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Quatermass (also known as The Quatermass Conclusion or Quatermass IV) is a British television science fiction serial produced by Euston Films for Thames Television and broadcast on the ITV network in October and November 1979. Like its three predecessors, Quatermass was written by Nigel Kneale. It is the fourth and final television serial to feature the character of Professor Bernard Quatermass. In this version, the character is played by John Mills.
Influenced by the social and geopolitical situation of the early 1970s and the hippie youth movement of the late 1960s, Quatermass is set in a near future in which large numbers of young people are joining a cult, the "Planet People", and gathering at prehistoric sites, believing they will be transported to a better life on another planet. The series begins with Professor Quatermass arriving in London to look for his granddaughter, Hettie Carlson, and witnessing the destruction of two spacecraft and the disappearance of a group of Planet People at a stone circle by an unknown force. He investigates this force, believing that Hettie may be in danger. As the series progresses, it becomes apparent that the Planet People are being harvested rather than transported.
Quatermass was originally conceived as a BBC production, but after they lost faith in the project, due to spiralling costs, production was halted. The scripts were taken by Euston Films and Kneale, then working for Independent Television, was commissioned to rewrite the scripts into two versions: a four-part television serial and The Quatermass Conclusion, a 100-minute film, intended for international theatrical release.
Broadcast and critical reception
Ratings, averaging eleven million viewers over the four-week run, were below expectations; the serial failed to crack the Top Twenty programmes in the weeks it was broadcast.
Quatermass met with a generally unenthusiastic critical response. Sean Day-Lewis wrote, "Although Piers Haggard's direction achieves much verisimilitude and the story is certainly enough to command some addiction; I did not feel exactly grabbed; the genre has moved some way since the 1950s and the Professor moves a little slowly for the 1970s". The reviewer in The Daily Telegraph found Professor Quatermass "far too unheroic and unresourceful to carry much interest" while The Times found the serial to be "a so-so affair".More positive was the Daily Mail who thought the serial was "not the best of Nigel Kneale but it equalled any of his earliest Quatermass stories". John Brosnan, writing in Starburstmagazine, found the serial to be "a bitter reaction by a member of an older generation to the younger generation whose apparently irrational behaviour makes them appear to belong to a totally different species. Naturally in the traditions of sf, these failings are exaggerated to the nth degree. Thus muggers and juvenile delinquents become armed gangs and the hippy movement with its emphasis on mysticism, becomes the Planet Church. It's very much a story of Age versus Youth and significantly it's the older people who are impervious to the malign alien influence". This view is echoed by filmmaker John Carpenter who said, "Nigel was very embittered about the way of the world, as was shown, I think, in The Quatermass Conclusion".
Reflecting on the serial, Nigel Kneale said, "Frankly, I was never happy with the whole idea in the first place. The central idea was too ordinary". Although Kneale was pleased with the high production values, he was dissatisfied with the casting, believing that John Mills "didn't have the authority for Quatermass". He was similarly unimpressed with Simon MacCorkindale, noting that "We had him in Beasts playing an idiot and he was very good at that". Kneale disliked the depiction of the Planet People, as his inspiration had been angry punks rather than hippies (as evidenced by his portrayal of Kickalong as a gun-toting lunatic who commits multiple motiveless murders). Producer Ted Childs thinks that "the primary problems with it were (a) it was perhaps too depressing a story for a popular television audience and (b) the punters were used to a fairly high standard of technical presentation from American television... And we just couldn't afford that". Executive producer Verity Lambert's opinion is that it "didn't have the staying power of the originals, but then that's almost inevitable when you try to bring something back in a slightly different form".
Cover of the Quatermass novelisation by Nigel Kneale
From the outset, Euston intended to create two versions of the story; a four-part serial for broadcast on UK television and a 100-minute film, The Quatermass Conclusion, for distribution abroad. While writing the scripts, Kneale was "careful not to pad, because I knew that was the obvious thing, but to write in material which can be removed". There is one major deviation between the two versions; in the film version, the scene where Quatermass, separated from Annie Morgan while transporting Isabel to London, encounters a band of elderly people living in a scrapyard is completely absent; this meant that two versions of the hospital scene where Isabel dies were shot—one with Quatermass present (the film version) and one without (the television version). There was little interest among film distributors in The Quatermass Conclusion, and it received only a limited theatrical release.
The story was novelised by Nigel Kneale, his first book since his Somerset Maugham Award-winning short story collection Tomato Cain was published in 1949. The novelisation expanded on the backgrounds of many of the characters seen in the story, and added a deeper, more physical, relationship between Quatermass and Annie Morgan. It was this version of the story with which Kneale was most pleased.