Garth Marenghi's Darkplace is a British horror parody television series created for Channel 4 by Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness, and first broadcast in 2004. The show focuses on fictional horror author Garth Marenghi (played by Matthew Holness) and his publisher Dean Learner (played by Richard Ayoade), characters who originated in the Garth Marenghi's Fright Knight stage show.
|Garth Marenghi's Darkplace|
|Created by||Richard Ayoade|
|Based on||Garth Marenghi's Fright Knight|
by Richard Ayoade
|Written by||Richard Ayoade|
|Directed by||Richard Ayoade|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||6 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||25 minutes (approx.)|
|Original network||Channel 4|
|Original release||29 January –|
4 March 2004
Darkplace is presented as a lost classic: a television series produced in the 1980s, though not broadcast at the time (except in Peru). The presentation features commentary from many of the "original" cast, where characters such as Marenghi and Learner reflect on making the show. Darkplace parodies the fashion, special effects, production gaffes, and music of low-budget '80s television, as well as the modern practice of including commentary tracks on DVD releases of old films and television shows.
Darkplace was broadcast in a late-night timeslot, with very little advertising, and met with poor viewing figures. It built up a significant internet following, leading Channel 4 to repeat the series and produce a DVD release. In 2005, Channel 4's Film Four asked Holness and Ayoade to write a script for a film version of their programme.
"I'm Garth Marenghi: author, dreamweaver, visionary, plus actor: You are about to enter the world of my imagination; you are now entering my darkplace!"
Garth Marenghi's opening narration.
The spoof comedy series, released in 2004, lampoons 1980s television drama, particularly horror, sci-fi, and "the rampant egotism of self-appointed 'mastermind' authors". The show presents Garth Marenghi's Darkplace as though it were a real, low-budget television series, produced in the 1980s, and now getting its first screening, framed as part of a director's commentary series. Darkplace's fictional show-within-a-show includes deliberately poor production and special effects, sub-par acting, choppy editing and storylines that are "severely flawed and open-ended". This is interspersed with present-day interviews with the cast.
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, 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 (in the commentary, he mentions that there were 67 episodes at one point, though it may have been intentional by Holness to show discontinuity); 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. The interview segments further reveal the delusional and self-absorbed attitudes of Marenghi and Learner.
As with promotion for their earlier Perrier Award-winning stage show, 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 Daily Telegraph discussing his "groundbreaking television series". "More than a few" people and media outlets were caught out by this fictional framing.
The show's musical soundtrack, ostensibly composed by "Stig Baasvik" (but with a further credit stating that it is "based on melodies whistled by Garth Marenghi") parodies the same subjects as the writing, and gained its actual composer, Andrew Hewitt, a BAFTA Nomination as Best New Composer for Film and T.V. (2004).
- Matthew Holness as Garth Marenghi, "author, dream weaver, visionary, plus actor", who plays Dr. Rick Dagless, M.D.: 'Dag' is a Vietnam and Falklands War veteran and former warlock. His accent is pitched somewhere between Kent and boring. He keeps a Magnum revolver on him at all times. His wife is played by Lydia Fox.
- Richard Ayoade as Dean Learner, Garth's publisher, who plays Thornton Reed, a hospital administrator who bears a trademark shotgun and answers to unseen hospital boss "Won Ton". Learner's acting is especially bad even by the standards of the series, which is remarked upon in some of the in-character cast interviews. Ayoade himself stated in an interview in the Scottish Metro that "My acting really is that shit. I'm not pretending". The character Dean was in the Korean War, in which he lost a testicle (and a knee) and became a POW.
- Matt Berry as Todd Rivers, an actor who plays Dr. Lucien Sanchez: Improbably handsome with the disconcerting habit of losing lip-synch, with "impossibly coiffured hair", and a voice an octave lower than it should be. He generally uses an automatic pistol (with a backup in a leg holster in case his original turns on him). He served with Dag in Vietnam. All of Todd Rivers' lines are looped-in, with Matt Berry seemingly providing the most off-sync and over the top readings possible.
- Alice Lowe as Madeleine Wool, an actress who plays Dr. Liz Asher: a stereotypical fluffy blonde with occasional psychic powers (sometimes exacerbated by heightened emotion). Asher graduated from "Harvard College Yale", acing all her classes and getting an A. Madeleine Wool has disappeared since the making of the programme. It is implied through the in-character episode commentaries that Dean had something to do with her disappearance and claims she is probably dead and "buried in the Eastern Bloc – if she got a burial".
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 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 vicar, whom Dagless refers to as "Padre". Graham Linehan and Stephen Merchant appear twice as the hospital porter and chef respectively. Noel Fielding appears as a mutant "Ape-oid" in Episode 4, "The Apes of Wrath".
