Perhaps the epitome of ‘obscure comedy’, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is a one-series-long comedic relic of the early 00s that poses as a bizarre medical drama/horror/sci-fi relic of the mid-80s. That description, despite sounding like The Riddler filling in for Mark Kermode, is perhaps the most concise way in which a fan could describe the show.
The show depicts the dark, twisted but ultimately ridiculous imaginings of “prolific” horror writer Garth Marenghi, who presents to the audience episodes of a lost and forgotten TV show he created in the 80s that Channel 4 failed to broadcast because, according to Marenghi, his show was simply too “radical” and “dangerous”. After convincing the audience that they’re about watch a revolutionary TV series that was quietly swept under the carpet for fear of stirring up contrarian dissent and promoting alternate ideas to the public, you instead witness a shoddy, low-budget, poorly acted, clichéd sci-fi/horror drama, set in a hospital wherein a doctor called ‘Rick Dagless’ – portrayed by Marenghi – proceeds to fight the hordes of the nether realm whilst doing life-saving operations. It is then clear that Marenghi, and his co-creator Dean Learner, are utterly delusional when it comes to how highly they regard their work.
As a parody of low-budget sci-fi from the 80s, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is ruthlessly authentic, as well as being ruthlessly funny. A newcomer to the show could be utterly convinced by the whole façade. One could easily believe that they have stumbled across a genuine retrospective hosted by a genuinely real man called Garth Marenghi, who genuinely made a series in the 80s, that he thinks is genuinely creative and thought-provoking, that is then presented to you as a genuine work of sincere sci-fi drama. Fortunately, (Or unfortunately) it’s not. The show (not the show within the show) is a comedy gem that contains a plethora of comedic talent; the show’s creator and writer Matthew Holness (who starred as the pedantic, go-kart/Bruce Lee obsessed IT guy in ‘The Office’) portrays writer Garth Marenghi, pre-IT Crowd Richard Ayoade and Matt Berry star as actors Dean Learner and Todd Rivers respectively, and Alice Lowe from the horror-comedy ‘Sightseers’ who plays actress Madeleine Wool. Even Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding of The Mighty Boosh are in one or two episodes.
As mentioned above, the authenticity is ridiculous; using the original Channel 4 idents/logo from the 80s, distorted analogue music tracks, poor special effects, obvious voice dubbing that is nearly always out of sync, wooden acting, etc. Needless to say, it is so convincing that, aside from the poor time-slot it was given when it was originally broadcast, its spot-on parody of rubbish TV shows may have contributed to its poor audience figures at the time – perhaps scaring away the type of people who thought that The Colbert Report was a serious right-wing news program or think that Bruno, Borat and Ali G are simply a trio of unrelated documentarians.
However, it has emerged from the flames in recent years due to an avid and persistent fan-base composed of comedy geeks and nerds alike, convincing American TV networks Adult Swim and the Sci-Fi Channel that there’s some money to be had with this cult following, not to mention its continued availability to UK audiences on 4 On Demand. And, like many other cult TV shows, this one is eminently quotable, with lines like: “My name is Dr Rick Dagless, MD. I got the call too early to grab a shower, so I had to make do with a quick rinse around the key areas” and “I have never exploded. But, I know what it would be like. Don’t ask me how, I just know. I’ve always, just known.”.
With Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace being a show-within-a-show, and the comedy cast playing fictional actors and actresses in a retrospective who, in turn, star in a fictional sci-fi show from the 80s playing fictional hospital staff, this severely overlooked and underrated comedy is much like a hipster onion; many self-aware and ironic layers that, when peeled back, have the ability to make you cry – albeit with laughter.
Created by: Matthew Holness & Richard Ayoade
Written by: Matthew Holness & Richard Ayoade
Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Cast: Matthew Holness, Richard Ayoade, Matt Berry, Alice Lowe
Channel: Channel 4
Number of Episodes: 6
Episode Runtime: 25 mins