Month: March 2022

I know what I saw

Uncanny review

Production company – BBC Sounds/Bafflegab

Rating –

Uncanny logo

Originally, the title of this review was going to be called “Bloody hell ken”, but then it turns out the last episode was called that so I had to change it last minute to the rather less inspired one you can see a few hundred pixels above this paragraph.

This is the first of what will be a few reviews of paranormal podcasts (not all at once though, I’ve got other half written blatherings to publish first!). I know I’ve reviewed podcasts with similar themes in the past, but this is a true, all out paranormal series. It’s also very creepy.

So what’s it about?

This is the latest podcast presented by Danny Robins. He’s also known for the brilliant “Battersea Poltergeist” (which I will be reviewing here soon). Rather than focusing on one case, this is more freeform, with each episode examining a different case sent in by listeners. These range from a bizarre UFO tale, to very creepy true stories of hauntings. Each episode is usually an interview with the person concerned. As the story progresses it gets examined by parapsychologists and skeptics, (including the legendary Ciarán O’Keeffe), who weigh in on various aspects and discuss possible causes for the phenomena. Listeners also get to write in to the show with any relevant information they might have about previous cases.

Is it any good?

Yes. If there’s one thing the BBC does well, it’s podcasts. As I said, I heard about Danny Robins when the Battersea Poltergeist was released and after that finished, I couldn’t wait for his new project. As soon as the first episode dropped I subscribed and looked forward to each new case.

You can tell that Danny’s really interested in the subject and in almost every episode his mind is blown by the claims of the people he’s interviewing (hence the title of the final episode). He also seems to get creeped out very easily during the interviews. I can understand this, as two in particular are perfect horror film material in themselves.

The production quality is good, but not overly polished. This is great because it gives the episodes an air of spontaneity. It’s not poor enough to be unlistenable or amateurish, nor is it super audiophile studio production. It really does sound like Danny is just recording things as they happen, or as he thinks of them. This was especially true in the Battersea Poltergeist which had an almost “Ghostwatch” feel in places (and quite understandably so).

I honestly can’t wait for series two (hopefully they’ll make one), because this show is a real refreshing change to the usual ghost story podcasts, but more of that in future reviews. This is the benchmark for paranormal podcasts.

Final thoughts

There are an awful lot of “true ghost story” podcasts out there of varying degrees of quality. Both this one, and Battersea Poltergeist are well worth your time. Danny Robins is a great presenter, and the skeptics and believers who appear on the show are also very engaging.

I think the thing that sets this apart from other series’ is that these won’t be stories you’ve heard before. Most paranormal podcasts will focus on the famous locations around Britain, analysed and investigated for decades. Maybe this is why it’s so good. I defy anyone to still get a shudder from Leap Castle, the Tower of London or Berkeley Square etc. Poltergeist activity in a remote Scottish bothy however is fresh. And scary.

Whether you believe in the paranormal or not is not for me to discuss here. But nevertheless, this show is undeniably a five brain podcast and very binge worthy indeed. Even if you listen to it, just scoff and say “yeah yeah, whatever Danny, these guys are having you on” I think you’ll still enjoy the creepy tales. I mean, a scary story is a scary story, whether it’s true or not.

You can get Uncanny here

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/brand/m0010x7c

Or wherever you get your podcasts

It’s not you, it’s me

The White Vault review

Production company – Fool & Scholar

Rating –

White Vault logo

This has been a hard one for me. It’s really not often that I give up on a series, but unfortunately I can’t go on with this one. I like to think that I’m a patient man, or maybe a cross between a pushover and a glutton for punishment. I’ll listen and watch most things, so it really takes something special to make me quit. Read on though and I’ll explain.

What’s it all about?

The White Vault is a Lovecraftian horror series. Its format is almost found footage in nature. Each episode has a brief introduction and recap, and then the main story begins. It’s mostly told in the form of recordings made by the team. “What team?” I hear you ask. Well read on and I’ll tell you.

Seasons 1 and 2 followed a team of engineers sent to outpost Fristed in Svalbard, the far north of Norway. The team of scientists who live at the outpost have broken contact and the rescue team get sent in to see what went wrong. Just as they arrive, a massive storm blows up and strands them there. That however, is the least of their worries.

Seasons 3 and 4 sees more snowy horror, but this time at the other end of the earth, in Patagonia. 

