Tag: BBC

Fisher King

Splinter Cell – Firewall review

Production company – BBC

Rating –

As I had mentioned in my review of The System, I’ve been a fan of the Splinter Cell franchise for years. So much so, that the mere sight of three green lights conjures the high pitched whistle sound that actually became a trademark of Ubisoft. Therefore, an audio drama was a definite instant subscription for me. But despite my love of the games, any games in fact, I tend to avoid the associated works of fiction. I’ve never even read any of the Star Wars stuff. And I LOVE Star Wars.

So am I now a convert to the world of canon expanding fanfic, or has this proved my fears that I shouldn’t stray from “proper” works? Well read on and I’ll tell you. 

So what’s it about?

The Splinter Cell games, and therefore this story, is set in the present day. It follows Sam Fisher, an operative for shady  government agency Fourth Echelon. He’s like a cross between James Bond and Rambo. His life involves getting dropped behind enemy lines to carry out covert missions that the public side of the US government won’t want to admit to.

This story follows him as he tries to thwart the machinations of billionaire tech wunderkind Brody Teague. This is a job that would be much easier were it not for the recent recruitment of Fisher’s daughter Sarah to Fourth Echelon, unbeknownst to Sam.

They, and the other Fourth Echelon agents are in a desperate race against time to prevent a new weapon from getting into the wrong hands. As the story progresses, Sam and Sarah gain a new found respect for each other, and Sarah’s true talents as a Fourth Echelon agent start to shine.

Is it any good?

Honestly, this isn’t a podcast that will keep you gripped through its entire runtime, even if you’re a fan of Splinter Cell. I appreciate that calling fanfic of computer games cliché is punching down somewhat, but I was rather disappointed.

For the most part, the acting is good. The brilliant Will Poulter voices Brody Teague, and does a phenonemal James Woods impression (whether intentional or not). There is one Russian antagonist though, who’s accent seems to be more well traveled than a fourth echelon agent. It tends to slip from Russian to Spanish, to Italian and back in that space of a few paragraphs of dialogue.

The dialogue in general also seems to veer towards cliché, particularly as the tension cranks up, with the antagonists going all “I don’t expect you to talk Mr Bond, I expect you to die”. This can be fun now and again, but it does start to grate later on

Sound design is very good. It is a BBC production after all, and does its best to keep the tension high. This helps a lot during some of the more dubious moments of acting. It does occasionally intrude on the actual acting a bit too much. This is understandable due to some of the bleaker locations featured, but a few

The character of Sam Fisher is well realized as well. Voiced by the improbably named Adonis Anthony, he is perfect as the war weary curmudgeon that we all know and love. To be honest, if they hadn’t got him well cast, it wouldn’t be much of a splinter cell story would it?

Final thoughts

Don’t get me wrong, this is a long way from the worst podcast I’ve ever had to endure. Overall it isn’t too bad. I think I may be being overly critical because I feel a bit let down. After mistakenly subscribing to a previous series thinking it was this one, I was already bristling slightly. By the time this story had concluded, It had not exceeded expectations at all.

I would recommend this to my son, I think he’d love it. If he had the patience to sit through a podcast.

You can listen to Splinter Cell: Firewall here

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001fn5r

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

It’s in the system…

The System review

Production company – BBC

Rating –

I feel somewhat tricked into this series. I was looking through the “recommended” list and saw a Tom Clancy Splinter Cell series so I subscribed. Not that I’m a massive Tom Clancy fan. In fact my only knowledge of his work is the Splinter Cell computer games. I figured maybe I should get to know the stories as well.

In the first episode they are talking about people with animal names. “Ah yes”, I  recall. “Something ocelot wasn’t it?” About 30 seconds later I remember that “something ocelot” was “revolver ocelot”, who was from Metal Gear Solid, not Splinter Cell. Old age doesn’t come alone I tell you.

So what’s it about?

The System is a rather gripping drama series focussing on the disappearance of Jake, a disillusioned young man with no prospects, stuck in a dead end job. His half sister Maya is thrown into a dark and violent world after a mysterious phone call from Jake telling her to recover a box from his flat. Following a near miss with some shady looking individuals who also seem to want the box, Maya is determined to uncover the truth.

