Quatermass Experiment, The

Tagged: TV

UK tv serial (1953). BBC TV. Produced and directed by Rudolph Cartier. Written Nigel Kneale. Cast includes Ian Colin, Isabel Dean, Hugh Kelly, Duncan Lamont, Reginald Tate and Paul Whitsun-Jones. Six 30-minute episodes. Black and white.

Only two episodes of The Quatermass Experiment have survived, as in its very early days the BBC rarely filmed dramatic presentations, and for budget considerations ceased doing so in this instance for the remaining four episodes (with technical advances, the BBC later taped on-air presentations, but for some years routinely wiped these tapes; the cultural and financial disasters consequent upon this policy are incalculable). Enough remains, however, to demonstrate the quite astonishing primitivism of the enterprise – shots of the crew about to embark on the first manned flight into space far more closely resemble photos of some pre-1914 Antarctic expedition than any image that might reflect the potent iconography of the technological sublime generated by World War Two – while at the same time providing viewers with poignant hints of the subtle grace and gravitas conveyed in the portrayal of Professor Quatermass by Reginald Tate (1896-1955), who died of a heart attack days before embarking on the sequel, Quatermass II. The surviving astronaut, Victor Carroon (Lamont), seems on the surviving evidence mainly to disintegrate as the Alien entity that has possessed him begins to ingest and bloat his physical being, requiring little of the actor; but his mathematician wife (see Mathematics), Judith Carroon (Dean), seems to have been a more demanding role, which Dean clearly grasped. The corpulent but mentally adroit reporter, James Fullalove (Whitsun-Jones), was also a role that may have deepened.

Before the first episode, the BBC warned that the serial was "thought to be unsuitable for children or persons of a nervous disposition". For six Saturday nights the UK television audience watched a genuinely unsettling story unfold – an ingenious combination of sf and the traditional Horror in SF theme of possession. It was a milestone in televised sf. The script was published as The Quatermass Experiment (1959) by Kneale. For further details of the story see The Quatermass Xperiment. [JC/JB]

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