Why you should care
Victoriocity’s clever wit puts the narrative genre on its ear.
Picture this: London is a sprawling megacity, populated by shifty, comical characters, with the heroes, a detective and a plucky journalist, trying to solve the mystery surrounding a scientist’s death. This may sound like a pretty standard BBC drama, except that Queen Victoria is a cyborg and a real-life architect is worshipped by a legion of laborers.
Welcome to Victoriocity, a narrative podcast in the radio dramatization tradition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Set in an alternate-universe Victorian England and filled with steampunk motifs like the aforementioned cyborg queen, Victoriocity follows Chief Inspector Archibald Fleet and journalist Clara Entwhistle as they chase gangland criminals through an enormous city known as Even Greater London. The script is witty and the production quality high; careful listeners will enjoy the historical references and in-jokes about London. In fact, the two six-episode seasons have so many jokes you may have to listen twice to catch them all.
Victoriocity’s story-driven format makes it part of a narrative podcast wave. Unlike a lot of the self-serious examples currently crowding the market, though, Victoriocity uses humor, going for madcap fun to make listeners care about its core characters. Plus, how many other narrative podcasts have Victorian architect Isambard Kingdom Brunel ruling an army of laborers forever building more and more bridges to nowhere in service to their engineer god-king?
The podcast is, admittedly, pretty bonkers.
Creators Chris and Jen Sugden, a couple based in Oxford, England, have an extensive theater background, which shows in the dialogue and their willingness to get weird. “We’ve always been drawn to the surreal and the extreme,” explains Chris. “And the bonkers,” adds Jen.
The podcast is, admittedly, pretty bonkers. Prior to Victoriocity, the Sugdens’ penchant for the surreal was evident in The Curiositorium, an Edinburgh Festival Fringe offering about a fantastical museum hidden below an ordinary museum. As writers, they clearly take pleasure in going out on a limb.
It’s become harder for small theater groups to get noticed at the Fringe, which has become so popular that it attracts big-name acts and the few reviewers can’t attend every show. As a way to stand out, the Sugdens decided to create a podcast — and a spectacular world — with relatively low production costs.
The learning curve on starting a podcast, especially a narrative-driven one full of foley effects, is steep. But with a crew of volunteer actors, and one very inventive sound designer, the Sugdens managed to create a successful first season, in 2017. The Kickstarter for season two met 180 percent of its goal funds and drove new fans to the show this past spring. But with such short seasons, it can be tough for creators — who spend weeks or months writing and recording a new season only to have fans binge every episode in a single day — to know how to proceed.
Listen to Episode 5: “The Tower”
The Sugdens say another Kickstarter, to create season three, is likely, though they haven’t started writing or fundraising yet. “We’ve got to figure out what the right story is,” Jen says. “Rather than just having a complete hiatus, it might be that we have a couple of little one-offs in the interim.”
As the second-season finale made clear, the protagonists are poised to embark on a whole new investigation, so the Victoriocity adventure is definitely not done yet.