“Greetings traveller”… So began the first episode of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, one of the most underrated shows of the last decade. Co-created by Matthew Holness and Richard Ayoade, it never had the commercial recognition it deserved. Stuck on a late night timeslot, it didn’t attract a large audience, although it quickly developed a cult status which eventually led to its re-broadcast and DVD release.
A “show within a show”, we’re told that Darkplace was created in the 1980s, but as a result of being “so radical, so risky, so dangerous, so ga-hodamn crazy” it only had a limited run in Peru. But now as a result of “the worst artistic drought in broadcast history” it returned to our screens, along with interviews with the actors, including producer Dean Learner (played by Richard Ayoade), and in possibly his best role ever, Todd Rivers, played by Matt Berry. It’s a stroke of genius, and provides some of the best lines – “I do not believe any form of life, be it human, animal, or plant, should be hurt in the making of a television programme. So I personally feel very bad about the cat we killed.”
A labour of love, Darkplace pastiches 80’s drama (Diaganosis Murder) and horror (James Herbert, Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital, amongst others) to a pitch perfect degree. From the retro Channel 4 logo with the wavering analogue synth, to Dr Sanchez’s (played by Matt Berry via Todd Rivers) out of synch speech dubbing, it’s the context that provides the humour, not just the dialouge, which of course is excellent; “As I rounded the corner, I felt muscular and compact, like corned beef” narrates Marenghi, in a slow motion running scene (due to episodes under-running, all scenes without dialouge were considered for the Baywatch treatment, we’re told).
A comedy would be nothing without excellent characters and Darkplace is full of them. Merenghi, who describes himself as an “author, dream weaver, visionary, plus actor” is bitter about women, egotistical to the point of delusion, and sensitive about his testicals, which when he went through puberty, dropped so much they were like golf balls in a football sock. He plays Dr Rick Dagless (MD), a renegade doctor, warlock, veteran of both the Vietnam and the Falklands war, and carries a revolver on his belt at all times, despite his remarks that he “hates using these things.”
The producer of Darkplace and Marenghi’s business associate, Dean Leaner is a suave womanizer, and also a terrible actor. With frequent glances to the camera and hilarious editing implying the fumbling of lines, Learner plays Dagless’ boss, the shotgun toting Thornton Reed. “I haven’t seen any demons on the ward, and I’m particularly observant!”, he delivers in such a fashion that he could be carved out of wood.
Given it’s inspiration, it’s easy to see why it didn’t quite attract the audiences it deserved – hospital dramas and shite horror isn’t quite as relatable as say, a sitcom set in an office, which is a real shame. Laser accurate, sharp, clever, it’s one of the few comedies where I’ve laughed out loud at almost every cheesy line, crap props, and hammy acting. Darkplace deserves to be up there with the titans of fantastic short lived comedies, from Fawlty Towers to The Office. If you haven’t already seen it, you’ve got no excuse – it’s freely available on 4od and YouTube. Watch at your peril…