- Directed by Richard Ayoade
- Written by Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness
- Created by Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness
- January 29, 2004 to March 4, 2004
- Channel 4
Produced in the 80s, though not broadcast then (other than in Peru), this revolutionary lost classic is presented on television for the first time with commentary by those involved including the great Garth Marenghi himself.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is a bit obscure and only six episodes long series. It is so odd and entertaining that it stands out in my mind as something special. It originally aired with little marketing on its original network. It is a parody series styled as an unearthed 80s horror/drama. The series is set in Darkplace Hospital which is situated over the gates of Hell. Convenient.
This was a weird, weird show that took shots at so many things. Video commentary. Self-important creative individuals. Bad 80s television. Admittedly this was a British show and the prime targets (at least when it came to the style of the programming) were anything from Britain at the time but if you watched any fantastical television from the early 80s you could easily transpose this to the US.
In this show actors play actors playing characters on a TV series. You need to understand that when going in. Matthew Holness stars as Garth Marenghi who in the faux series plays Dr. Rick ‘Dag’ Dagless, M.D. Marenghi is a self-important author that reminds me more than a bit of Stephen King based on appearance and I say the way he thinks of himself. I am curious if King knows this exists and what he thinks?
Marenghi thinks this show was groundbreaking and visionary and never made it to television because it was too radical when in reality it is obviously a train wreck of epic proportions. His character of Dr. Rick Dagless is a Vietnam and Falklands War veteran who also happens to have been a warlock that keeps a revolver on him at all times. Between dealing with unusual events that happen at Darkplace he must also deal with day-to-day hospital admin stuff.
Richard Ayoade plays Dean Learner who is Garth’s publisher who on the show plays hospital administrator Thornton Reed. Reed answers to a never seen boss known as “Won Ton.” Dean is a Korean War vet who always sports a shotgun. Learner has never acted before and is stiff and wooden. Ayoade has said he was not acting and that he really is that bad.
Matt Berry plays actor Todd Rivers who plays Dr. Lucien Sanchez in Darkplace. His voice is lower than it should be. He uses an automatic pistol with another in a leg holster should the first turn on him. Really. Sanchez served with Dagless in Vietnam. The character’s dialogue was looped in purposely making it out of sync with his lips.
Alice Lowe plays actress Madeleine Wool who plays Dr. Liz Asher. She is a stereotypical blonde of that television era having occasional psychic powers. She graduated from “Harvard College Yale” and aced all of her classes. Madeleine Wool has disappeared since the making of the making of the show with the implication being she was murdered.
I originally came across Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace many years ago. As I remember it was shown pretty late in the US and some of us have to work but I managed to catch it. This poked fun at the pretentious works that never lived up to the hype and mocked the “genius” minds that created them. During the 80s there were a great many short-lived fantasy or horror or science fiction shows that were poorly handled or done on the cheap and suffered because of it yet have gained at least a minimal cult status. This is aimed at those shows which makes the intended audience for this a bit niche.
The sets and the costuming are dead on. Even the scripts and how you might expect characters of these types to be presented are spot on. This looks like it would fit in with the worst of the time.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace goes all in on the concept that it is a previously undiscovered show. There is no breaking of that illusion. From the credits to the dialogue they embrace this fiction. According to the dialogue there is something like 67 episodes made but they only show six here. They do a good job of giving you the good impression there is more out there.
This show is reportedly available on the Channel 4 video on demand, but I am not sure if it is available in the US or not. I do know most if not all of the six existing episodes can be found to one extent or another on YouTube. It is a fun and surreal experience that never caught on but should be sampled.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is an odd ode as well as an unusual parody of bad television of a bygone era. It is fun and weird. It is not for everybody even though everybody should give it a look so I will give this an if you want.