Quatermass (1979)

From Academic Kids

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The opening title sequence of Quatermass.
Quatermass (also known as The Quatermass Conclusion or Quatermass IV) is a British television science-fiction serial, the fourth and final instalment in the famous Quatermass series. Written by Nigel Kneale, it was produced by Euston Films for Thames Television and broadcast on the ITV network in the autumn of 1979.
Contents

Background

Professor Bernard Quatermass had been the hero of three science-fiction serials written by Kneale for BBC Television during the 1950s: The Quatermass Experiment (1953), Quatermass II (1955) and Quatermass and the Pit (1958-59). In each of these highly-regarded productions, Quatermass had battled a variety of alien horrors, and the character became a part of the British popular culture of the time.

The success of the serials on television led to Hammer Films buying the rights to make feature film adaptations, and all three of them were re-made for the cinema. After the release of the Hammer version of Quatermass and the Pit in 1967 Kneale, who had written the screenplay for the film himself, proposed to Hammer an idea for a fourth Quatermass film, written directly for the screen. Although they were interested and Kneale wrote up a detailed storyline for the project, the idea went little further before being abandoned, possibly due to the lack of box office success for Quatermass and the Pit.

In the early 1970s, Kneale was once more working regularly in television writing for the BBC, and he took this fourth Quatermass story idea to Ronnie Marsh, who was at that time the BBC's Head of Drama Serials. Marsh was interested, and commissioned Kneale to write the scripts for the serial, which now held the provisional title of Quatermass IV. However, again for a variety of reasons, the project eventually stalled and in 1973 was cancelled by the BBC.

Later in the decade, Kneale was working in commercial television, and it was here that the fourth Quatermass serial finally found an outlet. Even though Kneale had been a BBC staff writer when he had created the character in 1953, it was he individually and not the Corporation who held copyright in Quatermass, so Kneale was free to take him wherever he chose. The serial was picked up by Thames Television to be produced by their subsidiary company Euston Films, taking the Professor across to the BBC's rival, the ITV network, for the first time.

Quatermass, as the serial was finally titled, had far higher production values then any of the previous television serials and even than Hammer's feature film versions. Produced on what was then a very generous budget of 1 million, the serial was made on glossy 35mm film.

The serial was broadcast on Wednesday nights in four one-hour episodes, from October 24 to November 14 1979. Each episode was described on-screen and in listings as a 'Chapter'. Chapters one and four (Ringstone Round and An Endangered Species) were scheduled in a 9.00-10.00pm timeslot; two and three (Lovely Lightning and What Lies Beneath) slightly later in a 9.10-10.10pm slot. The first episode received particular attention as it was the centrepiece of ITV's first evening back on air following a strike which had blacked the network out for over seventy days. The strike had delayed the broadcast of the serial, which had been ready for some time and had been meant to be shown much earlier.

For sale and possible theatrical release abroad, an alternative 105-minute movie edit of the serial was prepared, which went under its own title, The Quatermass Conclusion. This greatly annoyed Kneale, as he did not like having to write a story that would need to work in two forms of such massively different length.

The serial was repeated on ITV as a two-part compilation version in the spring of 1984. Chapters one and two were edited together as Chapter One: Ringstone Round, and chapters three and four simply as Chapter Two with no subtitle. These two compilations were broadcast on successive Wednesday nights, May 9 and May 16 1984, both in 10.30pm-12.25am timeslots.

In 2002 the production was released as a DVD box set in the UK, which included both the original four-part serial version and The Quatermass Conclusion movie edit.

Plot

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The Planet People march toward Ringstone Round.
At the beginning of the story, Quatermass has been living in retreat in the Scottish Highlands for some years, since his retirement from the British Experimental Rocket Group, where he worked during his previously-seen adventures. At the start of the opening episode he arrives in London, in search of his missing granddaughter for whom he has been caring since her parents (presumably - though never explicitly - Paula Quatermass and John Dillon from Quatermass II) were killed in a road accident in Germany.

Quatermass has also come to the city to appear as an invited guest on a television programme covering a meeting in space between Russian and American spacecraft. He is shocked to find the anarchy into which the city has descended, and the whole of the UK appears to have degenerated into a dystopic state.

During the television programme on which he appears, Quatermass speaks out against the state of the space programmes, and is then shocked to see the two spacecraft destroyed by some unknown alien force. The astronomer Joe Kapp, a guest on the programme alongside Quatermass, takes him to his observatory in the country, away from the malice he is receiving for his comments on the programme.

