Garth Marenghi's Darkplace

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Jan 22, 2008
In the 1980s and 90s, horror novelists like Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell and Stephen King were regarded as serious artists with something to say. One horror writer with nothing to say was Garth Marenghi, the creation of comedian Matthew Holness, whose mind-shatteringly subversive TV series Garth Marenghi's Darkplace was never released to the public, and can only now be shown (in bits).

Each episode of Darkplace is a separate adventure of Dr Rick Dagless and his team of medics against the powers of evil, interspersed with talking-heads style interviews with the “actors” (ie Holness and others playing the actors who play Dagless and co). These interviews act as a sort of frame story for the rest of the show. Garth introduces each episode with a reading from his novels, which look like James Herbert knock-offs but remind me of some of the more arty efforts in the grimdark genre (“Blood. Blood? Blood. Blood! Blood – and bits of sick.”).

Although the set-up of Darkplace sounds like some kind of director’s cut of The Kingdom, it’s really a parody of two things: firstly (and mainly) it’s a spoof of terrible low-budget sci-fi from the 1970s and 80s. Secondly, it parodies those talking heads programmes where people involved in a particular show reminisce about its making. The second aspect is slightly subtler than the first, and allows the “lead actors” in the show to reveal how pompous, stupid and downright criminal they are.

Garth himself is impressively crass. Richard Ayoade is excellent as Garth’s seedy publisher, who plays the hospital manager, and so is Matt Berry as a dreadful actor and self-professed sex symbol, who plays a suave doctor with a chequered past. Alice Lowe is very funny as a psychic doctor, although she is missing from the talking-heads parts owing to a mysterious disappearance, which is slowly unravelled as the interviews go on.

A lot of the humour comes from laughing at rubbish dialogue and terrible special effects. Much of this is pretty broad, but so much idiocy is usually going on that a second viewing usually reveals someone asleep, badly dubbed or wearing the wrong clothing in the background. While most of it is fairly innocuous, there are a few moments of tasteless and unconvincing gore, followed by Garth explaining that the scene was actually artistically valid.

Only six episodes of Darkplace were ever made, and that’s probably a good thing. It’s hard to see how they could have kept the concept going. As it is, the episodes are consistently entertaining, and if you like the first ten minutes, you’ll probably enjoy the lot. Don’t have nightmares, though.
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I watched this a few years ago after going through a rather enjoyable Mighty Boosh phase.

It reminded me a lot of the Victoria Wood and Julia Walters "Acorn Antiques" sketches. It was funny enough and I remember laughing out loud at a few bits, but I didn't think it was great. Have you watched Mindhorn?

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