Tracks Q&A

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(Warning: SPOILERS – if you haven’t finished listening to Tracks – don’t read on.)


Here are a few of the questions sent to me over the past few months. …Some easier to address than others… It would be reductive to give guide to all the sub-text in the series – so, for story questions, I’ll try to answer by pointing to what we hear in the broadcasts …

First, a couple of easy ones!

Who did the music?

The Tracks theme (at the beginning and end of most episodes) is an original piece written for the show by Stu Barker (of Kneehigh Theatre company.) I’ve made a list of some of the other artists/themes we used Here. I detailed music choices in the writing of the scripts – the directors then had the final call in the edit.

Where were the sounds sourced – eg the sound of the aeroplane?

The BBC has a huge sound library, new stuff constantly added. If Audio supervisors can’t find what they want they create or record the sound themselves. (I believe the aeroplane sound was in the library, and treated to suit our needs.)

What was so extraordinary about Ruth’s death?

“She was speaking, but shouldn’t have been.”

Ruth’s head is hanging by a thread. It is miraculous that she is conscious and able to speak at all. She is between life and death.

“I saw them put her into two body bags.”

Who forced Freddy’s car off the road in Dartmoor? (ep4)

Helen is driving erratically, very fast – highly agitated– on the edge of a panic attack, manically putting clues together about Padinc’s activities: the bombs in bodies, and how this might affect K. It’s possible someone is following – Padinc security? The police? The Koreans? Someone else? ..Or it could be an aspect of Helen’s paranoia at this heightened moment. Either way – at high speed, in the dark, on unfamiliar twisty roads, she totally loses control of the car, and crashes.

Why did the Koreans love Helen so much?

When we first meet the Koreans (episode 3) they are looking for Florian – and see Helen as a way to get to him. (They believe Florian is the only man who has the expertise to help Kyung-Hwan.)

After Florian’s death, they purpose to go to Russia with K and Helen. Why? In Ep8 towards the end, in an easy to miss moment, they tell Helen that they have “Seen the film.”

The film is the one Florian made of Helen/Elizabeth’s operation (Fisker Lee shows some of it to Helen in Ep9.)

The Koreans have seen Florian’s successful work in action, and therefore believe that the answer to curing K is by looking at what he did to Helen’s brain.

They believe Helen is the key to the survival of their family – they need her.

In ep8 we also discover that they’re a family from a Korean religious tradition of ancestor worship – a worship of origins. In translation they express this as familial love – their love of family extends to Helen in these circumstances.

Why did someone say that Helen had brought the plane down?

It happens in a dream at the beginning of ep8 while Helen is still suffering from the blood loss she experienced in Ep7.

Tracks is always from Helen’s POV – and this extends occasionally into her sub-conscious.

In the dream she remembers meeting the pilot, Tim Kinneally, in the crash field. But in the dream version of this, he tells her that she brought the plane down. Helen’s sub-conscious is telling her that she is responsible for the crash.

Did the pilot survive by accident or was there another reason?

People at the front of the plane had a better chance of survival. This is why both Charles Shaw and Ruth Powell were still conscious in the crash field –and why K and the pilot survived. (Others were killed instantly.)

The first official report into the crash (ep 3) reveals that there had been “engine part failure, coupled with heat of the moment human error” – but that the pilot’s actions were “entirely without malice of intention.”

This suggests he did something wrong.

If Tim Kinneally was able to make the plane lurch to one side to avoid the primary school, then is it possible he was also able to give himself a better chance of survival in the way the plane crashed too? This action would certainly deepen his survivor guilt…

Whether this means he was part of a conspiracy to bring the plane down is another matter of interpretation.

Who are we supposed to conclude were the parties who brought the plane down – most wanted to see it happen?

Tracks is always from Helen’s POV. By the end no one has taken responsibility for bringing the plane down, and no one has confessed to Helen that they did it. So she doesn’t know for certain – and neither do we. (This seems pretty realistic.)

However, Helen’s instincts are very strong (and she’s often right.) By the end, she has decided who the ‘dark forces’ are that brought the plane down.

What leads her to this is –the information she gets from Tim Kinneally in Ep8 about the air steward, the way she is treated by Fisker Lee in Shanghai in Ep9, and from what she understands happened to the boy K.

