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Sci-fi podcast Down asks what’s really in the deepest holes on Earth

Sci-fi podcast Down asks what’s really in the deepest holes on Earth


Down is a sci-fi podcast about a crewed mission into a mysterious Antarctic hole that has opened up as a result of climate change, what will the crew find?



Humans



12 February 2020

New Scientist Default Image

What will a crew find in the Antarctic depths as they plumb a newly discovered trench?

Eye Em/Alamy Stock Photo

Podcast

Down
Definitely Human

WHAT mysteries await in the unexplored depths of the ocean? Down, a 24-part sci-fi podcast, poses this question as it follows a small crew on a submarine mission to explore a newly discovered ocean trench in the Antarctic.

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“The bottomless pit”, as it is rather unimaginatively named, is a “gaping hole on the surface of the Earth” revealed by climate change. Initial explorations by probes have gone further than the deepest depths plumbed to date – Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, about 11,000 metres. Now a crewed mission will go deeper still.

Our protagonist is Marion Straker, a famous marine biologist who is trying to throw herself back into work after a family tragedy. The rest of the crew consists of a curmudgeonly sea captain, a chilled-out ship’s engineer, a chirpy lab assistant and the anxious ship’s doctor.

Their hugely expensive Virgil submarine is paid for by the massive energy corporate Advantage, in a move arousing some suspicion among the crew, although they also wonder at the cutting-edge design of the sub with its own artificial intelligence. The corporate rep who directs the crew from dry land is a perfectly pitched super-keen mouthpiece for the energy company, from “geeking out” about having Straker on board to encouraging the crew to “keep it bouncy, yeah?”

The sound design is immersive enough to draw you in to the world of the show, and while the dialogue can be cheesy, knowing references to “red shirts” (crew members thought most likely to die in Star Trek were the ones wearing red) let us know that the show’s creators aren’t taking themselves too seriously.

The podcast zips along, with 10 to 15-minute episodes, and drops enough hints to keep you hooked. The characters’ occasionally meandering conversations about what to have for breakfast also contain clues to keep us guessing.

Is the captain right that the real purpose of the expedition is for Advantage to figure out the effects of such a mission on the crew? What happened to Straker’s brother? Will the “adaptive AI” become more of a sinister force? So far the only adapting it has done is to move from calling the captain “Charlie” to “Captain Charlie”.

Four episodes in, as we are finally confronted with what could be our first mysterious creature from the deep, comes the biggest question of all: what’s really down there?

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