First Impressions: “Station to Station” A New and Unsettling Audio Drama Favorite

Station to Station is the newest seralized audio drama from Procyon, the network behind The Strange Case of Starship Iris and Under PressureStation to Station is a highly atmospheric podcast verging on the horror drama, but the show has decided for slow-burn suspense over up-front grisly details. From the Procyon website, here is Station to Station‘s description:

When Dr Miranda Quan embarks on a 10-week research cruise in the North Pacific, she expects two months of no-nonsense experiments, bad Titanic jokes and marathoning Grey’s Anatomy. Instead, her lab partner [Jonathan Costello] has vanished, leaving knee-deep in a mystery she has to solve with nothing but a notebook full of half-finished thoughts and a cassette tape with his last words. With a storm moving in and something sinister lurking below decks, Miranda must untangle the conspiracy surrounding her or be consumed.

It’s difficult to say much more about Station to Station‘s plot without giving too much away, so this review won’t focus on the plot. Leaving the plot out of the review, though, makes sense with Station to Station; with such strong character writing and production, the plot serves as more of a bonus to an already compelling podcast instead of its main draw.

Procyon’s network has a strong drive for character writing, and Station to Station upholds that tradition beautifully. Protagonist Dr. Miranda Quan is focused, antisocial, and rude–all of which she relatably laments to herself in her recordings. Miranda is an almost stereotypical self-loathing introvert, but the acting by Emily Wang and Jo Chiang (I’m honestly not sure when the switch happened or happens–I believe one may be the internal monologue?) make her feel realistic. Her motivation in both her work and her sleuthing feels genuine, and it’s easy to root for her even with her many, many flaws. Hunter Grin as Jonathan Costello transitions easily through a wide range of emotions without feeling forced or stilted. His cadence is quick and frenetic but natural, giving an air of quick wits and energy to the character without having to be explicit. Nadine El Amami gives a painfully charismatic performance as the energetic, sly Nelly Cochrane, a character who steals the show with just a few lines in early episodes before, thankfully, settling in as one of the main characters. Zach Libresco, Wolf 359‘s Warren Kepler, is unsurprisingly a wonderful addition to the cast.

The first episode–which you can read a full review for here–begins with its standard robotic voice episode introduction, followed by Miranda prefacing that the recording is not what she was asked to record, followed by the recording proper, in which Miranda says she is beginning the content she was asked to record. The story is then cut into even more by Miranda’s internal monologue–diegesis unclear–and Jonathan’s own recordings. The result is a podcast that’s easily to follow while still being aggressively atemporal. It’s not as easy a listen as a perfectly straightforward narrative, but the questions raised by the chronology, or lack thereof, make the show much more immersive.

That immersion is made even more tangible with the show’s production. The production for this show is also on par with big-name audio dramas like Wolf 359 or even Mischa Stanton works ars PARADOXICA or The Far Meridian. Each episode is laid on a foundation of deep, quiet bass rumble that adds an ominous, looming texture to much of the duration of the show. Instead of using bed music to set the scene or tone, the texture changes depending on where Miranda is on the ship: maybe here, that bass rumble is more audible, more forefront; maybe, there’s a single, quiet, high-pitched tone added to the mix. These aren’t incredibly novel methods for this genre, but what makes them refreshing is their subtlety. The ambient noises of the ship never distract. Some of the changes in how each segment is produced may not even be noticed until a second or third listen. Instead, the production feels organically tied to the tone of the show, something the listener can almost melt into instead of giving it too much focus.

Both the writing and production’s immersion allow the plotting of the show to take its time, and though it may feel like much of the plot is given away in the first episode. Station to Station is very good at tricking the listener with plot points that feel instrumental, but only wind up being foreshadowing for larger plot points only episodes later. This feels like a standard plot progression for a horror podcast, but on a second listen, the plot points in early episodes genuinely aren’t so pressing. They’re plot points the audience is prepared for, and they shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Because of how immersive the characters, writing, and production are, though, the listener experiences these moments alongside Miranda, making each feel shocking. Because the listener experiences everything with the narrator, the writing doesn’t have to keep pushing the plot to carry suspense; instead, the writing can take its time with each detail, making the real reveals even more tangible.

My complaints with Station to Station are small and very nitpicky. While most of the production is gorgeous, the production crew seems to have skipped the integral step of normalizing the episodes. This makes for some moments that are almost too quiet for headphones and some moments that are painfully loud. Still, I’ve heard plenty more famous, established shows with worse levels. I’m also not sure how the show’s theme song ties into the content at all–the ominous humming and glockenspiel feel too on-the-nose for this podcast, and I’m not sure if we’re supposed to know who’s humming or think of it as another question the show might answer. Either way, it feels strange and divorced from the rest of the show.

Small criticisms aside, Station to Station has become one of my favorite new audio dramas. It’s a show I plan on using if I need an example for how to have immersive production that isn’t distracting. With only five proper episodes out so far (and several character building mini-episodes), I already feel like I had more good things to say about this show than many others that have been running for years.

You can find Station to Station on the show’s website or on any major podcast streaming platform. Episodes 1-3 currently have transcripts posted. New episodes are released every other Tuesday.

6 thoughts on “First Impressions: “Station to Station” A New and Unsettling Audio Drama Favorite

  1. I would definitely agree with the statement that you made about normalizing. I use the Overcast app and it’s the only podcast that I listen to that I turn on the equalizer feature for (and occasional liveshows of other things). Station to Station’s greatest strength, I feel, is their good use of the medium. It’s one of the only shows I’ve listened to where the “oh am i recording this? huh, WEIRD” doesn’t feel super forced and instead makes it feel natural because there are actual reasons that the characters would be recording and not be using another form of media. This probably has to do with the production quality that you mentioned, as the audio really does feel like it’s being recorded on a ship sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad to hear I’m not alone with the normalization, and I completely agree about how they use the medium. This trope is usually one of my least favorite with audio dramas–I think discussing it was actually my first post here, wow–but this show pulls it off so elegantly.

      Liked by 1 person

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