Quatermass: Quatermass II

August 17, 2014 in Cult TV, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782

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Following the success of The Quatermass Experiment and the launch of the ITV Network in the UK, the BBC commissioned Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale to write a sequel to his previous adult sci-fi thriller. Quatermass had already broken onto the big screen earlier that year with the release of Hammer’s movie adaptation of The Quatermass Experiment (titled The Creeping Unkown in the US) in August 1955. Inspired by the contemporary fears of secret research facilities set up by the Ministry of Defence, Kneale set to work writing the six part thriller which would once again captivate audiences and empty the streets. The story sees the title character, Professor Bernard Quatermass, investigating into strange meteorites which are hollow and appear to of been manufactured. His investigations lead him to a strange industrial plant where he is ordered away by guards. Irritated by all the official secrets surrounding the plant, Quatermass once again faces the threat of an alien invasion and must find out what’s happening in the plant before it’s too late.

With a bigger budget to work with, this story was able to do much more location work than the last one, which also means much less done live in studio and therefor less tiring work for the actors. Unlike the last one the whole of this story was telerecorded (so they could be repeated the following Monday night) which means we have the all six parts available to us this time round. Reginald Tate, was set to reprise the role of Quatermass in this sequel but just weeks before location filming was scheduled to start a tragedy happened. He had collapsed and died at the age of 58 which lead to a necessary recast of the role at short notice, with actor John Robinson filling in the big shoes left by Tate. Alongside Robinson was Hugh Griffith as Quatermass’s chief assistant, Doctor Leo Pugh, and Monica Grey as Quatermass’s daughter, Paula. Monica had to learn Griffith’s lines as well as her own as he (like Robinson) was having trouble learning the technical dialogue so if need be she could assist him if anything went wrong during the live performance. Rounding off the main cast John Stone as Johnny Dillon, a captain in the army and fiancée to Paula Quatermass. Finally for the casting side of things we have something that may be of interest to some cult TV fans, actor Roger Delgado appears here a journalist who helps Quatermass investigate into the industrial plant. Delgado would later find fame in Doctor Who as the first actor to play the villainous Master opposite Jon Pertwee as the Doctor.

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Here we begin the spoiler free section of the review, so those of you who have not seen it yet can read this with no risk of having major plot points spoiled for them. Now as far as atmosphere goes, this story’s got a lot of it. Without going into detail, the most atmospheric scenes are the ones within the plant and you really do get the feeling of isolation and that there is evil all around you. There is a very mature story line in this, even more so than the last one and there are some scenes which are not for the faint of heart. Not necessarily because of the visuals (although there is some good stuff in that department) but because of the implications and the places you imagination runs to with the material it’s given here. The plot is solid and in true Nigel Kneale style has lots of mystery in it that makes you want to know more. However, it does fall apart a bit in the last part which feels out of place and sags a lot. It is nevertheless enjoyable but doesn’t live up to the expectations created by the first five parts. As for performances, John Robinson does a good job as Quatermass despite often being accused by critics not learning the technical lines properly. While seemingly a bit out-of-place next to other actors to of played the role, Robinson sells it as the same character in his performance and comes across as undeniably the same character that Tate played. The other actors do their bit but the only real standout performances from the supporting cast are Hugh Griffith and Roger Delgado, although arguably I’m bias because I like him so much in Doctor Who.

Now we move deep into spoiler territory so if you’re nervous about spoilers then you have been warned. So probably the best place to start would be what are probably the two most horrific scenes. The first of which is when Ward stumbles out of the dome covered in corrosive slime. It’s probably the most visually horrific of the two made all the more effective simply by it being in black-and-white. The second of these is not nearly as visual but far more sickening. I am of course referring to the men being used to clog up the gas pipes. Just the thought of this make your mind go mad with different gruesome thoughts and the execution is perfect. It really is far more effective not showing it as it leaves your mind to fill in the blanks and they often come up with even worse ideas. Also aided by black-and-white as you can see a liquid dripping down but because there’s no colour you can’t tell what it is until the characters on screen confirm your worst thoughts that it is blood. Moving onto the plot I must say that it’s a solid one but falls to bits during the last episode. I do like the genre of political thrillers and it’s got that going strong throughout the first half of this serial. The cliff-hanger to episode two really sums up that side of it. The cliff-hanger to episode one is also a particularly strong one and the follow up to it with the men from the plant coming along to take him away is suitably creepy and obviously playing of the very contemporary (and slightly more American) idea of servants of the government taking people away from their family and friends, and then when they return there’s something different about them. Finishing off by discussing the ending, I think it’s rather poor in comparison to what had come before it and it is one of the few things I feel that the Hammer movie version did better. The twist with Leo being possessed was good but the rest was too rushed I’m afraid and just lacked the impact it should’ve had.

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Overall, it’s an amazing story and from episodes one to five it really is one of the best things ever shown on television. Episode six, while not leaving up to the exceptions of the first five, is still good enough to watch and the whole thing is defiantly worth a look for anyone interested in sci-fi. As for where I’d put this story, it may just be my second favourite of the four. What beat it? Well we’ll take a look at that one next time with the review of the TV version of Quatermass and the Pit, one of the few things truly worthy of being called a classic.