Movie & TV Nurses

The Time-Traveling Adventures of “Outlander”

The nurse heroine is transported from World War II to 1743 (and back again)

RN Claire from Outlander covered in blood and holding a bottle

Other than the occasional period piece, TV shows featuring nurse characters tend to be set firmly in the here and now. Not so with “Outlander,” the popular STARZ series based on the historical fantasy-adventure novels by Diana Gabaldon, which takes its nurse heroine from World War II to the 18th century (and back again).

The Magic Stones

When “Outlander” begins, it’s 1945, six months after V-E Day, and former British Army nurse Claire Randall (played by Irish actress Caitriona Balfe) and her husband Frank (played by Tobias Menzies) are on a second honeymoon in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands.

Through an encounter with a strange band of local Druid women, Claire touches some magical stones and is transported back in time to the year 1743.

There, she becomes involved in a local uprising against the Jacobite British — whose troops are led by an ancestor of Frank’s — as she tries to find a way to return to where she started. (Since the show recently completed its sixth season, you can guess things won’t be that simple.)

Claire is a veteran combat nurse, so she’s no shrinking violet, and she takes her 20th century medical knowledge back with her to the 1700s. That makes for some culture shock, as she gets only quizzical looks from the locals when asking for antiseptic to clean a wound.

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Conveniently, Claire also has a personal interest in medicinal herbs, although she’s puzzled about some of the supplies she’s offered, like powdered bat wings.

Even though Claire is married in her native time, she falls for handsome 18th century Highlander Jamie Fraser (played by Sam Heughan), whom she eventually marries. (Does it count as bigamy if you’re a time traveler?) She also finds that she’s able to use her unique perspective and knowledge of the past and future to affect history.

Beautiful but Bloody

I’ve been to Inverness. The Highlands scenery there is spectacular, and it’s shown off beautifully in “Outlander,” as is Doune Castle in Sterling, where some scenes are filmed. Besides the landscapes, the show features gorgeous costumes, plenty of romance, eye-candy men and some bodice-ripping.

On the other hand, there’s also lots of blood and brutal violence — including multiple rape scenes, although the creators claim the show has a feminist perspective. If you’re expecting lightweight swashbuckling adventure, you may be in for a rude surprise.

Not My Cup of Tea

In the interests of full transparency, I only made it through three episodes of the first season of “Outlander.” Although some of the story is told in voiceover, with Claire as the narrator, the occasional use of Scottish Gaelic, rarely heard on television, makes for some scenes that are difficult to understand without subtitles. I enjoyed half of one episode with the sound off because I found the visuals so entertaining.

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However, time travel stories are not for me. They make my brain smoke. As the storyline progresses, my cognitive skills are on pause, dealing with questions like, “How did they do that? Where did they go? Are there magic rocks in my back yard that I’m going to touch by mistake?”

Clearly, I don’t represent the audience. Entertainment Weekly calls the show “sexy and smart and stirring.”

“Outlander” has been nominated for and won plenty of critical awards. The show has a loyal following, which has kept it going for six seasons. Season 7 is in the works, and a prequel spinoff is being contemplated.

If you’ve ever witnessed a joust and eaten half a roasted chicken with your bare hands at Medieval Times, or if period drama with a little nursing history and a lot of lush costumes, romance and action sounds like just the thing for you, then pick up the remote and prepare to be transported. It’s just not to my taste.

Aren’t we lucky to live at a time when we can pick and choose whatever we want? “Outlander” for you, “Call the Midwife” for me.

 CHRISTINE CONTILLO, RN, BSN, PHN, is a public health nurse with more than 40 years of experience, ranging from infants to geriatrics. She enjoys volunteering for medical missions.


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