Quatermass: The Quatermass Conclusion

September 28, 2014 in Cult TV, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782

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Now up to this the Quatermass serials have all had this gritty realism to them and were quite grim at times but none of them can prepare you for the bleakness that this has to offer. It is a bloodbath and has barely any hope on offer. Nigel Kneale goes away from the sci-fi thriller roots a bit here and instead goes for a distopian and almost post-apocalyptic story with his fourth instalment. But before I go any further let’s get a bit of context about the production first. It is 1979 and it’s been twenty years since Quatermass was last on TV with Quatermass and the Pit in 1959. Multiple talks had been in place with Kneale since then but nothing really came of them. One of them that came close however was in 1973 when a script was completed and model work had begun. But shortly after this the BBC got worried about the cost of the production and felt it was too grim for their vision and the time and so ended it. When it seemed like all hope was lost, Euston Films (a subsidiary of Thames Television) picked up the unmade scripts after the interest in science-fiction had risen thanks to the popularity of Star Wars. Euston Films made it entirely on 35mm film and as such we’ve got a very polished finished product which, as Nigel Kneale has said in previous interviews, was much more lavish than either he or the BBC had ever contemplated.

Unlike previous Quatermass serials this one is only four parts, but each part is now fifty minutes to make up for this and also makes it the second longest Quatermass serial in terms of run time, with Quatermass and the Pit taking first place. There was also a one-hundred minute film version which was an edited down version of the serial intended for sale outside of the UK. The original four-part version was actually simply titled Quatermass but because ”Quatermass: Quatermass” is a rather odd title for a post we’re going with the title of the film version, The Quatermass Conclusion. The story is set in an alternative version of the late twentieth century, which at time of broadcast was in the near future, and sees a much older Quatermass looking for his lost daughter. Meanwhile, society is on the downfall and gangs swarm the streets. Some escape to the countryside to find safety while others join the planet people, a curious cult who believe they will one day be transported to another planet. But compared to what’s about to come this all seems irrelevant. Something is waiting out there in space, waiting to begin the harvest.

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This time around Quatermass is played by a fourth different actor in just as many stories with John Mills becoming the sixth actor to play the title role. Mills himself had only one television credit to his name before this although had appeared in many films. He was initially reluctant to take the part but was convinced because his wife liked the script. Joining his was Simon MacCorkindale as Joe Kapp, an astronomer who had moved into the country with his wife and children to escape the chaos in the cities. MacCorkindale was very happy to take on the role as it was a change from the romantic roles he found himself becoming typecast as. His character’s wife, Claire Kapp, was played Barbara Kellerman and meanwhile behind the camera was Varity Lambert as executive producer who had found fame as the first producer of Doctor Who and had since carved her self out a very good career.

Now we find ourselves at the spoiler free analysis of the serial so no worries yet if you haven’t seen it. Speaking of that, I recommend you do so as soon as possible as it is absolutely incredible. It’s packed full of much more genuine emotion that its predecessors and there are some real tear-jerking moments that really come as a surprise after the last three. It’s also, as previously mentioned, unrelentingly grim and is most defiantly not for the faint-hearted. There are moments in this that’ll really shock you and others that bring a lump to your throat. It really is gripping stuff and it’s rather scary how easily our world could turn into the one portrayed here. John Mills gives a good performance as an older version of the Quatermass we’d seen before. There’s a real bitterness about him as to how the world turned out and how space travel, something his whole career had been based around, had turned out. It’s almost as if Nigel Kneale’s getting across his disappointment as to how space travel turned out in real life (a game of politics) rather than the way he and many others envisaged which was portrayed in the previous Quatermass serials.

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Now the next two paragraphs will be dedicated to the spoiler section of the review so once again, if you don’t want to be spoiled then skip to the conclusion. They gone? Good, now let’s talk about something which has sort of become a tradition to begin with in these Quatermass posts and that is the ending. It’s another downbeat one, this time with the demise of the titular character himself, Quatermass. Now in a bloodbath of a story like this it’s hard to expect the main character to come out unscathed but nevertheless his sacrifice is still quite shocking. It’s not a sudden thing either, he planned it all out and had no intention of backing out either. But even with this knowledge there’s still that thought at the back of your head that he’ll find a way out. Having him see his granddaughter once again in his last moments of life is quite touching too and having her help him press the button is another powerful moment. We had her teased throughout the story but Kneale waits until the end to pay those teases off. It kind of robs her of any individual character development and leaves us without a proper conversation between the two. But while we loose one powerful moment from that we gain another so I guess that makes it ultimately worthwhile and we then finish off with a nice, solemn monologue and the sounds of a familiar nursery rhyme.

Now Quatermass’ death isn’t the only one in this, far from it. In fact there’s so much death in this that the dust from all the bodies has turned the sky green. Joe Kapp goes through a lot in this story and has an emotional breakdown in the second half when it dawns on him that his wife and children have been harvested. There’s even a real gruesome scene with the charred remains of his dog which would probably never get past the sensors today. The unfortunately means that his ultimate death in the final part is slightly unsatisfactory when he’s merely gunned down by one of the Planet People. Now while I said earlier that Quatermass’s granddaughter doesn’t get any character development that doesn’t mean that the portrayal of women in this story is bad, quite the opposite actually. On the whole Kneale has been quite good with his representation of women and while the first three Quatermass serials weren’t ideal in the representation of women (each containing only one major female character) they were defiantly pushing boundaries for their time with each of these women being strong and well rounded characters. Move forward to this story and we have quite a few well written female characters each trying to make their own way in this depressing world. The most notable of these is Annie played by Margaret Tyzack. She comes across as a very human character and has some great interaction with Quatermass throughout. Her rather simple death in a car crash basically sums up what kind of world this is. The alien menace itself is never seen and only spoken of as being in space, harvesting life bellow. It’s menace is achieved very effectively and it’s effects are devastating.

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Overall, its absolutely brilliant although I probably would place it third out of the four, simply because I love the atmosphere and ideas on display in Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit more. Nevertheless, all four Quatermass serials are well worth watching and they range from political thrillers to post-apocalyptic dramas. There is not a single dud which is not an easy feat to accomplish and they’re not one-hundred percent perfect (nothing ever really is) they are still worth watching. So with no more Quatermass stories to review, what are waiting for. Go out there and watch them if you haven’t already and be sure to share your thoughts on them here once you’re done.