This list is ordered by the original air dates on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom.
|No.||Title||Original air date|
|1||"Once Upon a Beginning"||29 January 2004|
|New doctor Liz Asher arrives at Darkplace Hospital, where a mysterious cat portends disaster. Dr. Rick Dagless, M.D., must act in time to prevent unspeakable evil from leaking out from a portal to Hellmouth under Darkplace Hospital. Guest starring Julian Barratt.|
|2||"Hell Hath Fury"||5 February 2004|
|At Darkplace Hospital, lunch is delayed, and objects begin flying around. At first, suspicion falls on the hospital's temporary clerical assistant, but Dagless is determined to find out the truth. Guest starring Stephen Merchant.|
|3||"Skipper the Eyechild"||12 February 2004|
|Somewhere on the wards of Darkplace Hospital, a man gives birth to a giant eyeball which brings out paternal instincts in Dagless, still grieving for the loss of his half-human, half-grasshopper son. However, the eyeball could be a potential killer. Guest starring Graham Linehan.|
|4||"The Apes of Wrath"||19 February 2004|
|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. Dagless must stop it before he too becomes a primate. Guest starring Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding.|
|5||"Scotch Mist"||26 February 2004|
|A Scottish mist descends on Darkplace, and Dagless has to act fast to protect all the English people in the hospital from grave danger. Guest starring Paul King.|
|6||"The Creeping Moss from the Shores of Shuggoth"||3 March 2004|
|Dr. Sanchez's life is in danger from a patient with an extraterrestrial broccoli infection. Dagless must save both his friend, and the world. Guest starring Julian Barratt and Graham Linehan.|
Rotten Tomatoes gives the series an 86% critic rating.
Darkplace originally aired in 2004. Only one series was produced. There is media speculation that the "average" or "poor" viewing figures led Channel 4 to decide against commissioning a second series. Channel 4 started a re-run of the series in October 2006 and released the show on DVD in the same month, while allowing the show to be re-broadcast on Virgin Media's On-demand service. In 2005, it was reported that the channel's cinema division, Film Four, had asked Holness and Ayoade to write a script for a film version of their programme.
The series had a spin-off, the spoof chat show Man to Man with Dean Learner, which began on 20 October 2006 on Channel 4. Dean's first guest was Garth Marenghi. During the interview with Garth a clip from the supposedly forthcoming movie, War of the Wasps, is shown, again featuring Dean Learner and his acting ability. Marenghi would also appear on the final episode of the series, which featured a clip from a video nasty that Garth and Dean had supposedly produced, which featured cameos from various Darkplace cast members.
The complete series was released on DVD (PAL, Region 2 only) on 16 October 2006, including the following special features:
- Commentaries on all episodes in which the cast stay in character as Garth, Dean and Todd (Alice Lowe does not appear since Madeleine Wool was established in the series as being missing presumed dead for decades)
- A deleted scene (staged deliberately for DVD purposes)
- Test footage (staged deliberately for DVD purposes)
- Original "One Track Lover" single (extended version), along with the Darkplace theme and three "Darkplace Moodscapes" by composer Stig Baasvik (in reality the composer is BAFTA award-winning Andrew Hewitt)
- Over an hour of extra talking heads
- Photograph galleries (staged deliberately for DVD purposes)
- Original radio ads
- Original story-boards and story-board to scene comparisons
- An "easter egg" (containing bonus footage) accessible by selecting, and then fast-forwarding, the "Colour Bars" feature in the set-up menu
- An easter egg of the entire Darkplace television sound-track; this can be accessed by either clicking on the picture of Liz Asher in the setting menu (this method works only if you are watching the DVD on a PC), or selecting One Track Lover to listen to and pressing "previous", or by using your DVD player's "Go to Title" feature and then entering the title number 19. The sound-track is approximately thirty-eight minutes long, and is divided into twenty-four chapters.
The cover of the DVD also features a play on the DVD logo, which instead reads "DEANVD".
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- Bennet, Steve (16 May 2005). "Comedy Blog - Shocking News". BBC. BBC. Archived from the original on 18 April 2008. Retrieved 2 May 2008.
- "GARTH MARENGHI'S DARKPLACE". The British SitCom Guide. The British SitCom Guide. Retrieved 21 March 2008.
- Mackenzie, Michael (5 October 2006). "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace: The Complete Series". DVD Times. DVD Times.com. Retrieved 21 March 2008.
- Braun, Kyle. "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace Review". ugo.com. UGO Networks. Archived from the original on 20 October 2008. Retrieved 21 March 2008.
- Brown, Keith Hennessey. "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace". Eye For Film. Eye For Film. Retrieved 21 March 2008.
- Garth Marenghi (26 January 2004). "I hereby vow never to work in TV again". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 21 March 2008.
- "Marenghi wins Perrier Award". BBC News. BBC. 26 August 2001. Retrieved 27 March 2008.
- "Edincondoms.uk/2/hi/entertainment/1513438.stm". BBC News. BBC. 21 August 2001. Archived from the original on 5 September 2008. Retrieved 27 March 2008.
- Garth Marenghi (February 2004). "Comic's corner: Garth Marenghi". The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved 27 March 2008.
- "BAFTA: Past Winners and Nominees". BAFTA. BAFTA. 2004. Retrieved 21 March 2008.
- "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace". Rotten Tomatoes.
- "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace". tv jots. tv jots. 28 June 2006. Archived from the original on 29 May 2008. Retrieved 1 June 2008.
- "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace finally gets a DVD release". Eat My Brains. EMB. 4 October 2006. Retrieved 1 June 2008.
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