Quatermass is intrigued by the behaviour of a group of hippie-like youngsters known as the 'Planet People', who are gathering from across the country at various neolithic sites, led by the taciturn 'Kickalong'. Quatermass and Kapp observe a huge gathering of Planet People being destroyed at a local stone circle, Ringstone Round, although Kickalong and the other Planet People believe them to have been 'transported' to a better place.

Slowly, as more and more people are killed and the alien influence increases the nihilistic, bleak outlook of the country and the world, Quatermass realises that the alien presence is attracted to a certain type of large gathering, which could be simulated to lead the force into a trap.

Together with a group of elderly scientists who are immune from the destructive aura of the alien presence, with assistance from the army Quatermass constructs a lure for the alien menace at Kapp's laboratory. Using signals transmitted by his radio telescopes they plan to simulate the presence of a large crowd and then detonate a nuclear device as the alien arrives, hoping to warn it off returning to Earth.

Quatermass volunteers to stay at the central point and detonate the bomb himself, and Kapp - whose family have been killed in one of the previous gatherings - stays with him. However, just as the alien presence is arriving, Kickalong and a group of Planet People arrive, attracted by the small stone circle near Kapp's house. Kapp tries to warn them off but is shot dead by Kickalong. Just at the moment when the presence has arrived and the nuclear device needs to be detonated, Quatermass suffers a massive stroke and finds himself unable to reach for the button: however, his granddaughter, one of the gathering Planet People, suddenly arrives at his side and guides his hand to it. The device successfully detonated, the alien presence is seemingly shaken off, and the serial ends on an optimistic coda, with the suggestion that life will gradually return to normal.

Cast & Crew

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John Mills as Professor Bernard Quatermass, appealing on television to try and find his missing granddaughter.
The role of Professor Bernard Quatermass was, as with all the previous television serials featuring him, taken by a new actor. In this case, it was the highly distinguished British film actor John Mills, making what was at the time only his second ever television series, following 1974's The Zoo Gang. He would, however, later go on to take other occasional television roles, such as Dr. Watson opposite Peter Cushing's Sherlock Holmes in the 1984 Channel 4 one-off The Masks of Death.

Joe Kapp was played by Simon MacCorkindale, and various other familiar British television faces of the era appeared, including Brian Croucher, who became the only actor ever to have appeared in all three of the most important British television science-fiction programmes: Doctor Who, Blake's 7 and Quatermass. One of the Planet People was played by popular actress and singer Toyah Willcox.

Nigel Kneale went on to continue his television career well into his seventies, working on various ITV series until the late 1990s. In the early 1980s he created his own sitcom, Kinvig, although this was not a particular success. Other work, such as an adaptation of Susan Hill's novel The Woman in Black (1989) and episodes of series such as Kavanagh QC and Sharpe (1995-96) proved more successful.

Quatermass was directed by Piers Haggard, who the previous year had helmed Dennis Potter's landmark drama serial Pennies From Heaven for the BBC. It was produced by Ted Childs, and the Executive Producer for Euston Films was Verity Lambert, an immensely experienced television producer who had begun her career as the first producer of the BBC's science-fiction classic Doctor Who in 1963. It was in that position that she had been invited to appear as a guest on the BBC 2 discussion programme Late Night Line-Up in 1965, to discuss television science-fiction. One of her fellow guests that night had been Nigel Kneale, who had let her know on air in no uncertain terms what he felt about the poor quality of her programme, although it seems they were able to work amicably enough on Quatermass fourteen years later.

Other Media

For the first time, a novelisation of a Quatermass story was produced, written by Kneale himself, who had been an award-winning prose writer in the 1940s before turning to scriptwriting. Published by Arrow Books to coincide with the transmission of the serial, the novelisation contains several additional scenes and plot deviations, with Kneale telling the story more in the manner he would have liked to have told it but for the necessities of the television production.

Although Quatermass had been killed off at the end of the serial, the character did return one last time on BBC radio in 1996. This was in a serial entitled The Quatermass Memoirs, a drama-documentary which mixed the telling of the real-life story of the Quatermass serials with the fictional strand of Quatermass writing his memoirs in the Scottish Highlands, set at a time slightly before this final televised story. Broadcast on BBC Radio 3, the role of Quatermass was voiced by Andrew Keir, who had previously played the part in Hammer's 1967 film version of Quatermass and the Pit.

In 2005 the character returned to BBC Television as digital station BBC Four recreated the original 1953 serial The Quatermass Experiment in a live broadcast. The re-staging starred Jason Flemyng as Quatermass.

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