Doctor Who’s Pearl Mackie to star in new sci-fi podcast drama

Forest 404 is described as a “genuinely experimental” look at conservation and society

Pearl Mackie in BBC podcast Forest 404

Former Doctor Who star Pearl Mackie is set to take the lead in an experimental new scripted podcast, playing a far-future sound archivist who uses old recordings to discover why the forests of the 21st century all perished.

Advertisement

Described as one of BBC Radio 4’s “most ambitious podcast projects to date,” Forest 404 is a nine-part sic-fi thriller with an all-female cast including Sherlock’s Tanya Moodie and Bodyguard’s Pippa Haywood. The series is written by Timothy X Atack.

The synopsis is as follows:

Set in the 24th Century following a data crash called The Cataclysm, Timothy X Atack’s thriller follows Pan (Pearl Mackie), a sound archivist who uncovers some sound recordings from the early 21st century that haunt her. They are recordings of rainforests, places which no longer exist, and Pan feels compelled to hunt down the truth about how the forests of the old world died.

But that’s not all. Unusually, every episode of Forest 404 also comes accompanied by a factual talk which apparently “guides listeners through different themes of the drama” as well as a separate “experimental soundscape,” turning each instalment into a three-part experience and technically making the whole thing a 27-part podcast.

Accompanying talks will be delivered by a wide range of musicians, scientists and anthropologists, while soundscapes are designed by Graham Wild and Becky Ripley in immersive 3D “binaural” sound. The series’ theme music is by British musician Bonobo.

“Podcasting gives us the chance to play with sound and form away from the classic radio schedule, it allows the whole shape and format of Forest 404 to be genuinely experimental,” Radio 4’s Digital Commissioner Rhian Roberts said.

“With this multi-layered podcast we’re building on Radio 4’s track record of commissioning innovative, different sounding digital-first dramas.

“It weaves the best of Radio 4 together; a rollercoaster of a story that’s unnervingly timely, with talks that bring footnotes to life, providing the insight and facts behind the drama. These go along with the third element of bespoke soundscapes – so you can try out what effect the mixes have on your own brain.”

The project has also been revealed to be accompanied by a spin-off investigation called Forest 404: The Experiment, which aims to explore the therapeutic effects of sound – specifically how the British public respond to nature-based sounds.

“A large body of evidence shows that spending time in natural environments can have positive effects on people’s wellbeing,” lead researcher Alex Smalley said.

“But we know very little about the importance of sound in this relationship. Could simply listening to birdsong or waves lapping on the beach be enough to help people recover from a stressful situation? The effects won’t be the same for everyone, so we want as many people as possible to take part in this study, helping us uncover what works and why.”

So yes, there’s a lot to process here but in short – Pearl Mackie is moving slightly back into the sci-fi world by joining this new podcast, which will have a LOT of accompanying parts. Hopefully we can make it to release before they announce another four tie-ins and a spin-off musical.

Advertisement

BBC Radio 4’s Forest 404 will be available as a podcast box set on BBC Sounds from Thursday 4 April. To take part in the Forest 404 Experiment, complete the online survey at www.bbc.co.uk/forest