I think it’s fair to say that Nigel Kneale’s ‘The Quatermass Experiment’, has become legendary in the world of Science Fiction and for extremely good reason. Not only is it a defining piece of British Sci-fi (influencing other Science Fiction greats such as Doctor Who, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Alien (1979)) but a defining piece of Television in general. Broadcast live, the serial pushed the boundaries of what was capable at the time and indeed was a huge gamble, unlike anything ever seen before it in both story and style. During the early 1950’s the most popular science fiction was the American sort, movies like The Thing from Another World (1951) and ‘schlocky’ B-Movies such as Robot Monster (1953) and Cat Women of the Moon (1953). Now please don’t misunderstand me, whilst some of these films (the Thing for example) are undisputed classics, others, to say the least, are somewhat lacking in character development and have a disappointing ‘hammy’ feel. Kneale took this tongue in cheek approach and threw it out the window along with the stereotypical characters that often populated the worlds these movies were set in. Kneale's story was set in the real Britain of the 1950’s; he used recognisable landmarks and characters who had lives outside of what was happening in the main plot. In short he created a masterpiece.
Professor Bernard Quatermass (Reginald Tate) is head of the British Experiment Rocket Group, an organisation that has just managed to send the first manned rocket into space. To begin with everything goes according to plan when suddenly all contact with the rocket is lost, the craft going way off course. Managing to bring it back to earth Quatermass is alarmed to discover that only one of the Astronaut's is still on board and that the other two seem to have vanished into thin air. Quatermass’s discoveries come to alarm him until he realises that the astronaut may not have returned alone and that he may have brought some sort of extraterrestrial life form back with him...
Needless to say the star of the show is Mr Kneale’s superb screenplay, a brilliant balance of Drama, Horror and Black Humour all expertly mixed together. It’s a shame that only the first two episodes still exist to this day to view but we can be grateful that all of Kneale’s scripts survived so that we can get a feel for what the rest of the serial must have looked like. It’s a brilliant story and I particularly love how Quatermass is portrayed as feeling immensely guilty, blaming himself in front of the entire nation in one episode. I found it interesting comparing this to Brian Donlevy’s much criticised portrayal of the character in the Hammer Film version from 1955. In this version of the story Quatermass is much more determined and gritty, less of the thoughtful well spoken British scientist seen here. Indeed at the end of that version Quatermass walks into the London night, vowing that he will start again. The contrast between these two portrayals is deeply interesting but personally I think it’s unfair to criticise Donlevy. Tate is superb in the role but Donlevy is equally as good because here we have two different interpretations of the same character, both good in their own way because each telling is putting forward a different message, one of guilt and one of determination.
Speaking of Tate, he is rather good isn’t he? It’s a shame we will never be able to see him delivering that speech I mentioned earlier but what is remaining of his performance I am indeed very grateful to see. I particularly love one line where he mentions wishing that he had gone into property development in the south pacific, stating that ‘At least then that would have harmed nobody but myself’. It’s a lovely little moment that gives us a little bit more background to the character and it’s just dropped in there, Tate’s delivery giving it the emphasis it needs to stop it from being swept away with all the other fantastic dialogue being thrown at us. Kneale once stated that Tate was his preferred Quatermass and that he even tailored some of the later scripts around his performance, it’s very easy to see why. Tates not the only one doing a great job though, there’s also Paul Whitsun-Jones as the journalist James Fullalove. I’ve always enjoyed Whitsun-Jones roles in Doctor Who (in both the Smugglers from 1966 and The Mutants from 1972) so it was a real pleasure seeing him here, especially in such a meaty and enjoyable role.
Now rather sadly The Quatermass Experiment does seem to receive a great deal of criticism from modern viewers, often being accused of being horrendously dated and having stilted performances. True that to a modern audience, the effects will without a doubt seem extremely old fashioned but if one makes the effort to look past this and instead concentrate on the story and everything that makes it good, then it’s pretty easy to see why the Quatermass Experiment is widely regarded as one of the greatest things ever seen on Television.
Welcome one and all- Please leave sanity at the door
A Teenage boy with a passion for all things nerdy! Expect a lot of Doctor Who, Cult/Horror Movies, Literature and Novels, History, Comic Books and random thoughts. Posts published weekly on a Friday evening. DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the items reviewed on this site and i also do not own of the pictures (unless stated so). If you own one of the photos and wish for it to be removed contact me at this adress: Super.firstname.lastname@example.org. However all of the written work is my own and is protected under copyright law.