There is good circumstantial evidence for her thinking… Even if the Shanghai connection is not entirely conclusive…. And there are other possibilities.

Why, dramatically, did Michael have to die?

At the start of the story Helen is cold, remote, controlled. Through the story she grows emotionally and she gives way to chaos. This happens as she ‘loses people’ – Florian, Michael, her Mother, and even Freddy…

With Michael’s death she reaches a key level of emotional engagement/connection– she opens up – and feels deeply.

(eg – she now feels emotional empathy for Mrs Trewin her cancer patient.)

Michael had always been a stabilizing force in her life. Enabling denial. In order to understand who she is, Helen had to become unstable – lose everyone. The answer to the conspiracy is the answer to who she is – and this was always going to be found in chaos – Michael kept the real chaos at bay, so he had to die for Helen to find the answer.

Surely Helen’s Mother must have been aware of what’s been going on with Elizabeth? Was Florian really so secretive, or was the Mother trying to hide the truth / protect Helen?

Helen’s Mother (Rosie) is in denial – a powerful, complex denial borne out of grief and fear.

At the end of ep 9 she tells Helen – “I didn’t let him tell me.”

Rosie knew something was going on – but not what. She didn’t want to know.

Her grief for Elizabeth obliterated all (Evidence of this is in Ep7 when Helen describes waking and seeing Rosie sitting on the end of the bed.)

Rosie was trying to protect Helen from the truth but didn’t herself dare know the nature of that truth. …She knew but didn’t know…

To some extent, this speaks of a generation, class, circumstance, and also a particular personality – all in alignment…

Ironically Rosie is fearless when it comes to physical pain – the cut finger in ep 1 – ‘it’s only pain’ – the guards’ actions in ep 7 – but she is terrified of psychological pain. She can’t deal with it

Which, if any, life stories inspired the story of Tracks?

Here are a few of the real stories investigated during the writing process:

Dr. Sergio Canavero – an Italian neurosurgeon. He is planning to carry out a 36-hour head transplant in China in 2017.

Valery Spiridonov, a terminally ill computer scientist from Russia, who is set to become the first patient.

Vladimir Demikhov, a Russian doctor who worked in the gulags from the 1930s – 50s – an early experimenter in warm organ transplantation. Demikhov performed head transplants on dogs and monkeys. (And possibly went further…) Archive film of his work is available on YouTube… if you can stomach it.

Ilya Ivanovih Ivanov. Between 1917 and 1930, Ivanov experimented on an inter-species hybridization experiment – an attempt to create a hybrid human-ape. (This was state funded to create a man-ape army for Stalin!)

News articles concerning the 10,000+ refugee children who arrived in Europe from the Middle East last year, whom Europol say are now missing. (Inc the Swedish town that reported 1,000 missing children last year in one month alone.)

Numerous news articles reporting on the current and developing international ‘red market’ – illegal organ removal and transplantation, and human trafficking for medical purposes around the world.

Reports on plane crashes around the world.

Ophthalmologist patient case studies.

Reports/Case studies concerning rare brain conditions, and neurosurgery.

Did the discourse on medical ethics inform your inspiration?

I was interested in the morality of what are considered transgressive medical procedures, and the questions arising out of these complex non-binary matters. But this was also genre drama and I’m no academic.

Which clues might I have missed along the journey?

Don’t know which clues you missed – but most eps should bear repeat listening!

The ending confused me. She was holding her own squelchy brain matter. When she escaped, did she take it with her and then transplant it into a child? (Following in her father’s footsteps?

The short answer to this is no…

A few people have asked about the ending. Here’s what was heard. Helen discovered that, when she was a child, Florian took her to China, where he removed a brain tumour from her head – as well as some, but not all, of her brain matter

(Helen had already discovered that Florian did this same thing to Ruth’s daughter Hannah Powell in episode 3.)

Florian then put some of Elizabeth’s brain into Helen’s head. He united the two girls – brought them together – an augmentation.

So both Helen and Elizabeth grew up together in Helen’s head – they combined, survived – became one.

The matter that Fisker Lee puts in Helen’s hands is some of her brain – but not all of it.

