Before Doctor Who, there was Professor Quartermass
July 23, 2011 1:01 PM   Subscribe

British manned space flights; an insidious threat from outer space; a man mutating into an evil alien, his human consciousness being eaten away; and a scientist - utterly anti-Establishment, courageous and cerebral - the only man who can fight it. No, not Doctor Who, but his highly distinguished predecessor, Prof Bernard Quatermass. A decade before Doctor Who first aired, the The Quartermass Experiment was the first science-fiction TV serial produced for adults, and a live-to-viewers BBC production, to boot. The show ran for six episodes in 1953, of which only the first two episodes are known survive. The short sci-fi series spun off three original sequels and a radio drama-documentary, along with movie re-makes of the first three series by Hammer Films. BBC brought back live TV with a 2005 adaptation of the original 1953 series. You can watch the various series on online (in parts on Daily Motion), thanks to fans of The British Rocket Group.

Even though you can only watch the first two episodes of The Quartermass Experiment, you can read summaries of the remaining four episodes (ep 3, ep 4, ep 5, and ep 6). The Quartermass Conclusion blog has more summaries of and information on the other series, too.

The Quartermass 2 fansite has gobs of information, specifically on Quartermass II / 2 (series / film), including differences between the serial and the film. Note that it may be easier to read if you block scripts for the site, as the text is rendered differently with scripts and flash enabled.

Previously: We owe our human condition here to the intervention of insects? -- insight into the mind of Nigel Kneale, writer of The Quatermass Experiment, following the 2005 adaptation of The Quartermass Experiment.
posted by filthy light thief (21 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Arg. I forgot to mention that has the first three series available for streaming and download, along with the chopped series (and movies) on Daily Motion. I linked to the first two 1953 episodes above the break (as only the first two episodes are known survive), but you can also get the six episodes of Quartermass II (1955) and Quartermass and the Pit (1959), along with trailers for the shows.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:25 PM on July 23, 2011

Annoying pedantry: Quatermass, not Quartermass.
posted by wo is me at 1:34 PM on July 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

In his obit on Keale, science fiction-comics writer Warren Ellis observed:
It’s hard to imagine, now, the impact that the first three QUATERMASS stories had. For six weeks, the country would go home on QUATERMASS night. Pubs would empty out. In those early days of television, an unapologetically adult, complex and weird piece of speculative fiction was common culture. When tv people in the States tell me that the masses “just don’t get” science fiction, this is what I tell them: that before the cast of THE X-FILES was even born, Britain used to shut down on QUATERMASS night, and it’s all people would talk about the next day.
Incidentally, Kneale also predicted reality TV.
posted by Doktor Zed at 1:39 PM on July 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

One of my earlier memories of tv is them unearthing the spacecraft underground. It was back when I wasn't quite sure if TV was real or not. Amazing what images can stay with you.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:52 PM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of the benefits of growing up in New Zealand just after the first public television broadcasts started in 1960 was that we tended to get a diverse array of imported content, most especially from Britain; my early television diet consisted of The Goodies, Dr Who and Quatermass alongside Sesame Street. In the beginning reels of shows were literally flown from station to station and shown on successive weeks in each district, there being no such thing as a national broadcasting network.

I remember being scared shitless watching The Quatermass Conclusion: dystopian, desperate, apocalyptic, and an alien power that was almost Lovecraftian in its casual disregard for humanity.

Thanks for reengaging the memories, filthy light thief.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 2:19 PM on July 23, 2011

The 1979 series freaked me out. I remember when they were broadcast everybody stayed in to watch them. Same as they did with the 50's series. Anyone who hasn't seen them. Go find. Watch.
posted by Webbster at 2:23 PM on July 23, 2011

Quartermass and the Pit is one of the movies that are solidly on my "If you happen upon it while surfing, you stop and watch it" list, but I've never seen the tv serial. This is great stuff. The production is top-notch, even for tv today.

