The Cambridge Geek

The Orphans

I'm afraid you're just going to have to accept it's all podcasts, all the time, at the moment, as I'm trying to listen to all the fiction ones that'll be at the upcoming UK podcast convention, podUK.

Today it's the turn of The Orphans, a collection of astronauts who awoke in stasis tubes on the spaceship Venture, just as it was crashing into a planet. Unfortunately, there's not much they can do to prevent the falling from the sky bit, as the long sleep seems to have wiped all of their memories. All they have to survive are their wits and GeoFFRY, an artificially intelligent robot with a dim view of organics. (Seriously, you thought Marvin was bad?)

Baz, Nora, Olivia, Richard, Valerie and William find that the planet isn't a much better home than an exploding starship, being populated by "dogs" (monstrous bear-like pack hunters) and "biters" (humanoid creatures who try and do what their name implies). They've got to find food, shelter, something to let them fight off the troublesome predators, and if they're lucky, antibiotics.

Nora takes the lead fairly quickly, as the most competent and decisive, but the crew battle over the best way to do things. Along with this interpersonal conflict and the simple need to survive is a desire to investigate what caused them to land on the planet, and how they might escape it. The seven episodes of the first series cover their discoveries and attempts to get back into orbit.

It feels a lot like the start of a classic Doctor Who serial, specifically that bit before the Doctor shows up, and everyone's running around getting slaughtered by the monster of the week. This feeling doesn't go away, except here, the Doctor never actually appears, and the red shirts have to solve the problem all by themselves.

There's a lot of fun to be had with that, with a few science-fictional elements as they try to work out why they're being hunted, and what's in the mysterious dome they can see. It's got some pleasing bits of just about feasible jargon, balanced by a powerful realism in the consequences of the decisions they make. Got a decent soundscape that makes the violence properly grim, but does rely a bit too heavily on one particular dino-roar.

Better is the dialogue, which mostly avoids cliche, and manages to give sufficiently distinct life to what's really quite a large cast in a relatively short amount of time. Baz and GeoFFRY's more emotional moments are a particular favourite, but I'm also fond of Olivia's growth through the series. And it all comes together to a rather impressive climax.

There's another two seasons, and I'll definitely be listening to them.

Score 4

Tagged: Audio fiction Drama Cast Personal recording Science fiction Serial