The Magnus Archives Review
Production Company – Rusty Quill
The Magnus Archives was the second podcast I ever listened to. It’s also one of my all time favourites. Indeed, it seems that it is the favourite of an awful lot of people too. I mean, since its release there’s been a glut of podcasts with archives/papers/records in the title that all share a somewhat similar premise. I guess imitation is the greatest form of flattery eh?
What’s it all about then?
The general plot is as follows. Cynical researcher Jonathan Sims gets “promoted” to the job of head archivist at the mysterious Magnus Institute. It’s a job he’s not really keen on from the outset. The previous archivist has passed away leaving the records in shocking disarray. Almost at once he realises it’s not going to be as easy as he first thought. His main job is to record the old handwritten and typed archives to tape. For some reason, digital audio doesn’t work in the institute, and organise them as best he can.
He discovers strange first hand accounts of occurrences that are frankly unbelievable, at first glance unrelated, and are initially met with skepticism. As the series’ progress though, the separate stories start to intertwine and even Mr Sims starts to believe the incredible and realise that things are not what they seem.
Jonathan Sims’ voice is perfect for narrating these stories. To be honest, I’d listen to him reading the back of a cereal box. He has an almost emotionless tone that rarely portrays anything other than his seeming regret for taking the job. In the early episodes they are almost entirely his solo narrations, with few other characters appearing, although as the series progresses so other characters play more of a part. The soporific effect of this would make it a perfect bedtime podcast if the stories weren’t so weird and creepy.
His lack of emotion is a trait that causes no end of irritation to the other characters that appear in the story, and it tests even his closest friendships at times. He is a man who does not suffer fools gladly, or anyone else for that matter. He’s also reluctant to take advice and just seems to have real problems dealing with other people on an emotional level in general. This is a point that does get some explanation in the later series’.
So is it one story arc or more of a portmanteau?
Early in the series, each episode seems to be a standalone story. Soon though, overarching plot points become apparent and the whole thing coalesces into a grim alternate reality that on more than one occasion gives genuine chills as you listen. Some of the episodes also combine their fiction with actual historical events. This kind of meta writing really drew me in when I first started my podcast journey. You can fool me like that all day long and I’ll love it!
As the story progresses, characters come and go, and some who were on the periphery earlier on get treated to their own episode (in some cases more than one episode). The humanity of each one also gets brought to the front as Jonathan conducts his duty with a grim determination. It also exposes a realistic duality to some characters who, for most of their existence in this universe are portrayed as genuinely villainous, but later on are shown to have a good side. In real life, people aren’t completely evil or completely good. There is a rather large grey area in people’s motivations, and the writing is perfect at portraying this.
Is it any good?
This podcast holds a special place in my heart. One of the things I think sets it apart from other audio dramas out there, is the fact that it was always written to be five series’ long. This means that it doesn’t lose direction halfway though, as is often the case elsewhere. It also means that there is an inevitable feeling of a countdown or running out of time, particularly towards the end of series four. The characters are all likeable (even the ones who aren’t supposed to be), so you really invest in their lives no matter which course they inevitably take.
I realise that I haven’t gone into much plot and character detail, but that is entirely intentional. I really don’t want to give any spoilers away at all. This is surely one of the finest audio dramas out there and one that you should check out immediately. You’ll thank me, I know you will.
You can listen to The Magnus Archives and find out more here:
Or catch it on your podcatcher of choice.
P.S. I thought I’d better listen to the first few episodes again, just to make sure I had all the facts straight. I’m now on episode five, and I think I’ll probably do the whole first series again (for the third time).