Season 5 returns to Svalbard, and that’s all I’m telling you!

But is it any good?

That’s a tough one really. This series frequently pops up when people ask for recommendations for podcasts on the various horror groups on Facebook, in fact that’s how I discovered it. There are certainly good elements here, and the production value is very high. Unfortunately, expensive special effects alone do not a good podcast make.

My main problem with this show is the voice acting. There are very few really good performances here. The actor who plays the main character Graham Casner sounds like he is doing a bad (circa fistful of dollars era) Clint Eastwood impression. I heard him being interviewed and it does seem to be his actual voice, which is unfortunate. As you will no doubt remember from my review of The Storage Papers, one thing that really bugs me is a flat delivery, especially when the actor is supposed to be in the action, rather than just telling a story. One thing that is guaranteed to drain all emotion from a performance is being a tough guy, and Graham Casner is a tough guy.

Final thoughts

Four years is quite a run, and producing five series in that time is no mean feat. I feel that the premise has been stretched to breaking point. There is nothing in season five that couldn’t have been included in an earlier season. 

As I finish writing this review, I have eight episodes of this series languishing in my “unplayed” list. Every time I open my podcast app it crosses my mind to listen to one, but I have so many others I’d rather listen to that this number will just get higher. Strangely enough though I can’t bring myself to unsubscribe. I guess that’s just the hoarder in me.

According to the credits on the series’ website. David Ault is on the cast. After my waxing lyrical about him previously, it goes to show how forgettable it is that I can’t remember him appearing in it.

Sometimes there is a real benefit for enthusiasm over experience, and there are plenty of podcasts that prove it. This however, isn’t one. I’ve made it all the way through to the fifth season, but I’m bowing out. As I said, it’s not you, it’s me.

You can find The White Vault here (should you want to):

www.thewhitevault.com

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

This Is Not Reality!

Rabbits review

Production company – PRA/Minnow Beats Whale

Rating –

Rabbits Logo

So here I am listening to a new episode of Rabbits, and some weird little thing gets mentioned, so I Google it. At the exact time Google shows up with no results, the actress (who I’ve zoned out to read the results) pipes up with “none of this is real you understand?” Never a truer word spoken! So on that fourth wall breaking note, let’s dive down the reality-bending rabbit hole of Rabbits.

What’s it all about?

Rabbits in the simplest possible terms is a game. Not a board game or a computer game though, Rabbits is more an Alternate Reality Game or ARG. It’s shrouded in mystery and most people haven’t heard of it, although even people playing will usually deny knowing anything about it.

Carly Parker’s friend Yumiko has disappeared. The police don’t seem too interested in finding her, they put it down to her being a “rebellious teenager” . As Carly starts looking into the disappearance though, she suspects that Yumiko had been playing an ARG called IX (9). It is called 9 because it’s the ninth iteration of a truly ancient game that over the years got unofficially renamed “Rabbits”.

Rabbits as it stands is a truly global game, with clues cropping up in random places all over the world. From a note posted on a board in a Milwaukee launderette, to an advert in a British newspaper or the high score table on an old arcade machine in a forgotten arcade. You never know where you’ll find a clue, but once you find the game, the game guides you.

Now being a game, there is apparently a way to “win” with rumours of cash prizes, and even recruitment into the CIA appearing on certain dark web message boards. On the flip side though the physical cost for playing is high, with equal rumours of death and insanity amongst players.

As she digs deeper into the disappearance, things start to get weird. Coincidences increase and it becomes apparent that she has started playing for herself. The question now is whether she can win, or whether she’ll just try to survive to the end.

Is it any good?

Yes, in my humble opinion it is brilliant. I love the way the story is written, how it mixes fact with fiction so cleanly you can’t see the joins. The characters are likeable, and the acting is great. I know that some people really have a problem with it, particularly episodes of season 2, and once upon a time I’d agree. I am now fully back down the rabbit hole though, and loving every reality warping minute.

Psychogeography has become something of a buzzword, particularly after Alan Moore’s book “Jerusalem” and the historical books about John Dee by Peter Aykroyd. Rabbits started out being described as an ARG, which certainly has a psychogeographic feel, but I think as the series progresses it became closer to mobile apps like Randonautica or Dérive. These thoughts are of no consequence however, just me digressing. Such research is worth delving into though, just for a bit of “real world” rabbits larking.

