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.

Quatermass: Quatermass and the Pit

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

A Guest Blog by Hevy782

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With the character of Quatermass still very much in the public’s mind, the now freelance writer Nigel Kneale was hired to write a third serial in 1957. With a larger budget and an extra five minutes per episode, Kneale wrote the serial as an allegory for the racial tensions that were currently surfacing in the UK. This is very probably the most popular and well known of the Quatermass serials and is often looked upon as a genuine television classic. In this third story a pre-human skull is unearthed in a building site in Hobbs Lane and palaeontologist Doctor Matthew Roney calls in his old friend Professor Bernard Quatermass. Together they discover an impenetrable space ship and learn of ghost sightings dating back decades. There is an ancient mystery at Hobbs Lane which dates back millions of years, and that mystery threatens to wipe out all life on Earth. The devil himself is coming for a final reckoning, and Quatermass is the only one who can stop him.

This story was made just before video tape became general at the BBC and so was once again telerecorded meaning we have all six episodes for our viewing pleasure. We also once again have a different actor playing the title role, the third one in just as many serials. This time, André Morell is Quatermass and his interpretation is often viewed as the definitive one. He was originally offered the role for the first serial but turned it down. Joining him this time around are Doctor Matthew Roney who is played by Canadian actor Cec Linder and Colonel Breen played by Anthony Bushell, who was often cast in military roles. Rounding off the main cast were Christine Finn as Barbara Judd and John Stratton as Captain Potter. For the first time, this serial features a returning character other than Quatermass. Journalist James Fullalove from The Quatermass Experiment makes a return here albeit played by another actor, Brian Worth, as Paul Whitsun-Jones was unavailable.

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As you’re probably all aware by now this is the spoiler-free section of the review so if you’re sensitive about that kind of stuff this part’s been given the all clear. Now you may recall I did a review of the Hammer film version of this a while ago so how does this shape up against the film? Well they each have their own things going for them. Of course the film has a bigger budget but that doesn’t necessarily mean a better end product. The TV serial, however, has a much longer run time but does that mean it’s more developed or just moves at a snail’s pace. Well the simple answer is that the film doesn’t feel rushed but the TV serial doesn’t feel slow, which is quite an accomplishment given the vast difference in the length. The TV serial’s length is great for additional characters such as Captain Potter who are virtually non-existent in the film and it also helps to rack up the tension, not that the film doesn’t. One thing that the TV serial definitely has which is better is André Morell as Quatermass. While Andrew Keir is by no means bad, André Morell is just the definitive Quatermass and I entirely agree with popular opinion on that one. He just plays it so well and comes more in line with Reginald Tate’s portrayal of the part than John Robinson’s so for those of you who preferred the original then you’ll definitely like André Morell as Quatermass.

Now for the spoiler section of the review so if you want to avoid spoilers then skip to the end. You have been warned. Are they gone? Good, now let’s get into things but starting off with the general premise. The idea of aliens being responsible for human evolution isn’t an uncommon one but it’s something I can’t think of an example of from before Quatermass. The idea of the devil being an alien though is a bit less common and is only really used when paying homage to this. There is one Doctor Who story that has both these things among many others. The Dæmons was from 1971 and was definitely inspired by the ideas here, although the tone is completely different. Now let’s talk about Colonel Breen who is, in effect, the main antagonist of the piece. Now while he’s not necessarily evil, he is Quatermass’s main obstacle in convincing the public of the dangers of the spaceship. It’s unclear whether Breen was under the influence of the spaceship or not and with little things like this it’s nice to have that ambiguity to allow the viewer to make up their own mind. His death, however, was much more graphic and frightening in the film. In the TV serial it’s hard to tell whether he’s dead or just in a trance. Also, I do feel the film does the ending slightly better and more downbeat, but arguably that’s aided by the budget.

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Overall, it is amazing and Nigel Kneale has a way of writing in which things take their time to happen but the tension is racked up to the extreme. He is truly at his best here and, as you’ve probably guessed by now, this is my favourite of the four. Highly recommended, even if you haven’t seen the first two. They’re all really self contained so you’re free to watch the first three in any order. The fourth, however, is another matter. Why? Well we’ll be taking a look at that next time in the final chapter in this epic story.

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.

