and romance in the Scottish highlands. The book series has sold an estimated 25 million copies, with the ninth book in the series expected soon. With four seasons of the TV show already confirmed (covering up to the fourth novel), it's time to get swept up in the excitement of Outlander.

A time-travelling heroine of super resourcefulness

As a combat nurse, Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) has survived the horrors of World War II. Reunited with her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies), Claire is attempting to reignite the marriage with a vacation in Inverness in the Scottish highlands.

Suddenly, she’s mysteriously transported back to 1743. These are harsh and violent times, with the noble but wild Highlanders under the oppressive thumb of the British army. It’s lucky that Claire knows how to amputate limbs, stitch up bullet wounds and comfort the dying. Even luckier that she was raised by an archeologist and has a handy knowledge of history. Oh, and she’s a keen amateur botanist which is helpful when you’re concocting herbal remedies.


Part of the fun of watching this sassy ‘Sassenach’ (a derogatory Scottish name for an English person, and the nickname she’s affectionately called) is seeing Claire use her modern healing techniques, as well as her knowledge of the future, while trying not to get burnt at the stake as a witch.

She’s drawn to two men at the same time, and she can’t help it!

With her life in danger, Claire’s fate becomes entwined with a strapping young Scottish warrior, Jamie Fraser (the magnificently muscled Sam Heughan), who gallantly offers to protect her with his life and his body. Swoon.

Though Claire is tortured by the idea of betraying her twentieth century husband, her relationship with Jamie helps to protect her under the law and may be the only way she can stay alive long enough to get back to 1945. 

The best sex on television

Well, that’s what critics are saying, and there’s no doubt this famous wedding night episode  (number seven – they do make us wait for it), as well as the entire series, was written and conceived with unprecedented understanding of the female gaze. Jamie’s body is frequently on show throughout the series as Claire tends to his fighting wounds. There’s also the matter of his whip-flayed back, scarred by the brutal British Captain Jack Randall, an ancestor of Claire’s husband Frank, and unnervingly the spitting image of him - he’s also played by Menzies. These wounds only serve to underline Jamie’s masculine beauty, bravery and vulnerability.

Right from episode one, when Claire initiates sex with her first husband in a castle ruin, we know she’s a passionate and sexually assertive wife. She takes the lead again  with Jamie as the more experienced party.

Pivotal episode, 'The Wedding', was written by a woman (Anne Kenney) and directed by a woman (Anna Foerster) and it shows. While there’s a lot of female wish fulfillment here, the sex scenes are never gratuitous and always complicated by all kinds of politics. Sex is key to building trust and intimacy for Claire and Jamie and their scenes together are not only important for the development of the story, but they are genuinely sexy, while sensitively portrayed.

Real danger, real consequences

While it’s easy to make the series sound like a fun bodice-ripping romp, danger is never far away, and the human body is frequently shown in all its frailty. This makes for almost unbearable dramatic tension when Jamie and Claire are trying to evade their enemies, in particular the sadistic Captain Randall who is intent on breaking Jamie’s spirit as well as his body. Be warned: things get bloody and brutal before they get better.

The surprising appeal of kilts, bagpipes and sporrans

The mud, the cold, the clothes dyed in pig’s urine. Some may say that Eighteenth Century Scotland is not the natural habitat of romantic fantasy. But sumptuous cinematography, gorgeous costumes and high production values all round, together with an exciting score (by Bear McCreary), make the olde Scottish Highlands seem like a holiday-worthy destination – at least from the comfort of your heated lounge room.

There’s also the matter of kilts. Strong knees and hairy legs are frequently revealed while men are horse riding, sword fighting, boar hunting and playing ball-thrashing games of hockey. Swishing skirts and sporrans have never looked so manly and heroic, and it’s just possible that Outlander will prompt an uprising in the sales of tartan.

A true love… that might just change the course of history

Good scripting, intelligent acting and genuine screen chemistry mean it’s hard to think of a more romantic screen couple than Claire and Jamie. They really do seem fated to be together; they may even change the outcome of the Jacobite uprising. Initially, Jamie struggles with Claire’s headstrong modern ways, and it’s fun to see her questioning and reconstructing his sexist assumptions, while he teaches her about the consequences of her selfish ‘independence’. Together they forge a feisty marriage of equals that feels real and vital – and for that alone, Outlander is a rare television treasure, as well as a slightly guilty pleasure.

Outlander airs on SBS Thursdays at 9:30pm. The show is also available to watch on SBS On Demand: 

More on the guide
Just the facts ma'am: TV cop procedurals from Dragnet to Deep Water
New SBS series Deep Water is the latest in an evolution of the TV police procedural.
Who Dat Ninja? Celebrating a decade of 30 Rock pop culture
The Tina Fey NBC sitcom 30 Rock debuted on 11 October 2006, ten years ago today. Its lasting legacy has been the daffy pop cultural world that existed in the show itself.
Working Dog: 30 years of biting at the cutting edge of comedy
Formerly known as Frontline Productions Incorporated, Working Dog have consistently produced compelling television since 1986. Here’s a comprehensive guide to our favourite comedy veterans.
6 of the best parodies on Community
The movie and TV references are just one of the many reasons to love this sitcom.