Tea in the Sahara
Kev – Fiction Podcast Critic
Quick Q, what do pioneering metal band Motorhead and this week’s podcast review have in common? Well, actually nothing — yet equally at the same time to me, they have grown to become guilty listening pleasures of mine.
I first came across ‘Fathom’ a few months back on holiday and am totally psyched to finally bring you a solid review about this incredible podcast. Side note — if you were a fan of the 1980s film Abyss, Fathom is in a similar vein, minus Ed Harris.
Fathom is also a prequel series set before the second continuation series which will be titled ‘Derelict’.
Writer & director J. Barton Mitchell appears a refreshingly creative & humble chap who offers candid explanations into the production of the show — including all challenges faced during those two rather annoying two years the world had off.
The backdrop for this vast storyline is set within Fathom a secret lab set nineteen thousand feet on the ocean floor where a small crew of scientists examine a colossal alien artefact called the vault. Project director Dr Eva Graff — Elizabeth Laidlaw — is employed by Maas-Dorian the Skynet of this dark submerged world to survey the vault.
As with all suspense-themed sci-fi podcasts three miles underwater things never quite go tickety-boo, do they? The first arc of the story follows Eva navigating a tidal surge and damaged superstructure whilst being manipulated by the base’s virtual intelligence system MAC to open the vault.
Now for the really skilful part about this audio drama. During the first episode, we are introduced to key characters — including Dani Payne as Sarah Klayton — who you will follow from episode five with the second arc of this ingenious plotline. A short intro yes, but nevertheless a nice touch that I overlooked upon first listen.
The writer’s vision to include two simultaneous plotlines running closely together made this podcast for me. Rather than compartmentalize the listener into one storyline you are given two different plots for your listening pleasure – huzzah!
This is not the first time I have heard this crossover format within a scripted podcast, however, it is possibly the most successful execution of bridging storylines that I have listened to.
Kev’s Outstanding Acting Performance Awards go to both Elizabeth Laidlaw as Eva Graff, and Dani Payne as Sarah Klayton respectively. Worthy mention should also be bestowed on Michael Mau as agent Blayne for adding stoic action man behaviour, with just the right dose of dry witty humour to boot. However, I would like to chat about MAC — as himself — the OG virtual intelligence villain who never dies!
There are numerous ace scenes with MAC but the one where Eva is standing above the vault, connects the dots, establishing that MAC was the architect for the deaths and catastrophe at Fathom base amongst spiking radiation levels made for a sensory feast I can tell you. This interplay between Eva & MAC shifts the relationship dynamics from human beings & machines to something one could describe as a toxic relationship with wants & needs.
I will also quickly mention that Dani Payne as Sarah Klayton completely had me fooled with her outstanding 10/10 British accent!
Generally pacing is good with the show providing enough high-tempo action alongside story development to keep your interests piqued. I will state that the episodes are lengthy — so if you’re going for a drive/walk to indulge I’d allow at least about fifty mins.
Straight to the point should you listen to Fathom?
Well yes, but with a few caveats.
Those who follow my reviews know I am a sucker for a suspense thriller sci-fi which is set underwater, and Fathom provided just the right antidote for my personal sci-fi podcast fix. As a critic, I strongly believe that the tight team behind this epic podcast really have created a new voice within audio drama. A world where Fathom’s world-building efforts would easily give Minecraft a run for its money!
Speaking of audio quality Fathom is definitely up there with some of the big-hitting production companies who have the cash to splash. The level of detail around sound effects like rising bubbles, killer robots, and creaking bulkheads ticking in the background is seriously insane. No joke, to my mind it honestly felt like the audio effects within this show added another member to the cast by piling on the tension.
The subtle way background music within this podcast is woven into particular scenes to heighten the moment should also be noted. I even named one of the musical scores ‘MAC’s theme’ for when MAC was delivering the villain’s rationale for why the antihero should cease with their bid for survival. For further listening, you should definitely check out Makeup and Vanity Set on Spotify.
Okay, time for me to be the bad guy in the play. However amazing the standards of Fathom are there have been massive delays between episode drops — which to be fair J. Barton Mitchell does acknowledge this and provides reasonable explanations for said delays.
Now, the problem with such lengthy delays between episodes is that you can easily be forgotten within the plethora of other podcasts that are out there – harsh but true.
Maybe this next gripe is personal, but within some scenes where actors talk super technical terminology about mainframes and jargon like that, I found myself focussing on what that actually meant rather than what was happening within the scene. A minor niche flaw I know, but one I felt I needed to get off my chest.
Obviously for those who have phobias linked with water this podcast is not going to be your bag. But for those who enjoy suspense-filled action, with extensive world-building, you will be all over Fathom like a cheap suit.
Going in strong with a two-footed challenge, this week’s scores for Fathom look like this.
Overall score – 4.9/5 – audio quality 5/5
Finally, when I mention that the team behind this amazing podcast are tight take a look at the credit list below for the series. For such a small team they have delivered something unique within sci-fi audio drama — and no doubt that all this was achieved on a modest budget!
Let’s try and get behind these ingenious creative types and help them continue to do what they do best by delivering dope podcast content! How can this be achieved you might ask? With reviews like this, or via your socials — or perhaps through their patron page which can be found via their website – www.derelictpodcast.com
Fathom can be found on Spotify & Apple Podcast.
Cast & crew
Elizabeth Laidlaw – EVA GRAFF
Eli Goodman – JOE FREEMAN
Dani Payne – SARAH KLAYTON
Michael Mau – BLAYNE
Brian Grey – REESE
Nina Garnet – FRITZ
Jonathan Olivares – ALVAREZ
Kristin E. Ellis – BRYNN EMERSON
Anka Ivanisevic – ELSA GEHRING
Samuel P. Finnegan – GAYLEN ROSS
FATHOM is created, written, and directed by J. Barton Mitchell
Produced by Kirsten Rudberg, Elizabeth Laidlaw and Thomas Barker
Features original music by Makeup and Vanity Set, Luke Atencio, and Ryan Taubert
Sound design and editing by J. Barton Mitchell; additional sound design by Music Radio Creative