Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was a partially successful spoof of many abysmal 1970s spooky dramas, Kingdom Hospital, based on Lars Von Trier’s Danish mini-series, also contains some of those same references but houses them within a solid plot while their disclosure is handled with a great deal more subtlety as befits this superior horror.
The peculiar introduction was narrated in a foreboding a Vincent Price-like tone, which foreshadowed the black humour to come, and recounted how Kingdom Hospital came to be built on the site of a mill that burned to the ground killing many children. Perhaps wary of plunging the viewer straight into this weird environment, the writers relied on the tried and trusted routine of using the opening episode to introduce the Kingdom Hospital and its inhabitants through a new arrival in their world – artist Peter Rickman (Jack Coleman) who has been left for dead by a hit and run driver.
The brilliance of this device became evident as Rickman received emergency treatment enabling the introduction of Dr Hook (Andrew McCarthy) as he fights to save Rickman’s life. But because of his comatose state Rickman is also able to communicate with the other side of life at Kingdom Hospital to signify the ghostly inhabitants also existing within its walls. As Dr Hook drilled away in his skull, Rickman saw the apparition of a dead little girl and, more curiously, a talking anteater.
McCarthy made Dr Hook an engaging protagonist, Without the situations appearing contrived or forced, we learn he is slightly quirky by his idiosyncratic behaviour when treating Rickman, but also see his obstreperous side after he ordered a medical scan against the wishes of his antagonistic boss Dr Stegman. The smooth flow of the script also integrated individuals not concerned with the admission of Rickman. Sally Druce (Diane Ladd) is a hypochondriac who is also a self-proclaimed psychic, while the security guard/caretaker/receptionist, with spectacle lenses as thick as the Hubble Telescope, made an impression, as did his talking German dog.
But what bracketed Kingdom Hospital with Twin Peaks rather than The X-Files is the disguised sly humour that infiltrated almost all areas of the production. Even something as mundane as character names has been delightfully distorted – Dr Hook, Jesse James, Johnny B Goode, and Carrie Von Trier – while the soundtrack of 1950s classics and modern pap echoed Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective, and both added a neat dose of eeriness to the already bizarre foundations.
The funniest bit occurred when Dr Hook was called to the bedside of the newly conscious Rickman and was accompanied by a cacophonous earth tremor that rocked the hospital – a bright and original substitute for dramatic music. The effect is cleverly compounded when the tremor ceased just as Dr Hook reached Rickman’s room and Hook turned, with a knowing expression on his face, as though he knew the tremor kept pace with his journey. The whole chapter could have come straight out of a Monty Python sketch, but actually performed as a well-placed joke in a drama of great promise.