Quatermass: The Quatermass Experiment

July 27, 2014 in Cult TV, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782

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In 1953, science-fiction on TV was revolutionised by the broadcast of the Quatermass Experiment. Now, more than sixty years later, its still remembered as one of British television’s greatest classics. While literary science-fiction was leaps and bounds ahead, on television it was seen as something purely for children. All this changed when Nigel Kneale decided to create a science fiction serial aimed at an adult television audience, something that had never been attempted before. It was a gamble that ended up being a great success, for six weeks the streets and pups were emptied as people rushed home to watch the national phenomenon that was The Quatermass Experiment. This then paved the way and provided inspiration for many British science-fiction series’ that followed such as Doctor Who and Sapphire and Steel. The serial itself was broadcast in six parts and was set in the near future against the backdrop of a British Space Programme where the first manned flight into space has just been attempted and is being supervised by the titular Professor Bernard Quatermass of the British Experimental Rocket Group. Three astronauts went up but only one has come down, and he is behaving very strangely. Following further investigation it soon becomes apparent to Quatermass that an alien presence entered the ship while in flight, and now that same alien presence threatens to wipe out the world and only Quatermass and his associates can stop it.

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Sapphire and Steel : Assignment 6

May 29, 2014 in Cult TV, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782

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From an old house to an abandoned railway station. From a futuristic time vessel then to a modern day apartment. Now from a 1930’s style dinner party to our final destination, a seemingly abandoned roadside café where time has stopped and the only clue is two humans who claim to be from 1948. This is it, the final assignment for Sapphire and Steel. Series creator P J Hammond returns to write this final four part story. Unlike the other assignments, this one directly relates to Sapphire and Steel and where they come from. While we are still left basically in the dark at the end of this story we do get more tantalising hints as to who they really are in this than in any other story.

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Sapphire and Steel : Assignment 5

May 22, 2014 in Cult TV, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782

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After ghost stories and futuristic tales, we finally get onto Sapphire and Steel’s take on a murder mystery, where a bargain with Time could lead to the destruction of the entire human race. This fifth assignment is six parts long and is written by Don Houghton and Anthony Read, making it the only story not to be written by the series’ creator, P J Hammond. Some may remember these from their writing credits on Doctor Who, with Don Houghton writing stories such as Inferno and Anthony Read being script editor for a while. There are some distinct differences in the writing from previous stories with the most prominent being the fact that Sapphire and Steel are undercover, which works for this story given the style of the murder mystery. Still it very much feels like Sapphire and Steel despite these differences and Sapphire and Steel are quite possibly at their best here, although I’m not sure as to how much input P J Hammond actually had in this story.

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Sapphire and Steel : Assignment 4

May 1, 2014 in Cult TV, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest blog by Hevy782

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After a move into a more futuristic tale, we return to a slightly more traditional tale for Sapphire and Steel. This fourth assignment is once more written by P J Hammond and is only four parts this time. Delving once again into the world of horror although having slightly more dominant sci-fi elements, more akin to the first assignment in style than the other two, with the second very much delving into the world of horror and the third delving into the world of sci-fi. After going to two opposite ends of the spectrum it’s nice in this one to return to somewhere more towards the middle. The story itself has a slightly more mundane setting in a rather dingy modern apartment building, but the almost abandoned nature of it puts it slightly more on edge.

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Sapphire and Steel : Assignment 3

April 25, 2014 in Cult TV, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest blog by Hevy782

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After a haunted house and an abandoned railway station, the series starts to move into a more sci-fi direction in the third assignment of Sapphire and Steel. While the series does very much have a sci-fi core, it also as a lot of horror elements which often ends up pushing the sci-fi stuff to the background, especially in the previous story. Now we head to the opposite end of the spectrum with a story that has sci-fi very much in the forefront with a time capsule from the thirty-fifth century containing a family sent to study life in the twentieth century. This itself gives a very unique set up to the story as rather than objects from the past being the anachronism that causes all the trouble, it’s an object from the future that is trying to tamper with Time. This story is also slightly shorter than the last part at a length of six parts and is once again written by P J Hammond, now let’s take a closer look.

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Sapphire and Steel : Assignment 2

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

A Guest blog by Hevy782

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The second assignment of Sapphire and Steel is both longest and notoriously the scariest of all the stories. This story was again written by P J Hammond, who also envisioned and created the series, and it is eight parts long. Again, keeping to the same formula of small sets and minimal casts, its hard to believe that it’s able to sustain itself for eight parts but it does so surprisingly well. While there are moments which feel quite padded out it still manages to keep itself going and there are times where it flies by surprisingly quickly.

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Sapphire and Steel : Assignment 1

April 10, 2014 in Cult TV, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest blog by Hevy782

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Sapphire and Steel was a short lived British sci-fi series that has gone on to become a cult classic among many sci-fi fans. The show revolves around two interdimensional agents, Sapphire and Steel who are played by Joanna Lumley and David McCallum respectively. They work for an unknown higher order and their mission is to fix irregularities with Time (with a capital T). Got that so far? Good, because this is where it gets complicated.

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