Friday, 3 June 2016

407 Quatermass

First  viewed  :  31  October  1979

This   four-part  sci-fi   drama  wasn't  universally  loved  but  I  really  enjoyed  it.  Of  course  I  was  too  young  to  remember  the  original  Quatermass  serials  in  the  fifties  which  certainly  were  well-regarded  so  I  wasn't  burdened  with  making  comparisons. Those  were  made  by  the  BBC  and  writer  Nigel  Kneale  wrote  this  one  for  the  Beeb  too. Shooting  started  in  1972  then  was  abandoned  due  to  the  costs  but  the  BBC  held  on  to  the  rights  until  1975. Kneale  was  mainly  working  for  ITV  by  then  and  eventually  persuaded  Euston  Films  to  pick  it  up. This  troubled  genesis  is  important  as  the  deranged  youth  cult  at  the  centre  of  the  story  is  based  on  hippies  rather  than  punks. This  is  a  vision  of  the  future  with  a  chunk  of  the  present  missing.

The  exact  year  of  the  setting  is  imprecise  but  it's  the  near-future  and  society  has  broken down. The  cities  are  virtually  no-go  areas  with  muggers  and  armed  gangs  attacking  anyone who  ventures  there , with  an  unsavoury  privatised  police  force  barely  keeping  them  in  check. he  youth  have  joined  either  a  violent  gang  or  the  Planet  People, a  wandering  bunch  of hippies  who  believe  they  will  be  transported  to  somewhere  better.  The  old  are later discovered to  be  cowering  in  a  huge  scrapyard  and  scavenging  by  night

Into  the  midst  of  this  dystopia  stumbles  the  aging  Quaatermass  ( John  Mills )  who  has  been living  as a  recluse  in the  wilds  of  Scotland  but  is  now  searching  for his  grand-daughter  who may  have joined  the  Planet  People. Invited  to  take  part  in  a  TV  programme  to  discuss  a pointless  US-Soviet  space  exchange,  he  condemns  it  venomously  just  before  an  unknown disaster  breaks  up  the  ships. Rescued  by  fellow  guest  Joe  Kapp  ( Simon  McCorkindale )  a young  Jew  trying to  keep  the  flame  of  scientific  research  alive,  he  is  taken  to  Joe's  rural   retreat  where  his  friends  and  young  family  man  a  couple  of  radio  telescopes.  Shortly afterwards,  they  witness the  destruction  of  a  gathering  of  Planet  People  at  the  fictitious  stone circle  of  Ringstone Round  and  Quatermass  realises  that  there  is  an  extra-terrestrial  threat  once again.

The  sci-fi   aspect  though  is   just  window-dressing.  The  story  is  really  about  inter-generational conflict and  Kneale  was  attacked  for  having  such  a  jaundiced  view  of  youth  culture  with Quatermass's  bumbling  but  still  resourceful old  man  having  to  save  the  youth  from  itself.  It also  presents  a  viscerally  bleak  view  of  the  way  society  was  heading  in  the  seventies  which many  found  too  hard  to  watch  particularly  after  Kapp's  lovely  family  and  friends  are  all wiped  out  at  the  end  of   the  second  episode.

Kneale  himself  didn't  like  the  end  product,  particularly  the  casting  and  criticised  both  Mills and  McCorkindale  as  wrong  for  their  parts. I  can't  see  a  problem  with  either  of  them especially  not  Mills  and  the  high  production  values,  apart  from  the  space  scenes  which  are Blake's  Seven - creaky,  are  also  a  big  plus  with  the  action  scenes  well-realised. I  bought Kneale's  novelisation  that  Christmas  which  is  even   more  bleak  and  cynical  than  what  was   on  screen.

The  series  is  also  quite  prescient. The  confrontation  between  the  Planet  People  and  the  cops at  Ringstone  Round  is  eerily  predictive  of  the  Batttle  of  the  Beanfield  a  few  years  later  and in  the  ironically  violent  leader  of  the  PPs,  Kickalong  ( Ralph  Arliss ),   you  can  see  a  model for  David  Koresh  and  his  ilk . We  haven't  really  had  youth  vs  age   conflict  spilling  over  into public  disorder  yet  but  maybe  that's  still  to  come.

The  series  was  repeated  on  ITV3  a few  years  back  and  still  stood  up  well.


1 comment:

  1. And its been announced this week that a remake is on the cards