The UnXplained: What is real and what is fake?

Behind the Screen 17 November 2020

The UnXplained explores the world’s most fascinating mysteries and separates the fact from the fiction.

Star Trek’s iconic captain, William Shatner (he played James T Kirk in the ‘60s TV series and movies), is back on South African screens, filling us in with unsolved mysteries from around the world in S2 of his doccie series The UnXplained with William Shatner, Fridays on History (DStv 186) at 21:05 – hot on the heels of S1B, which launches on Friday, 20 November.

If you didn’t catch S1A in 2019, William and his crew investigate anything and everything mysterious, from werewolves to Japan’s infamous Suicide Forest, hoping to explain the phenomena and what’s behind it.

“The UnXplained deals, obviously, with things that have no explanation. And to go on a bit, we’re surrounded by mystery. You know, life after death being the big one, what started the universe and all that kind of thing. Those are the big mysteries. Much too big for our show,” says William.

“One of the episodes is about premonition. What is premonition? How do people know what might happen in the future? When 9/11 (the terrorist attacks on the US in September 2001) took place here, all these years ago? It’s the most dramatic example that we could think of when people had a premonition of planes flying into buildings. What’s the explanation behind that?”

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Mystery man

The UnXplained isn’t William’s first time hosting a doccie series (remember him as the mid-’90s as host of Rescue 9-1-1?), but it’s certainly one that is very important to him – and the viewers – because of the subject matter, which attracts inquiring minds. “I read a lot. And I’m propelled into the mysterious things about humans,” says the show host.

What can we expect from S2 of The UnXplained? That much William can Xplain…

You mentioned premonition as an episode. We’ve all heard about Nostradamus and other “prophets” who predict the future…

What’s the explanation behind all kinds of people, some whom you might even know, saying, “I’m afraid that this is going to happen,” and it happens? How do they know? What does that say about our existence? If they see something in the future, and it happens, does that mean the future has already happened? Premonitions are a very strange thing in our lives that have no explanation. So The UnXplained is that kind of show.

You’ve done about 28 episodes for the show so far; does any one particular episode stand out for you?

There are so many episodes already, and we’ve done a lot more than what we’re showing. In each one of them, some of the subject matter is so incredibly interesting, especially if there’s a mystical element to it. The Polynesians found their way around the South Pacific, tens of thousands of square miles of ocean, and they were able to navigate it. The Europeans took 200 years to discover the islands of Tahiti and Hawaii. But the Polynesians found them. How did they know what it was? It’s that kind of thing that amazes me. We’re doing an episode on Egyptian mummies (for S3). And they (scientists) have been able to energise some of the DNA on a mummy and gone so far as to bring the voice box back to life. And there, we’re hearing it’s a kind of a hum, but this 3,000-year-old priest is humming because they’ve been able to manufacture his larynx, and then putting air through it. So we’re hearing a sound that this Egyptian priest must have made 3,000 years ago. It’s absolutely stunning.

Is there any mystery that’s been on your mind for a long time?

Cults! What’s the mystery? What’s the answer behind a cult? What is the answer to all those people who would commit suicide with their cult leader? The answer to those things. So we present the mystery of humankind’s behaviour, which is the most mysterious of all. And voodoo, black magic. Somebody sticks a needle in a doll and the person who the doll is an image of drops dead. How’s that possible?

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South African audiences know all about the mysterious Oak Island (History has the doccie series The Curse of Oak Island up to S8) and that’s your first episode this season.

I knew nothing of it, so I went to Oak Island. Everybody’s digging there because, purportedly, there is a treasure somewhere. But the whole thing about Oak Island is so mysterious. It was 200 years ago, some kids playing on the shore that the island fronted on, like you could see the island from the shore, saw there was a light there on an uninhabited island and the kids got in a boat. They rowed over there, and they found a hole in the ground. And over the years, they were digging in the hole every so often, every 90 feet (27,5m), they’d reach a man-made obstacle, a stone that had carvings on. And they kept digging and digging and digging, until they got to about 120 feet (36,5m), I think it was. And they pulled out another stone and a water came in and flooded the whole thing. That was 200 years ago. How did that happen? What is there?

If there is such a thing as a curse, there seems to be a curse on there. The curse was enunciated and said, “Six, six people will die,” and six people have died. Yet people go there. It may be just the act of waiting for fate to give them something, or the act of searching for fortune, like gambling in Las Vegas, where you spin the ball and hope it lands. I don’t know what the answer is. But over a long period of time, people have gone there to seek their fortune. There’s even the possibility that some of the pirate riches taken during the sailing ship days are buried there on Oak Island. And they were dug up during the American Revolution and the American Revolution was financed by pirate treasure. So there’s all this mystery going on at Oak Island that nobody knows for sure, it has no explanation – but it sure is mysterious.

So are you getting some answers?

Very much so. I read a lot. There’s a book I read called Underland by Robert McFarlane. He writes about all the mysterious things that happen underground. I’ve suggested another hour (to the producers) of the mysterious things that are underground, like the paintings on the cave walls. There’s that one in France, which people have speculated about, but there’s even a more mysterious one off the Orkney Islands in Scotland – the entrance is underwater, a low cave. You have to be able to go under the water to get into the cave. And you realise that the beautiful paintings on the walls were made 50,000 years ago by people with a torch for light. They skilfully drew the animals on the walls of the cave under flickering light. How did they get in and out of these remote islands? Nobody knows. It’s a total mystery. But there is humanity creating art on the walls of a cave. Obscure places like the Orkney Islands. Why? How?

All those man-made things that have come and gone, civilizations that have come and gone, great civilizations whose remnants remain, and we dig them up always say, “How did they move this giant stone from here to there?” And there’s no explanation. That’s one of the big things. How did those megaliths get moved? You know, 100 miles, whatever, that they move them?

Nobody knows.

Watch The UnXplained with William Shatner, S1B Fridays from 20 November on History (DStv 186) at 20:15

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How to watch The UnXplained with William Shatner

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