Amazon’s 2017 Pilot Season is upon us, and the site has released the pilot for a television show called Oasis, featuring Game of Thrones star Richard Madden.
Oasis, based on Michel Faber’s 2014 novel The Book of Strange New Things, follows a priest named Peter Leigh. Humanity has established a colonial world on the edge of the galaxy, which Peter and his ailing wife protested. But one of the colony’s founders, David Morgan, specifically asks for him to visit the world as a missionary. And a company representative who offers to make a sizable donation to his ministry quickly convinces him. He sets off, leaving behind his wife and an overcrowded planet.
Once he arrives, he finds that the colonial world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Life is hard on Oasis. There are huge sandstorms and little water, and the colonists aren’t exactly thrilled that a priest has replaced a structural engineer. However, once he’s settled, people start to come to him, saying they’ve been seeing things. A worrying string of accidents might be connected. The planet has a strange influence on people, and the colonists are beginning to worry that maybe they shouldn’t be there at all.
Additionally, Morgan has gone missing. But before he left, he recorded a strange message for the priest that sounds like “Jesus Christ” over and over, along with some coordinates. Peter sets off to find the missing leader, and discovers a cave where he has a vision of his wife.
Oasis is reminiscent of a few specific science-fiction stories. The first is Solaris, the novel by Stanislaw Lem (and later, film adaptations by Andrei Tarkovsky and Steven Soderbergh). There are clear similarities: in both, a man is invited on a scientific mission after strange things happen to its crew members. The other is Outcasts, a BBC show that aired a single season a couple of years ago, which was about a distant human colony after the destruction of Earth, with some strange things happening on the planet. Both deal closely with the uncertainty of what the larger universe has in store for humans when we settle away from our home planet, and how people cope, spiritually.
Oasis looks as though it’s ready to jump in with its own take on that argument, laying out a compelling mystery: what’s happening to the colonists? Why are they seeing visions of their past, and why was Peter specifically called to the planet? The pilot is dedicated to raising questions, rather than answering them. Moreover, there’s certainly a feeling that this episode is just scratching the surface of the world, introducing a whole bunch of new characters and problems that will provide plenty of material to address these central questions. If the point was to get viewers hooked, this should certainly do the trick.
The episode leaves a lot of these questions unanswered — and the show could very well diverge from the book it’s based on. We’ve got all the pieces set up on the table, but it remains to be seen just how Oasis will go about examining and comparing faith and science. Even without it, Amazon could set up a pretty decent science-fiction adventure series about a colony in space. Hopefully, though, it’ll give us a compelling, thought-provoking story.
Amazon has been putting up its pilots for voting for a couple of years, with shows like The Man in the High Castle and Transparent coming out with full season orders. Oasis feels like Amazon’s attempt to explore the argument between faith and science, and if it’s picked up for a full season, it has the potential to become a compelling drama that explores human nature in the depths of space.