(Side note: In a piece of dialogue we cut from the final edit – Fisker Lee wonders if Florian left Helen with her original Habenula – so that one of the things she kept of her own brain was her primal sense of dread. He also reveals that a side affect of the procedure was the panic attacks.)

A little later, Helen discovers from the film, of Florian’s speech after the operation, that he did the procedure out of a sense of love for his children.

On the beach…. Helen is having a conversation with herself. (She characterises this as a conversation with Elizabeth as a child.)

When we first meet Helen in Ep 1 she has always been dislocated, hard, cold, difficult… (She even tells Michael she doesn’t love him.)

She doesn’t like or accept herself.

…But by the time she gets to the beach in Ep9 this has changed…


Matthew Broughton

20 thoughts on “Tracks Q&A

  1. I finished the podcast on Ep9 this afternoon and then read this blog. Now I’m going to have to start again at the beginning… there goes another 6½ hours!

  2. A wonderful piece of writing resulting in an excellent radio drama and complimented by an excellent cast. Well done to all involved. Probably all for less than 5 minutes of rubbish on BBC One. Paying my licence fee this year will (almost), be a pleasure. Any thoughts about a TV version, with the same cast?

  3. Just wanted to say that tracks was the most gripping, powerful & difficult drama I have ever listened to… a true masterpiece.


  4. Pingback: Tracks | Review of anything

  5. Thanks for this Q&A, very enlightening, and interesting to see that apparently even you don’t know what ‘really’ happened – all adds to the unsettling and dreamlike quality of the drama.

  6. Thank you for an excellent and engrossing piece of radio drama- have just finished the final episode. Great cast, tight plotting and a nice use of anatomy of the brain as themes for each episode. Brilliant!

  7. Pingback: Tracks | Matthew Broughton's Blog

  8. In ep6, when Michale dies, it sounds like he says, “Eve, no”. Is that right? Who is Eve? Or did he say, “Leave, no”? Silly question given the deeper mysteries in this story, but it’s bugging me!

  9. Loved listening to Tracks as it was intriguing, entertaining and gave food for thought as well as being well dramatized., but I would really love to read it as a novel too. No chance of that, I suppose??

  10. Mathew – really looking forward to s2. I have been meaning to ask this for a year:
    Why did Florian kill himself – and say it was OK as long as his head survived? If the reason he jumped was to avoid his chasers, surely them finding his head and resurrecting puts him right back in their power?

    • Hi Malcolm, I don’t think he was planning to kill himself – he jumped from the bridge to escape and gambled that if he managed to protect his head on impact with the water he’d survive the fall. (IE not become unconscious and therefore drown.) It was a misjudgement on his part!

  11. I absolutely loved this. I binged listened all 9 episodes. The writing and acting is the best I’ve heard in years. I would love to listen to more quality work like this.

  12. I’ve always wondered about the size and the route of the plane. Was there a plane model in mind, and a flight route? It sounded like a substantial jet, but the short flight distance, smaller airport, and piece of dialogue (“it looked small in the sky, but on the ground…”) make a small plane seem more fitting.

    • We discussed this quite a lot when deciding how big the crash would be. In the series it’s a small-ish plane with seating for around 50 passengers. Something similar to an ‘Embraer ERJ-145.’ In the drama it was chartered for a flight from London to a fictional airport in West Wales called ‘Penbury.’ (There are small airports in that part of the world but we didn’t specify a real one.)

  13. Hi
    Both series were excellent and engrossing; intelligent and cryptic. Beautifully written and acted. The week’s gap between episodes meant some disconnect – trying to remember things – but I was glad that we were not spoon fed with a summary of ‘previously on Tracks.’
    Thought provoking ideas – thanks Matthew – dare we hope for a third series?

    • Hi – Thanks! Strictly speaking TRACKS CHIMERA was the third series. (The 2nd series was much shorter – short form – and a prequel to the first series. It was called TRACKS STRATA.)

      But it was Chimera that continued the story on from the first series.

      And – yes – there will be more from the world of Tracks later this year.


  14. Hi Matthew, i wonder if you can help ? I’m trying to track down a sond used in series 4 episodes 7 8 & 10, it’s a very ambient piece of music with no drums. hope to hear from you – Ross

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