Garth Marenghi's Darkplace is a comedy series made for Channel 4 by Matthew Holness and Richard Ayoade. Following on from the characters' success at The Perrier Awards the show revolves around fictional horror author Garth Marenghi (played by Holness) and his publisher Dean Learner (played by Ayoade).
Darkplace is presented as a lost classic: a series produced in the 1980s, yet never shown until now. Subsequently, it features 'present day' commentary from many of the "original" cast, where characters such as "Marenghi" and "Learner" reflect on making the show. Darkplace parodies numerous aspects of 80s low-budget television, including fashion, special effects and music.
Darkplace aired to "poor" or "average" viewing figures, and Channel 4 did not commission a second series. However, the show built up a significant internet following, leading Channel 4 to repeat the series and produce a DVD release. It was also reported that Channel 4's Film Four asked Holness and Ayoade to write a script for a movie version of their programme.
The series' fictional premise is that some time in the 1980s, best-selling horror author Garth Marenghi and his publisher/publicist, Dean Learner, made their own low-budget television series with a single intent: "to change the evolutionary course of Man over a series of half-hour episodes. Set in Darkplace Hospital, "over the very gates of Hell," in Romford, East London, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace shows the adventures of Dr. Rick Dagless, M.D., as he fights the forces of darkness while simultaneously coping with the pressures of day to day admin. Within this fictional context, Marenghi wrote 63 teleplays from which 50 shows were produced; however, Channel 4 was eventually forced to reject the show due to its "radicality." Though, Marenghi also cites possible government suppression: "MI8, which is actually three levels above MI6, pulled the plug. And they did it because I knew the truth."
In 2004, due to the "worst artistic drought in broadcast history", Channel 4 decided to air six of the original episodes.
The makers of Darkplace endeavoured to make the show seem authentic. From "the retro Channel 4 logo at the start to the distortion of the analogue music track at the start of scenes", "the fashion, ... the texture of film stock,", "[the] deliberately poor continuity, cheesy lines, wooden acting and cheap special effects"; it is delivered "in such a pitch perfect way you can't help but laugh." Also included are "present-day interviews", in which the character 'Marenghi', with co-stars 'Dean Learner' and 'Todd Rivers', comment on the show-within-the-show.
As with promotion for their earlier Perrier Award-winning stage show, Darkplace's creators confounded media by producing promotional material in-character. The official website speaks of Garth Marenghi, and other characters as though they were real people, while making no mention of the real actors. Press releases also contained "realistic looking fake back stories for Marenghi and the other characters instead of making any mention of what the real cast have appeared in", and an article by 'Garth Marenghi' appeared in The Telegraph discussing his "groundbreaking television series". "More than a few people", and "media outlets" alike were caught out by this fictional framing.
A few other (real) actors have recurring roles in the show-within-the-show: Kim Noble appears in every episode as Jim, a hospital worker whose main function is simply to listen to Dagless reel off a lengthy speech and respond with a "yes" or other monosyllabic reply, and Noble's real comedy partner Stuart Silver appears as "The Extra": a character whose name is unknown and has been a doctor, receptionist, keyboard soloist and barman. Julian Barratt also appears in three episodes as the hospital's padre.
|#||Title||Description||Original air date|
|1.1||Once Upon A Beginning||New doctor Liz Asher arrives at Darkplace Hospital, where a mysterious cat portends disaster. Can Dr. Rick Dagless, M. D., act in time to prevent all sorts of unspeakable evilness leaking out from the standard-sized hellmouth under Darkplace Hospital itself? It's not going to be much of a series if he does in one episode.||January 29, 2004|
|1.2||Hell Hath Fury||At Darkplace Hospital, lunch is delayed and objects begin flying about the place and generally moving quite a bit more than they would usually do. At first suspicion falls on the hospital's temporary clerical assistant, but Dr Rick Dagless M.D. is determined to find out the truth, even if it kills him - which it won't. Guest starring Stephen Merchant.||February 5, 2004|
|1.3||Skipper the Eyechild||Somewhere on the wards of Darkplace Hospital, a man gives birth to a giant eyeball which brings out paternalistic instincts in Dr. Rick Dagless, M. D., still grieving for the loss of his half-human, half-grasshopper son. But could the eyeball be a potential killer? Well, what do you think? Duh!||February 12, 2004|
|1.4||The Apes of Wrath||A mysterious illness spreads like a particularly virulent disease through the wards of Darkplace, causing doctors and patients to revert to an earlier genetic state. It's up to Dr. Rick Dagless, M. D., to stop it before he too turns into a chimpanzee or an orangutan or something like that. Guest starring Julian Barratt.||February 19, 2004|
|1.5||Scotch Mist||A mist descends on Darkplace - and it's Scottish and/or Scotch. Dr Rick Dagless, M. D. had better do something really good about it, or else all the hospital's resident sassenachs are in grave danger. Probably.||February 26, 2004|
|1.6||The Creeping Moss from the Shores of Shuggoth||Dr. Sanchez's life is in danger from a patient with a fairly bad off-Earth broccoli infection. It's down to Dr. Rick Dagless, M. D., to save his buddy - and the world. Or if all else fails, come up with a delicious way of using excess broccoli. It won't come to that, though.||March 4, 2004|
The DVD reached number nine in the UK's top-ten best-selling DVDs.
The cover of the DVD also features a play on the DVD logo, which instead reads "DEANVD".