Many thanks!
posted by Thorzdad at 2:32 PM on July 23, 2011

Five Million Miles To Earth was my introduction to Prof. Quatermass. Still a gret little film that I enjoy from time to time
posted by Poet_Lariat at 2:54 PM on July 23, 2011

wo is me: Annoying pedantry: Quatermass, not Quartermass.

Ah, eff. I thought they said the name oddly. Nope, just I wanted there to be another R in there.

With that, Nigel Kneale previously:
* Nigel Kneale dies (October 31, 2006)
* Face the telescreen (May 6, 2007) -- Nineteen Eighty-Four (YouTube) Nigel Kneale's BBC adaptation of the Orwell classic; made in 1954, with Peter Cushing as Winston Smith.
* Not suitable for children, or those of you who may have a nervous disposition (November 16, 2008) -- The Kneale Tapes documentary about British science fiction screenwriter Nigel Kneale (lots of dead YT links, sadly).
posted by filthy light thief at 3:03 PM on July 23, 2011

I've never seen these and need to download and watch them now. Thanks for the pointer.
posted by immlass at 3:06 PM on July 23, 2011

(oh oh fabio)
sweet post sir.
posted by clavdivs at 3:40 PM on July 23, 2011

wo is me: "Annoying pedantry: Quatermass, not Quartermass."

Funny, I've been looking at that name for thirty years or so and never noticed that there was only one 'r' in it.
posted by octothorpe at 3:41 PM on July 23, 2011

Thank you thank you thank you. Awesome post.

I've always loved the films - among the best that Hammer made. I can't wait to dive into the tv shows.

Incidentally, Warren Ellis wasn't exaggerating about the popularity of the show. There was even a Goon Show based on Quatermass and the Pit.
posted by spectrevsrector at 4:06 PM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Quatermass was as scary as heck. There was some pretty classy British sci fi back in the 50s and 60s.
posted by carter at 4:54 PM on July 23, 2011

I had seen Quatermass and the Pit, and loved it. Didn't know about the other Quatermass works. Thanks for posting!
posted by Triplanetary at 9:10 PM on July 23, 2011

The old The Quatermass Experiment series is the best television series the BBC has ever produced. I say that as a lifelong fan of Doctor Who, among other fine BBC programs. Seriously, some of the other Quatermass programs are good, but the series is incredible on an entirely different level. There are images there that still haunt me in dreams.
posted by koeselitz at 9:48 PM on July 23, 2011

Heh - after reacquainting myself with all things Quatermass, I should note that I'm talking about Quatermass and the Pit, the 1958 tv series, when I say that. And I mean it; I've seen the bits of the first series and second series, and while they're good, they pale in comparison the Quatermass and the Pit. I recommend it in the strongest terms.
posted by koeselitz at 10:00 PM on July 23, 2011

It is worth mentioning BBC Four's 2005 restaging of the original Quatermass Experiment, Auntie's first foray into live drama in more than two decades. It wasn't exactly a remake, as the script was cut down to two hours (and the actual performance ran well short even of that) and the setting made more contemporary. Kneale was involved as a consultant, not long before his death. With most of the original serial missing (probably forever), this is the only way we can now see anything resembling the entire story. You can watch it on SeeSaw if you're in the UK.

At the time, Mark Gatiss seemed the most interesting bit of casting (this was only a few years after League of Gentlemen ended, and before Gatiss had started to make a name for himself as a Doctor Who writer), but in retrospect that's hugely overshadowed by the presence of David Tennant.
posted by wo is me at 1:05 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

... which of course was mentioned. Well done, me.
posted by wo is me at 1:06 AM on July 24, 2011

Quatermass scared the shit out of me when I was a wee bairn. It's a bloody tragedy that those episodes were lost.
posted by Decani at 2:23 AM on July 24, 2011

I think that the 1979 TV series is what got me into astronomy - I remember seeing the radio dishes and wondering what they were all about. I rewatched the series again recently. The technical and science aspects of the production hold up incredibly well. Kneale either knew his astronomy or knew a good researcher....
posted by fishboy at 6:15 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

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