From there, the story is told in a series of flashbacks that follow Jake’s initiation into “The System”, and the true motivation behind it. Is it just a seemingly innocent (but very intense) self improvement club, or something else? What is the meaning of the spooky list that ends in “Judgment Day”? And just who the hell is Beau Leech?

Is it any good?

It’s very good, yes. The series is well written, and the acting is very good. You may wonder then, why I rated it rather low. Essentially, the main plot thread is not as clever as I suspect the writers thought it was. In fact from quite early on you can see how this is going to play out. Having said that, whilst I did guess the general direction it was taking, the final piece of exposition that triggered the creation of The System was truly heart rending. 

The fact I guessed the twist is the only reason for the low score though. I highly recommend you give it a listen, if you don’t spot the clues, you’ll wonder why I didn’t give it a 5 brain rating. 

I desperately want to expand on the plot to compare it to other podcasts I’ve heard, but that will give the game away somewhat, so I will bite my tongue. As such this review will probably be a bit shorter than usual. When I get round to reviewing those podcasts though, I’ll be linking back to this one, so you’ll eventually see what I mean.

Final thoughts

This podcast series seems to have a diverse range of stories, the latest one being based on Splinter Cell. Each series is short enough to be binge worthy (fewer than 10 half hour episodes), and if the other stories. Rest assured I’ll be reviewing them all in due course. I may even skip to the Splinter Cell one next!

You can get The System here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000wdh0

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

Bloody Hell Harold

The Battersea Poltergeist review

Production company – BBC

Rating –

Battersea Poltergeist logo

I know I’ve already reviewed Uncanny, but this was my introduction to the brilliant Danny Robins. It cropped up in the recommendations in BBC sounds and it sounded interesting, so I gave it a go. As soon as the first episode started, I knew this was something special and I knew I was going to love it.

So what’s it about?

Everyone has heard of the film Poltergeist. Fewer people have heard of the real life case of The Enfield Poltergeist. Even fewer have heard of The Battersea Poltergeist. This is unfortunate, the Battersea case was somewhat overshadowed by the more infamous events at Enfield. While Enfield was certainly interesting, Battersea was equally terrifying and equally unexplainable. It was also nearly 20 years before Enfield.

This is probably the reason why it’s almost forgotten. By the 1970s, Britain was paranormal crazy. There were books, TV shows and films all cashing in, but in the post war society of the 50s there was a more pragmatic or sceptical approach to such claims.

In 1956, 15 year old Shirley Hitchings and her family started experiencing strange phenomena that would last an incredible 12 years. I say incredible, because the events at Enfield only lasted a few months. The case starts innocuously enough, as poltergeist cases usually do. Shirley found a silver key on her pillow, one that didn’t fit any locks in the house. Soon the whole family is being constantly terrorised, and the playful nature of the early events is gone.

The spirit (known as Donald) was responsible for moving furniture, throwing things and even starting a fire in the house. As the series progresses, it’s also heavily hinted that it was responsible for the death of Shirley’s Grandmother.

The podcast is a dramatisation of the events in question, interspersed with narration by Danny Robins. It follows the borderline obsessive investigation of the case by Harold Chibbett, played by the incredible Toby Jones. Dafne Keen, who has a long list of credits for someone so young, plays Shirley.

Is it any good?

Anything with Toby Jones is going to be excellent. I don’t think he’s done anything that was sub par. Also, anything by Danny Robins seems to be well worth your time too. As you’ll no doubt remember from my earlier review, I’m something of a fanboy.

Danny Robins actually has boxes of Chibbetts’ original case files and notes, and this is the basis of the series. During the course of the series Danny is holed up in his shed, surrounded by all the papers, and just like Chibbett decades before, the obsession is somewhat contagious. At one point Danny himself complains that his family are missing him due to the time he spends poring over the evidence.

