Quatermass II

From Academic Kids

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The opening title sequence of Quatermass II.
Quatermass II is a British television science-fiction serial, the second in the popular and influential Quatermass series written by Nigel Kneale. It was first transmitted on BBC Television in the autumn of 1955, and is the first of the Quatermass serials to survive in its entirety in the BBC archives.
Contents

Background

The first serial in the series, The Quatermass Experiment, had been an extremely popular and critically well-received hit for the BBC in the summer of 1953, and the Corporation were very keen for a sequel. 1955 was an important year for them as it saw the breaking of their broadcasting monopoly in the UK with the launch of the rival ITV television network, so they were determined to counter the new channel's arrival with as many popular shows as possible.

Thus Quatermass II was commissioned from writer Nigel Kneale, who since the previous serial had seen huge success with productions such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Creature for the BBC. Both of these were directed by Rudolph Cartier, who had directed The Quatermass Experiment and teamed up once again with Kneale to direct this serial.

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As was usual at the time, Quatermass II was transmitted live from the BBC's Lime Grove Studios, with a certain amount of material pre-filmed on location and played into the live broadcasts as and when required. The serial was broadcast in six half-hour episodes on Saturday evenings from October 22 to November 26 1955. Episodes one, two, four, five and six (The Bolts, The Mark, The Coming, The Frenzy and The Destroyers) were all scheduled from 8.00-8.30pm, with episode three (The Food) scheduled from 9.15-9.45pm. As with the previous serial, the live nature of the production meant that most of the episodes overran slightly, although none by more than two minutes. In a new development, each of the episodes was successfully telerecorded onto 35mm film as they were broadcast in order for them to be repeated the Monday following transmission, with all of the repeats scheduled in a 10.15-10.45pm slot that night.

It should be noted that although the telerecordings mostly represent the programmes as originally broadcast, a handful of scenes were in fact re-shot and edited into the films for repeat broadcasts, possibly because the technical or acting quality of the original scenes was considered inferior. This explains how the actors sometimes appear to change studios more quickly than would be possible in a live broadcast.

These telerecordings survive complete in the BBC archives, and episode three was repeated on Bank Holiday Monday, August 26 1991, as part of The Lime Grove Story on BBC 2. This was a full day of programming celebrating the history of the Lime Grove Studios, which had closed a month before and would be demolished two years later. For many years the full serial, was not repeated or commercially released on VHS or DVD: it was believed that this is because Nigel Kneale did not wish it to be released. But in April 2005 the serial was released for the first time as part of a DVD compilation; see Film, sequels and DVD below.

Plot

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Derek Aylward as the unfortunate Ward, killed by the alien menace at Winnerden Flats.
Following the events of The Quatermass Experiment, Professor Bernard Quatermass is now working on a powerful new rocket, as well as a project to establish permanent bases on the moon. However, all is not well on Earth: strange objects are falling from the sky and many senior governmental figures are behaving oddly. One of these strange objects is brought to Quatermass at his lab by Captain John Dillon, the fiancÚ of Quatermass's niece Paula.

The Professor's suspicions are aroused and he travels to Winnerden Flats, which seems to be the centre of the occurrences. There he finds a huge synthetic food plant which he is shocked to realise is an exact replica of one of his proposed moon bases. When Dillon also becomes infected by 'the mark' and begins opposing Quatermass, he faces a race against time to discover the cause of the alien infection and a way to combat it.

He finds that figures to the highest levels of power in Britain have been marked, and with little time left to prevent a catastrophe, he and his assistant Dr Leo Pugh are forced to use Quatermass's experimental rocket and attempt to fight the alien menace in space.

Cast & Crew

The role of Quatermass was originally to have been played by its originator, actor Reginald Tate, but sadly Tate died only shortly before production was due to begin. He was replaced at short notice by John Robinson, who was an experienced actor and veteran of many small and character parts in a variety of films and television programmes. His performance is somewhat more detached and officious than Tate's, and he is often regarded as the weakest of the five actors to have played the part on television.

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Quatermass discovers the alien creature.
There were no other characters re-appearing from the first serial aside from Quatermass himself, although the character of Lomax may have been intended to feature, as Quatermass attempts to seek the policeman's help during the serial and is told he no longer works at Scotland Yard. Thus another similar character is used instead, probably as the original actor who played Lomax, Ian Colin, was unavailable. This is supported by the fact that the character does re-appear in the feature film version, which was scripted by Kneale.

Three actors who would later go on to become extremely familiar faces on British television feature in small roles in the serial: Roger Delgado, who found fame in the 1970s as The Master in Doctor Who, played a journalist who helps Quatermass before falling victim to 'the mark' (in episode 4); Wilfrid Brambell, later star of Steptoe and Son and The Beatles' movie A Hard Day's Night appeared as a tramp, and Melvyn Hayes, who here plays the small part of Frankie, became one of the stars of the hugely popular 1970s sitcom It Ain't Half Hot Mum.

As with all of the three 1950s Quatermass serials, Quatermass II was directed by Rudolph Cartier, the BBC's most esteemed director of the day, who worked with the writer Nigel Kneale on a variety of successful programmes during the decade. These included literary adaptations such as Wuthering Heights and Nineteen Eighty-Four and other original written for television pieces such as The Creature.

Film, sequels and DVD

As before, the film rights to Quatermass II were bought by Hammer Films, who released the feature film version Quatermass 2 in 1957. The film again starred Brian Donlevy and was directed by Val Guest. In America, it went under the title Enemy From Space.

It was to be three years before the Professor returned to action again, when the third serial Quatermass and the Pit began showing on the BBC. After that there would be a twenty-year break on television before he returned in a final serial, this time for Thames Television and transmitted on ITV, in 1979. Simply titled Quatermass, the character was played then by John Mills.

The television scripts for Quatermass II were released as a book by Penguin Books in 1959, with a selection of stills from the production also included. The book was re-released in 1979 to tie-in with the transmission of the final Quatermass serial on ITV.

In April 2005, BBC Worldwide released a boxed set of all their existing Quatermass material on DVD, containing digitally restored versions of all six episodes of Quatermass II, as well as the two existing episodes of The Quatermass Experiment and all of Quatermass and the Pit, along with various extra material.

The 1970 Doctor Who serial Spearhead from Space by Robert Holmes contains elements inspired by the plot of Quatermass II, including meteorites bringing aliens to Earth, invasion by imitation and stealth, and a creature growing in a tank. Supporting evidence comes from the programme's script-editor, Terrance Dicks, who has often repeated a quote from his former writing partner Malcolm Hulke: "A good television script requires just one good idea. It doesn't necessarily have to be your idea." Nigel Kneale has often been highly scathing of Doctor Who, and has been known to accuse the series in interviews of having copied storylines from his Quatermass serials.

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