Professor Quatermass -
Joe Kapp -
OTHER POST APOCALYPSE SHOWS
Day of the Triffids
The Last Train
Professor Quatermass comes out of retirement in Scotland to give an interview on the BBC at the time of a link up between US and Russian space stations. That goes horribly wrong and he is taken to the Radio Telescope home of his fellow interviewee. On the way, they encounter the Planet People, young people heading to an ancient stone circle to be transported to another world. It's nonsense, of course, so the scientists are then astonished when a white light descends from the sky and the youngsters are gone.
The return of Professor Quatermass in a Nigel Kneale penned story is something to be very excited about, so it is something of a disappointment that this opening episode is so flat and, well, dull. It's the set up episode, of course, and it ends with a cliffhanger that promises the start of the interesting stuff, but the events of the television interview that takes up half of the episode could probably have been dispensed with in half the time. There feels like a lot of unnecessary padding here, something that you can't usually complain about with a Kneale series.
The character of the Professor himself is also part of the problem. In previous incarnations he has been a powerful, confident presence. Here, he is a beaten, tatty old man whose only interest is in finding his lost granddaughter, although coming to the television studio seems to have been the only thing that he's done to find her to date. It is also quite unbelievable that, even living in Scotland, he can have been unaware of the state that the country, and the world, has fallen into - this leading to a lot of explanatory dialogue for the benefit of the viewer.
And it is this world that holds most of the interest in this opening episode. It's a world in decay, a world where the disaffected youth are either violent gangs or spaced outhippies who have given up on life and just want to go elsewhere. It's a world where a radio telescope is built for the sake of prestige, but can only be kept running by begging, stealing or borrowing whatever is needed. Most chilling of all, it's a world where power cuts are not only frequent, they're planned for.Top
Quatermass and Joe Kapp start their investigation into events at Ringstone Round. They find bodies and a single survivor, a young girl blinded and burned. None of this convinces the Planet People that their friends have not gone to another planet. Quatermass takes the girl to London where he is involved in a gang fight, but not before he realises that the phenomenon that is happening worldwide is happening at stone circles. There is a stone circle near to Joe Kapp's house.
There is a studied pace about this series from Nigel Kneale, but it certainly picks up towards the end. The investigations lead Quatermass to believe that whatever is exerting the mental influence over the Planet People could have been approaching earth for a long time, its influence growing as it grew closer. This thing may, therefore, have been responsible for the downfall of civilisation.
The realisation that these events are taking place at stone circles leads immediately to the gathering of Planet People near to Joe Kapp's house, leading to the light and his anguished return home to find his family gone. This is all the more chilling for the time that has been spent over the two episodes getting to know them.Top
What Lies Beneath
Quatermass finds himself in the care of a community of older folk hiding out in a wasteland of ruined cars, at the mercy of the youth gangs. There, he meets a chemist who gives him some clues as to the nature of the being that is attacking. He surmises that there is a bubble of energy surrounding the earth, too diffuse for radar to detect, but capable of concentrating itself into a beam of energy for the purpose of harvesting humanity. It's all a bit too much for the Primes Minister who collapses, but his replacement is young enough to hear the call of the entity. Will he stop the gathering of tens of thousands at Wembley Stadium, or fight those trying to prevent it?
The fear of an ageing population being abandoned or terrorised by society's youth is as relevant today as it was when this series was made and this episode is the graphic illustration of that fear. Whilst that's interesting, it doesn't justify the episode which is struggling with a story that doesn't quite hang together. The sequence with the young survivor's levitation and subsequent explosion is visually very effective, but doesn't seem to serve any purpose, which means that the whole saving of her and the race to London was merely a device to get Quatermass into his next situation.
The final few minutes as Quatermass and the area commissioner fight to stop the gathering at Wembley proves to be dramatic, but doesn't have enough build up to reap its full potential.Top
An Endangered Species
Time is running out for the human race as its children are taken in larger and larger numbers. The sky has turned yellow with undigested particles or the spillings as the Planet People decide to call it. Following the events at Wembley, though, Professor Quatermass has a plan. Gathering a team of elderly scientists together, he sets about simulating the heat, smell and sound of a gathering of one million young people. A lure like that will allow him to deliver a burst of poisoned energy into the heart of the beast.
So, it's the end of the line for the new incarnation of Quatermass and the realisation doesn't live up to the writing. As usual, there are plenty of small moments that are badly muffed. An ageing scientist has a heart attack just at the point of success and is swiftly forgotten as the plot moves forwards. This moment is then repeated as Quatermass struggles to get to the plunger of the atomic weapon, but is defeated by age. Only the appearance of his missing granddaughter saves the world. The story is about blood, after all, so it is fitting that blood saves the day, but surely the character of Quatermass deserved a better ending.
As does Joe Kapp. Driven nearly insane by the loss of his family, he recovers only to be casually shot in the final moments to no real value. And with something as important as the whole future of humanity at stake why did nobody think to carry out a security sweep to remove any lurking planet people and then create a security perimeter? Rustling up a nuclear bomb's no problem, but a simple security cordon?
For a show that was hugely expensive at the time, QUATERMASS hasn't exactly gone overboard on the special effects, but here it uses its biggest to the least effect. The sky turning yellow is acheived by an electronic filter effect, but it also turns everything else white or near white to yellow as well. There is colour seepage everywhere and it looks terrible, taking the audience completely out of the story.
Nigel Kneale sends his greatest creation over his own set of waterfalls and the series can easily be seen as the writer struggling with thoughts of his own continued usefulness in advancing age. Repeated on ITV4 in the wake of the author's death, this is not the most fitting reminder of the talent and insight of a man who is the father of modern British science fiction, but it serves as a reminder of what he was capable of at the height of his abilities.
All UK sci-fi fans owe him a great debt. Nigel Kneale, we salute you.Top
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