The production values are high enough that you really get an immersive experience, and all the actors are doing an amazing job. The cast features lots of familiar voices, not just Jones’ and there is as much tension here as any good TV show or film. Actually there is more tension here, mainly because there aren’t any good TV shows or films being made. It seems that if you want a genuinely creepy experience nowadays, then you need to look towards podcasts and radio shows.

As well as the horror of the events, there is a real pathos here as well. There are a lot of people living in the house, and all the family members are put under an immense amount of stress. This is also very well portrayed by the cast, as is their suspicion of Harold when he first starts investigating. Poor Harold has to not only figure out exactly how to try and find out about the spirit, but he also has to try and gain the trust of some of the family.

Final thoughts

As with all BBC productions, it’s a joy to listen to. As is the case by now, Danny Robins’ excitement is contagious, as is his disbelief at the phenomena that occur.

If you’re interested in ghost stories, then you’ll love it. There is nothing not to like here. This is a great investigation into a little known (or rather, little known when this was originally released) case of poltergeist activity.

You can get The Battersea Poltergeist here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0940193

Or wherever you get your podcasts

Sinister, Dexter

The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward Review

Production company – BBC

Rating –

Case Of Charles Dexter Ward Logo

This podcast series has a lot to answer for. It was the first podcast I listened to, and if you’ve read my first review, this was the one that fooled me with all the meta storylines. It really did have me searching for things that didn’t exist (which is fine by me really). Although I’m using the title for the first series, this podcast by the venerable BBC actually comprises three different stories by the “Old Man Of Providence”, H.P. Lovecraft. I suspect a fourth will be in the pipeline after the way series three ended.

What’s it about?

The first series as mentioned, is a reimagining of The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward. It’s been updated to the present day, slightly rewritten and expanded. It follows podcaster Matthew Heaward and his associate Kennedy Fisher as they investigate the disappearance of Mr. Charles Dexter Ward from a psychiatric hospital. This is a treat if you’ve never read the original story because HPL’s writing can be… (No, not racist, I mean it can be but) “purple”. It’s rather florid and verbose (rather like me), and difficult for younger people to understand (also like me). Even if you have read the story before then this is possibly the best adaptation out there.

In updating the setting the writers have been able to significantly expand on the universe. A universe that now incorporates Charles Manson, Gerald Gardner and Aleister Crowley as parts of the Mythos. It also takes place in both America and the UK. As the series progresses they manage to build on that lovely paranoid feeling you get watching films like Rosemary’s Baby or The Wicker Man. You are under no illusions as the story progresses that there are operators in the shadows conspiring against Matthew and Kennedy.

Is it any good?

The weaving of fiction and historical fact together is really well done and never feels contrived. I mean let’s be honest, so many historical occult societies and conspiracies are often strange enough to be works of fiction. The first series deals a lot with the power of belief. The point is not whether something really happened or not, or is real or not, but if you believe in something enough then you can effect changes in reality. Thinking about that as I write, it makes me wonder if this could be some kind of hypersigil like The Invisibles by Grant Morrison was. Maybe that’s just me being a nut.

Rather than three standalone stories, all the three series link together, much like a campaign in an RPG. As I said, series one retells the Case Of Charles Dexter Ward. Series two was based on The Whisperer In Darkness, and the third series was The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Throughout the series you’ll hear references to other Lovecraft characters and locations. These little easter eggs are great fun to spot, one I’d originally missed was that the podcasts production company is called Red Hook.

Final thoughts

The characters are very well written and superbly acted, but then this is a BBC production and they have the advantages that most smaller drama podcasts don’t (production funds mainly). Beside that though, you’ll soon have favourite characters and you’ll be following each twist and turn with baited breath.

I have read on certain Facebook groups that a lot of people didn’t like this podcast. Upon reading the reasons for this, it seems that they completely missed the point that it was not only updated, but was a podcast about a podcast. I was amazed at this, and it is certainly no reason not to like it. TV is full of shows that do this kind meta story and get lauded for it. I guess this show did it a bit too well and fooled a lot of people.

I think you’ll like it though, you’ll plough through the episodes in no time and you’ll be waiting for series 4 like an excited child at Christmas (just like I am).

You can listen to it here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06spb8w

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

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