The BBC is to launch an innovative sci-fi podcast series, featuring Doctor Who star Pearl Mackie, which imagines a world in which the world’s forests have been erased from history.
Created by Radio 4 as a 27-episode narrative, Forest 404 is the BBC’s most ambitious podcast to date.
It is accompanied by a national experiment looking at how listening to natural sounds could boost well-being and a factual guide to story’s environmental themes will be available alongside each episode.
Podcasts seeking under-35s
The BBC is targeting funds at podcasts, delivered through the BBC Sounds app, as a way of reaching listeners under 35 who have not caught the radio listening bug.
Some Radio 4 staff have complained that the move is leaving traditional programmes under-resourced.
The BBC said Forest 404 would deliver “a new listening experience to draw the audience deeper into the world of the podcast.”
Available as a BBC Sounds box set from Thursday, the project centres on a sci-fi thriller story, set in the 24th Century.
Mackie, who starred as Bill Potts in Doctor Who, voices Pan, a sound archivist who uncovers recordings from the early 21st century that haunt her.
Forest explorer Mackie. who played Bill Potts in Doctor Who (BBC)
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.
Written by Timothy X Atack, a Bruntwood Prize for playwriting winner, Forest 404 features an all-female cast including Bodyguard actress Pippa Haywood and Tanya Moodie (Sherlock).
'Why listen to trees?'
An “experimental immersive 3D soundscape” provides the backdrop to each episode, whilst real-life musicians, biofuturists, bioethicists and anthropologists explore questions such as “Why should I listen to trees?” and “Would you vote for an AI government?”.
Rhian Roberts, Radio 4 Digital Commissioner for Radio 4, said: “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.”
She added: “Podcasts also have that ability to pull us into a very close relationship with a story, we wanted the layered approach to draw listeners even more deeply into this twisted futuristic world.”