As I’ve said in previous posts, I love it when I listen to a show that fools me into searching for some weird little artefact, book or person just to draw a blank and realise that it was all made up. The podcasts by the PRA are responsible for more wasted google searches than any other I’ve listened to. Keep it up guys, its a testament to your writing that I do that.

Final thoughts

This series should be high on anyone’s “to listen” list. It’s one of the rare shows that I could easily restart from the beginning and enjoy, and the way it’s written it will probably reveal more tantalising little Easter eggs to find.

There wasn’t really any hesitation in me giving this a 5 brain rating. Sometimes I’ll have to weigh up pros and cons, maybe knock a brain off for something that niggles me. Not here though. It’s one of the better shows you could lose weeks to binge on.

You can listen to Rabbits here:

https://www.rabbitspodcast.com/

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

Creature Feature

The Byron Chronicles review

Rating –

The Byron Chronicles Logo

In life there are a few names that guarantee quality, whether it be electrical goods, cars or clothes. In the podcast world, one of those names is David Ault. I think the first time I heard him was probably on the Shadows At the Door Podcast, but I was soon hearing him showing up in The Magnus Archives, A Scottish Podcast and many others. I would have bet anything that a podcast featuring his voice talents would be well worth a listen. Until this one*.

This particular podcast started an incredible SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO! For some reason it had completely passed me by, until I heard one of the other shows I subscribe to do a collaboration episode with this one. I subscribed as soon as I heard the dry humour and deadpan delivery of Mr Ault, and at the first opportunity pressed play and waited to be entertained.

So what’s it about?

The titular Byron, aka “The Pale Man Of Portland” (voiced by Ault) is nothing if not an enigma. He is an ancient being of indeterminate origin, and indeterminate motives. The pilot episode, strangely enough not featuring Ault as Byron, sees him being contacted by Lucifer and the archangel Gabriel to capture the daughter of God and The Devil.

Here comes the first hole in the story. Byron is literally centuries old, and used to communing with all manner of supernatural and spiritual beings. I find it remarkable that he gets surprised at the concept that God can be either male or female as it sees fit (in this case to give birth to a daughter).

Maybe I should write the pilot off as teething troubles. After all, it must have been popular enough for them to make more episodes right?

Each series is about ten episodes, which covers four separate stories. Each story sees Byron and his sidekick, again called Sparrow (what is it with plucky female sidekicks called Sparrow?) Encounter a different supernatural being, from the aforementioned angels and demons, zombies, werewolves and vampires.

***SLIGHT SPOILER***

Their take on Father Christmas was brilliant, and a really good way to end series 1.

Is it any good?

Yes and no. After listening to the pilot episode I very nearly wrote it off. It really wasn’t very good at all. While the story was interesting enough, the acting was poor (check out the bartender in the pilot episode for a prime example).

The first proper episode showed more promise. Now we have David Ault as Byron and this time he gets kidnapped by a shady Vatican group to capture the original zombie. None other than Lazarus himself. This episode sets the style from here on out, Byron tasked to battle some supernatural foe, and reluctantly doing his duty with all the deadpan humour of someone who has seen (and engineered) civilisations to rise and fall.

Final thoughts

It reminds me of a cross between Doctor Who (a lot) crossed with the comic book character Constantine but written by Neil Gaiman. If you’re a sarcastic and cynical old sod (like I am), and you enjoy listening to sarcastic and cynical antiheroes, then despite the generally poor voice acting from 50% of the cast, then you’ll love this. As in Wormwood, it is possible to overlook the flaws and enjoy the series.

Do not take this as an admission that it is a fantastic series. It isn’t. There have been times that I have wanted to turn it off and forget all about it. Thankfully I have the patience of a saint, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt.

You may have guessed that I wrote this as I was listening to it. I’ve listened to the whole first series in a day, plus the Christmas special. Despite having a serious aversion to stories that deal with werewolves, vampires and talking dragons, I am interested to see where series two goes. I could have written this review after listening to every episode, but would anyone else have the patience to slog through many mediocre episodes to get to the good ones? 

Ultimately I gave this a four brain rating, but honestly, two and a half of those were just for David Ault being in it.

*I reserve the the right to eat my words at any time!

You can get The Byron Chronicles here:

https://ericbusbypresents.com/category/the-byron-chronicles/

Or wherever you get your podcasts

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