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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace: Reviewing the Retro Sci-Fi Spoof Comedy

Image from Garth Marenghi's Darkplace

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace: Garth Marenghi and Dean Learner’s Masterpiece

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is a hilarious spoof of 1980s TV horror serials starring Matthew Holness, Matt Berry, Alice Lowe, and Richard Ayoade. Darkplace takes place within a haunted hospital where the head doctors and administrators must regularly fight evil and treat paranormal infections while wrestling with their own emotional issues. Darkplace is exceptional for its great success with the concept of a show-within-a-show. Darkplace is experienced by the viewer as a director’s cut of the fictional show also called Darkplace, with interspersed commentary. At its core, Darkplace is the ultimate lampoon of low-production-value paranormal horror shows.

Garth Marenghi is the only writer who claims to have written more books than he has read.

The fourth-wall breaking segments with the cast are presented as a documentary interview about the series. Holness stars as Garth Marenghi, self-described “author, dreamweaver, visionary, plus actor.” It’s also stated that Marenghi directed the show, in addition to composing the musical theme. Garth Marenghi is clearly a narcissist, as well as a poor author and actor.

Nearly all of the segments starring Marenghi’s commentary make it clear to the viewer that he is delusional about his clunky acting and writing. This is wittily compounded by the in-show scenes of Marenghi’s character, Rick Dagless, MD. Dagless is clearly a Mary Sue character, and Marenghi’s clunky writing dictates that all of the other characters within Darkplace pay frequent homage to Dagless’ good traits.

Marenghi himself is accompanied in the commentary by his producer, Dean Learner. Learner, played by Ayoade, plays the hospital administrator, Thornton Reed. When not in-character, Learner frequently raves about the (in his opinion, very high) quality of Marenghi’s writing and acting, while smoothing over incidences of their show’s failure with excuses. Learner is also the protagonist of the show’s spinoff, Man to Man With Dean Learner. The character is probably an alcoholic, and at minimum, has a weak grasp of reality.  Reed is the boss of Dagless and his companions, Lucien Sanchez (Matt Berry) and Liz Asher (Alice Lowe).

Now, we could debate the term “massive” all day long, but I’m talking about movies that cost more to make than most of us earn in our whole lives – a lot more. Movies like Jurassic ParkThe Matrix, and Blade Runner, with respective budgets of $105 million, $95 million, and $70 million (adjusted for inflation) were downright inexpensive when compared with blockbusters like the behemoth Avatar, which cost the equivalent [Click here to read more…]

Hospitals are Pretty Dangerous

The creators of the series abuse Matt Berry’s iconic baritone voice as frequently as possible, voicing over every segment in which he appears with his own voice, creating a bizarre and slightly out of synch disaster that is beautiful to behold. Dr. Sanchez himself is Dagless’ best friend and medical counterpart. “Sanch”, as the other characters call him, is frequently seen attempting to solve paranormal problems using extremely awkward karate or firearms. Did I mention that all of the doctors of Darkplace seem to both know karate and carry loaded guns with them at all times? Sanchez is depicted as relatively competent, but definitively a second fiddle to Dagless.

Dr. Asher, on the other hand, is the “woman doctor”. In keeping with the series canon of the 1980s, Dr. Asher is purely a token female. It’s possible that she didn’t even go to medical school or know anything about medicine at all, which is established in the first episode. Really hamming it up, Darkplace is content to constantly lampoon the 1980s perception of women. Harassment of Asher is consistent, and she doesn’t seem to mind, or have any opinions whatsoever at all.

Abuse against Dr. Asher is frequently used for comedic effect, with most characters treating her as somewhere between an emotional punching bag and a clueless and helpless porcelain doll. A typical gag involves helping Dr. Asher with extremely simple tasks such as pouring a cup of coffee after her attempt to do so on her own results in spilling it everywhere.

Asher is also a psychic, which seems to be relatively useless in the scheme of things. Asher is lobotomized after a particularly destructive psychic incident caused by her PMS. Predictably, the episode ends with a monologue by Dagless lamenting how irrational women are. Darkplace’s criticism of sexism is both exaggerated yet subtle, funny, and without context, would be very to mistake for genuine misogyny. Thankfully, sexism is so hyperbolized within Darkplace that it’s impossible to take seriously.

The Place of Garth Marenghi’s Imagination

Darkplace is a magnificent piece of comedy. While being extremely gag-dense, Darkplace doesn’t require the viewer to have seen previous episodes to be entertained. Each episode is thick with puns, intentionally poor writing, ridiculously bad props, and the audiovisual work of a 1980s soap opera. There’s so much going on with the spoofing that it can be hard to keep track of all of the jokes at once. This lends Darkplace a high re-watching value, which seems in contrast to its “low budget” aesthetic.

The paranormal hijinks within the hospital tend to be off-the-wall bizarre, providing hilarious visuals. An entire episode is devoted to attempting to cure a disease which turns people into gigantic stalks of broccoli. Suffice it to say, eventually, the rock star doctor Rick Dagless MD was able to cure the afflicted. We also get to see some stereotypical hospital soap opera moments, such as when Sanch falls in love with a woman whose illness has progressed far enough to make her mostly broccoli. Deadpan acting by Berry really brings these moments home.

DVD Cover for Garth Marenghi's Darkplace

Check Out the Show on Amazon or on Channel 4’s Site

You get the feeling that the actors are trying their hardest to deliver a killer performance within the awful script, which really makes the more relaxed commentary even more funny.  The cast really nails the atmosphere of a commentary track, complete with vapid comments, forced plugging of current projects, and reiteration of how hard everyone worked on the project. Suffice it to say that Darkplace’s commentary would be at home on a wide variety of real horror shows or films.

Within the opening sequence of the show is a monologue by Garth Marenghi which describes the episode that the viewer is about to watch. This hook serves to prime the viewer for the ridiculousness which is sure to follow, and establishes that the very core of the entire show is Marenghi’s inflated sense of self. The viewer never gets any indication that Marenghi possesses a capacity for introspection whatsoever–another layer of comedy, to be sure.

Featured Image: Channel 4

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