The Cambridge Geek

The time is 1887, the place is Even Greater London. Victoria is Queen, despite 13 assassinations (note, that's not "attempts"), and her hideous half-mechanical half-organic form, repaired after every death by the Royal Medical Engineers, rules over the British Isles with a literal iron fist. She also contains Albert, who is trapped inside her, for reasons.

The steampunk-ish setting has shades of Ben Moor's Undone, as well as Tesla's fever dreams, with the London that now stretches across half of England being powered by The Tower. This provides electricity through the air, allowing constant expansion by the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel's army of single-minded labourers, but having the slight problem of making everything just a bit static-y.

Into this world comes Clara Entwhistle, a moneyed young lady from Oop North, determined to make her way in the world by actually having a salary, and not just for doing cross-stitch. Naturally her mother is scadalised, but she sticks it out as London's newest crime reporter anyway. Her first investigation? Looking into the mysterious death of Dr. Salik, a perfectly sane scientist involved in work on The Tower.

She's getting in the way of Archibald Fleet, the Inspector who is actually meant to be solving all of these crimes, but naturally the duo solve their differences and learn to work together by the end of it to defeat evil. Just like the Police and Press are expressly forbidden from doing.

Around them are a cast of ludicrous characters, including the aforementioned Queen and Brunel, but also the Warders of the Tower, and their mysterious Ravens (probably my favourite characters). There's also the collection of cameo ne'er-do-wells, from street urchins, to extortionate cabbies, all the way up to stock in trade con artists. Probably one of the most impressive parts of this is just how well developed the world around the core cast is.

That's helped along by the pedigree of everyone involved. The writers have been doing sketch for a long time as The Dead Secrets, and all of the production team have done a bit too much theatre. This also stretches to the actors, with Layla Katib (Entwhistle) having done a lot of historical romance, and Tom Crowley (Fleet) having featured so heavily in Wooden Overcoats. That was a slight downside, as it was hard not to hear him as "Chapmaaaan!", but still fun.

A similar feel in certain respects to Bleak Expectations, with the mad combination of Victorian London and silly technology, and equal production values as well. It's an excellently put together work, with my one gripe being that it occasionally relies perhaps too strongly on the narrator (vaguely "Guide" inspired) to explain some of the more complex plot streams. This has conspiracy crashed onto counter-conspiracy, and sometimes it needs more straight explaining than feels quite natural.

Absolutely worth a listen though.

Score 5

Tagged: Audio fiction Comedy Cast Dramatised Urban fantasy Serial