Director: Piers Haggard
Screenplay: Nigel Kneale
Starring: John Mills, Simon MacCorkindale, Barbara Kellerman, Ralph Arliss, Paul Rosebury, Tony Sibbald, Bruce Purchase, David Yip, Margaret Tyzack, Toyah Wilcox, Brewster Mason
Running Time: 220 mins
BBFC Classification: 15
There have been quite a number of Quatermass adventures filmed over the years, both for TV and for cinema. Probably the most famous of these are the three Hammer films from the 50s and 60s, but this more recent Quatermass story also caught the imagination of the public when it was first broadcast on Thames Television at the tail-end of the Seventies. Here we have actor Sir John Mills playing the role of Professor Quatermass, a scientist of considerable reputation, who always seems to be called in when something strange happens with a space rocket or some weird extra-terrestrial sounds are picked up on a radar sweep.
We first encounter Quatermass in this series, being attacked in a dodgy area of the capital city and having to be rescued by fellow scientist Dr Joe Kapp (MacCorkindale). The two of them have been invited to take part in a TV interview regarding some new Russian space endeavour, but Quatermass only wants to use the free air time to show a photo of his granddaughter, who he’s currently looking for, after she went missing some weeks before.
It’s during the first episode that we realise that all is not right with the world; there’s major unrest everywhere, and most of the towns and cities are under a state of martial law as street-gangs riot and loot, and most of the population are out of work and are on the bread-line. Sounds a bit like Britain during the late 70s anyway!
After managing to annoy the TV station, and an American scientist, by having different theories to them, the two scientists quickly head out into the country to where Joe’s normally holed up, with his young family and his research. Things get very weird, very quickly when the hippy-like Planet People (replete with Ps painted on their faces) arrive in the area obsessing about ‘being ready’ to take a trip to a different planet. It soon becomes apparent that they may have a point when a load of these new-age hippy types are frazzled into nothing by a big beam of light that seems to deliberately target a nearby circle of standing stones, namely the interestingly titled: Ringstone Round. The scientists soon discover that this occurrence isn’t the first of its type and isn’t likely to be the last either.
As more and more young people start to disappear, en mass, it soon becomes evident that some sort of alien intelligence is targeting the Earth, and if something isn’t done about it soon, the Human Race will soon become extinct…
Quatermass: The Complete Series is quite an oddity, and is clearly very much a product of its time. Writer Nigel Kneale is obviously quite preoccupied here about the marked differences between the generations and his script reflects probably how many people from the older generation felt back then about the new, ‘flower-power’ generation. It seems to me that Kneale was trying to address the issue of how these two generations were struggling to see eye-to-eye, neither one really understanding the other, and showing little respect for each other’s beliefs, protocols or feelings. It’s also quite obvious that Kneale firmly aligns himself with the older generation as he, rather unusually, makes the old guard the heroes of the piece.
While certainly engaging for the most part, I couldn’t help but feel that this was a good idea stretched to near breaking point by the TV mini-series format, and it would have been better served by an abbreviated form, i.e. a movie. It’s also all rather too English in nature, and rather twee – even the muggers and rioters are quite posh!
A fair bit of money has been spent on this production, at least in places, although it still manages to convey a bit of a home-made feel to it. The acting is generally pretty good, and John Mills and Simon MacCorkindale make for two engaging leads. The women tend to fair much worse though and are given pretty thankless roles in general, and even when they’re being quite heroic, they also have to get all emotional and start crying! Gender equality was a long way off back in the 70s…
The music score is quite an eerie one and kind of reminded me of some of the Italian ‘gut-munchers’ from the same decade with its lo-fi synth-based sounds, and rather ominous tone. However, this fits right in with the general themes of the series, which, as a whole, tends to be quite bleak, depressing and vaguely menacing.
Overall, I think Quatermass: The Complete Series will appeal to those who enjoy their sci-fi downbeat and gritty, with a very British bent. It certainly has a very anti-establishment vibe to it, for the most part, and also a fair bit of scientific gobligook to enjoy!
Quatermass: The Complete Series has been released on DVD and is being distributed by Network Distributing. The extras include a picture gallery – showing off 55 stills and behind the scenes shots from the film; some text-less end titles and a trailer (both mute for some reason); and, best of all, a feature film version of the TV show, which I haven’t seen yet, but I’m guessing that it’s probably better than the full-length television version.