This weekend sees Channel 4 countdown its top 30 comedy shows ever, as part of its Funny Fortnight. One show in the top 30 was somewhat unloved at the time, yet has since gone on to become widely regarded as a cult classic. Here’s Michael Glynn’s take on why Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is worth your attention…
Back in the 1980s, acclaimed horror writer Garth Marenghi set to transfer his talents the small screen; the results were a television program ‘so radical, so risky, so dangerous, so goddamn crazy’ that it didn’t see the light of day until Channel 4 broadcast it during the worst programming drought in broadcast history in 2004. To bump up the runtimes of the episodes we were treated to interviews with Garth’s publisher, Dean Learner, who also starred in the series, as well as the other cast members.
Except of course, none of that is true. GARTH MARENGHI’S DARKPLACE was actually spawned from the minds of Matt Holness and Richard Ayoade, and filmed in the early 2000’s – though you would be hard pressed to believe that last part. With an emphasis on cheap production values and bad acting it’s easy to believe you’re really watching a forgotten piece of TV, even the retro Channel 4 logo is present.
While Darkplace failed to make big audiences upon its airing, it remains a cult favourite – down to its terrible story, shoddy acting and downright appalling editing; of course this was all done on purpose. The series helped launch the careers of several TVO faces. It was a series that wasn’t afraid to laugh at itself, showing us a hospital where heart attacks and cancer aren’t the killers on the wards: giant eyeballs and broccoli infection are the main causes for concern.
With Rick Dagless MD (Holness) at the helm of Darkplace, we were introduced to a doctor that travelled between wards on a golf cart and carried a Magnum revolver at all times. Richard Ayaode’s acting stood out as the worst on display – as Dagless’ colleague Thornton Reed. Ayoade had an excuse though, because the part of Reed was acted out by Marenghi’s publisher, Dean Learner, who had no acting experience..
Aided by his fellow doctors, Lucien Sanchez (Todd Rivers/Matt Berry) and Dr Liz Asher (Madeline Wool/Alice Lowe), Garth Marenghi attempts to maintain control of the hospital. With appearances from Kim Noble, Stuart Silver Graham Linehan and the Boosh boys themselves Noel and Julian you’d be hardpressed to find a TV show so overflowing with TVO favourites.
With an emphasis on recreating the feel of a low budget 80’s horror series and completely spoofing it, Darkplace is filled with shots with the camera crew in view and continuity errors. It’s a series that begs for multiple viewings and with a DVD rammed with special features including present day interviews with the cast in character it’s an essential for any peelers collection.