In the last quarter of the twentieth century, the whole world seemed to sicken – and Professor Bernard Quatermass takes advantage of an offer to be on television to publicise his search for his missing granddaughter…
Quatermass is one of the most important British screen science fiction characters. The beleaguered professor was created by Nigel Kneale for three BBC TV series in the 1950s, which were exported to the big screen by Hammer between 1955 and 1967. A fourth serial began life in the early 1970s but only made it to air – in a quite radically different form – in the autumn of 1979. Rather than a separate movie, its cinema version (designed for overseas territory) was a re-edit of the four-hour serial. (For more on the history of Quatermass, check out Kim Newman’s excellent BFI book on Quatermass and the Pit, and the forthcoming We are the Martians from Spectral Press.)
This final version – known simply as Quatermass in its TV incarnation but as The Quatermass Conclusion in cinemas – starred John Mills as a very believable old man who finds that even as his life draws to a close, he is still faced with the incredible.
Quatermass has its faults in pacing and some of the acting, but it’s still a fitting capstone to the good professor’s career. (The Quatermass Memoirs, the radio series recorded 17 years later with movie Quatermass Andrew Keir reprising the role, is set in the period immediately before this takes place – it’s not a sequel, as some still erroneously claim.) Simon MacCorkindale, Barbara Kellerman and Margaret Tyzack are amongst those caught up in events and MacCorkindale, in particular, delivers a strong performance as Joe Kapp, particularly once his life is given a purpose again after tragedy strikes.
When it was broadcast in 1979, the world Kneale created seemed unnecessarily bleak, and its no-go areas and pornographic lowest-common-denominator TV broadcasts did seem like the stuff of fiction. Watch that opening episode now, and it’s nowhere near as unbelievable.
The music by Marc Wilkinson and Nic Rowley has stuck in my mind since I first watched the serial 36 years ago, and one of the great extras on Network’s release is a music-only track for the entire series. The picture and sound are crystal clear – there’s the option of the original mono soundtrack or a 5.1 mix – and the three recaps are presented as an extra (the one that aired before episode 2 has no sound – I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s got that on cassette tape somewhere!). There are textless start and end titles, and a booklet by Andrew Pixley, which wasn’t available for review but I’d be rather surprised if it was anything less than exemplary!
There has been plenty of talk of returns for Quatermass over the years – and even the not particularly brilliant 2005 “remake” of The Quatermass Experiment – but the original stories stand up well. Congratulations to Network on bringing the conclusion to our screens so it can be seen in the way its creators intended.
Verdict: Huffity, Puffity, Puff… A great presentation of an important piece of TV science fiction. 10/10