Welcome travellers to the world of Darkplace.
A world created by the Dreamweaver, Garth Marenghi.
A show that plays up the “brilliant but the executives don’t get it” clique.
It was “lost” for decades before finally being shown in 2004.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is an 80’s horror soap opera.
Here are five reasons why I love Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.
1 – Clever marketing launches many comedy careers
The concept of the programme is a TV series created in the 80s’, that was deemed too risqué to be shown and is shelved.
Fast forward over twenty years and the show is finally having its premiere on TV, intercut with current-day interviews.
Ultimately, it’s a TV show within a TV show.
The actors are Garth Marenghi (Matthew Holness) playing Dr Rick Dagless; Dean Learner (Richard Ayoade) playing Thornton Reed; Todd Rivers (Matt Berry) playing Dr Lucian Sanchez; and Madeleine Wool (Alice Lowe) playing Dr Liz Asher.
On the promotion circuit the actors stayed in character.
Even on the website, the actors aren’t named, and the opening titles list the actors as Marenghi and Learner.
It had the desired effect, as many members of the audience and media thought that Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was a real TV series.
When it was released on DVD, some still used the fake backstory to promote the release, without any sense of irony.
The series is also littered with cameos of actors that are just breaking through, adding the to the “reality” of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, including Julian Barratt, Stephen Merchant, Graham Linehan, and Noel Fielding.
2 – A thrilling parody into pulpy horror
It’s often cited that Garth Marenghi is Stephen King, and it makes sense that that connection is established.
As it’s set in the 80’s and Stephen King is …. well… King of Horror.
And for those that’ve seen Stephen King promote Maximum Overdrive or act in Creepshow can see the connection with Garth Marenghi’s opening monologue and his performance style in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.
There is also a little Graham Masterton and Guy N. Smith, both of whom are prolific horror writers, but the concept is often a little-left field.
Think Masterson’s ‘The Doll that ate its mother’ or Smith’s whole Crab series.
Smith’s Wikipedia article states that Guy N. Smith is the inspiration for Garth Marenghi, and we all know that Wikipedia is a reliable source…
However, there’s an obvious nod to Smith in the opening monologue for Scotch Mist: “Because my books always say something, even if it’s just something simple like: ‘Don’t genetically engineer crabs to be as big as men’, there’s always a message or a theme.”
But as well as being a homage to pulpy authors, it’s also a homage to low budget 80’s horror films, which makes sense as the program itself is supposed to be set in that decade.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is to 80’s horror what Acorns Antiques is to Crossroads – it’s supposed to be bad.
The set is supposed to wobble, the acting is supposed to be wooden and over the top, the special effects are supposed to be rubbish, etc. It’s the joy of the series.
3 – The show is quotable
The show is full of terrible quotes.
Garth feels like an author who has written a few good books and then become egotistical and no one has the heart to tell him that he no longer has “it” anymore.
Some of my favourites:
“Salutations friend. I’m Garth Marenghi, horror writer, although I prefer the term ‘dreamweaver’. When I wrote, directed and starred in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace for television back in the 1980’s, I drew deep draughts of inspiration from the dyke of my dreams… Other times I just copied the plots from dead authors on whose work the copyright had lapsed.”
“As a writer, I make my own rules up okay? If I wanna start a sentence with a full stop, I will. If I want to highlight social prejudice, I will, but I’ll do it my way. And sometimes you have to be a bigot, to bring down bigger bigots.”
“As a horror writer, I don’t ask for much. I just hope I’ve changed the way you think about life.”
4 – The storylines are weird yet relatable
You may wonder how storylines that include flying objects, a mutant eyechild, de-evolution, and woman slowly becoming broccoli can be relatable but let’s break them down.
For example, the flying objects are caused by Dr Asher to vent her frustration due to being belittled and under-appreciated.
It reiterates that we should spend time appreciating the people around us.
And the woman slowly becoming broccoli is a tale as old as time – love found and the briefest of moments that you will spend together.
But with it being a horror-comedy show, there aren’t many happy endings to these tales.
And no spoilers here but, if you want everyone to be happy, then it’s not happening.
Well, it could be said that Sanchez becomes less of a man by the end. But that is for you to judge.
5 – It’s a one series wonder
The difficulties of having a favourite show is how long do you keep it going?
Do you have Fawlty Towers where you would love it to have more episodes because the ones that exist are so perfect?
Or do you watch The Big Bang Theory even though it’s no longer good, but you feel a weird sense of loyalty?
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace thankfully went for the Fawlty Towers route with one series of six episodes.
Now, I’m not going to say that all episodes were perfect.
‘Scotch Mist’ is the weakest episode, but it can be forgiven as the other episodes are so awesome. It’s also not without its spin-off.
Man to Man with Dean Learner was a talk show with Learner as your interviewer, and one of the episodes has him conversing with the Dreamweaver himself, Garth Marenghi. But it doesn’t have the same impact.
The show also has some fantastic set pieces.
The hilarious bicycle chase between Dr Dagless and Thornton Reed chasing Noel Fielding’s character: a mad scientist, turned ape, hyped up with decade-appropriate synth soundtrack.
Speaking of decade appropriate music, Sanchez’s song One Track Lover, is power ballad perfection, all sung in the soap opera staple at the time, a dream sequence.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is an original masterpiece, that is entirely quotable, visually stunning, and superbly acted.
If this classic passed you by, and you’re a fan of Brasseye or Cockneys vs Zombies, then please check it out.
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