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Maybe I WANT to look cheap.

In the mid-1980s, the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 commissioned celebrated British horror author Garth Marenghi to create, write, produce, direct and star in a sci-fi/horror series called Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.

The channel asked for groundbreaking television. They asked for envelope-pushing. They asked for the dangerous, the visionary, the avant-garde. But when Marenghi delivered–with interest–they backed off, and the series was shelved; fifty episodes, all told, packed up and forgotten.

Why this happened has been the subject of considerable debate. Some say Marenghi went too far with Darkplace, that the viewing public just wasn’t ready. The great man himself blamed government suppression.

“MI8, which is actually three levels above MI6, pulled the plug. And they did it because I knew the truth.”

Twenty years later, however, the world was a different place. No one trusted their government any longer. Sex scandals and celebrity burnouts abounded. In the realm of scripted television, every boundary had been breached, every idea mined down to the last nugget, every story told and told and told.

Every story… but one.

Hat in hand, Channel 4 approached Marenghi again, and he graciously agreed to allow them to unleash Darkplace at last. Sadly, only six episodes were shown before the channel shelved it again.

Even now, the public was unprepared for Garth Marenghi’s vision, his knowledge, his mastery of life beyond the veil.

If you’re fortunate, tenacious and wise, and if you have an affinity for the mystical realms of the unknown, you’ve probably seen Darkplace already, one way or another.

But if you’re a neophyte, a searcher, then perhaps your journey begins here.

That is Darkplace Hospital, the principal setting of the series.

Like most hospitals, it’s often the site of frank conversations over bad coffee, of bureaucratic headaches, foxhole conversions and private communions with the self; a place where every matter is a matter of life and death.

But Darkplace is one thing more, and it is that thing which gives the series its raison d’être: it’s situated on the gates of hell.

Each day at the facility brings some new, unspeakable horror–a metaphor, perhaps, for the triumphs and tragedies experienced by the doctors and patients of real-life medical institutions.

In one episode, the hospital is plagued by what appear to be violent poltergeist phenomena–the ultimate female complaint, we learn, when it comes to light that a particularly severe bout with premenstrual syndrome has activated one of the doctors’ telekinetic abilities.

In another, a bizarre medical accident gifts one of the doctors with a mutant child who affords him the opportunity to confront his buried grief over the long-ago death of his own child, and in the doing, make some sort of peace with his passing.

Pictured: Dr. Rick Dagless, MD, (Marenghi) sings a tender lullaby to both the child he's found and the one he's lost

Garth Marenghi’s shadowy enemies have accused Darkplace of racism, sexism, ageism, egoism, classism, ableism, atheism, cruelty to animals and gross misogyny, but one thing no one’s ever called it is inauthentic.

Unafraid of controversy, Darkplace has tackled such chancy topics as sexually-transmitted infection, the fine, fine line between man and animal, the dangers of alien tampering with human physiology, and the heartrending responsibility of euthanasia.

In the wake of a terrible accident, Dag's oldest friend begs him to put him out of his misery.

But even this glittering material is only as good as its actors. Fortunately for us, no expense was spared in tracking down the best men (and one woman!) for the job.

Garth Marenghi himself plays Dr. Rick Dagless MD with all the passion, nerve and bravery the character demands. Dagless is the hospital’s chief physician, as well as a veteran of numerous wars, and a former warlock–a skillset that proves useful far more often than he would like.

Dean Learner (Marenghi’s publisher and friend) plays Thornton Reed, beleaguered hospital administrator and sometime soldier in Dag’s ragtag army. Some have criticized his performance for its supposed wooden quality, but like the man says, Marenghi didn’t want an act from him. He wanted the truth.

Todd Rivers plays Dr. Lucien Sanchez, Dag’s colleague and closest friend. Handsome, capable, loyal and sensitive, he longs to play a greater role in the game we call life, but he can’t seem to close that circuit, no matter how he tries, how much he wants it. It’s a topic Darkplace explores musically in Rivers’s breakout hit, “One Track Lover.”

Madeleine Wool as Liz Asher.

It is a tragedy–a crime, even–that so little of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace has been released. It had the potential not only to be hugely influential on the landscape of our culture, but also to enlighten us, to educate us, to prepare us for what’s to come, as those of us who are “switched on” are perfectly aware it will, ready or not.

Instead, we must do what we can with what we have: six episodes–six gemstones: multifaceted, glittering, colourful and hard.

The series is only available on DVD in Region 2 format, but it can be acquired by other means, if you know where to look, and streams in its entirety on YouTube.

Open your eyes. Drink it in. Internalize it. For it is not just Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, friend. It is yours as well.

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Melodie Ladner lives and works in the Greater Vancouver area, and is probably eating something unhealthful out of a bag at this very moment.

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17 Responses to “Maybe I WANT to look cheap.”

  1. Laura Shapiro says:

    You know there’s a vid, right? Made by my friend and sometime collaborator Brad, and it’s a load of fun, too.

  2. kormantic says:

    You are the Dean Koontz of Garth Marenghi project reviews, my friend. Thank you for bringing The Truth to the people!

    (also, I love Dean so much! <3)

  3. Matt says:

    Garth Marenghi is one of the only writers you’ll meet who’s written more books than he’s read.

  4. Nate says:

    I’m not usually a fan of blood and guts and such, but I want to watch this. I want to watch it nine times.

    • Melodie says:

      Nate, I am here to tell you that apart from the episode where Dagless’s friend explodes (which is the first one) there is basically no gore to speak of in the whole series.

      And seriously, that is the funniest exploding friend you’ll ever see in your life. I’m not just saying that.

  5. Sandra says:

    LOVE this show! Thanks for trying to bring more exposure to it 😀

    • Melodie says:

      It’s one of those things everyone should know about, like how no-name brands are the same stuff as name brands, or never go on a date with Mickey Rourke unless you have your exit strategy planned in advance.

  6. forkboy1965 says:

    Maggots.

  7. AJ says:

    As much as I love Darkplace, I almost love this review even more. If only you’d done a song to equal “One Track Lover” it might have put the review over the top.

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