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In the near future, civilisation has broken down to the barest fragment of recognisable life. Young people are forming gangs and dominating the wrecks of cities like London. But the strangest Earth-children are the Planet people, following plumb-bobs to sacred sites, waiting to be "Taken Up". Professor Quatermass, seeking his granddaughter, teams up with Joe Kapp, who is trying to analyse strange signals from space using the last working pieces of electronic equipment. They find the Planet People at a nearby stone circle, a light appears, the signal appears, - and the hippy children are gone. Russian plot? Nirvana? Or something altogether more sinister? Written by
Twenty years after Quatermass And The Pit aired on the BBC, Nigel Kneale's creation Professor Bernard Quatermass returned to television screen (albeit on BBC's competition ITV) yet again. This time he was an old man living in a world that was in a state of anarchy and collapse. Into that world comes a strange force from beyond the Earth that takes the good professor out of retirement and facing a threat bigger than anything he has ever faced before. The resulting story is the fourth and final adventure for the Professor.
Leading the cast is Sir John Mills as Quatermass, become the sixth actor to play the role. Mills Quatermass is different from any of the previous versions of the professor seen in the various television and film productions. This is a Quatermass who has retired, stayed out of the fray for some time and is called out to appear on a live television program that leads him towards facing an incredible threat. This might be an older Quatermass, but Mills' performance shows that this old man is as sharp as he has ever been. Mills brings a strong sense of intelligence to the role along with a sense of vulnerability apparent in the best actors to play the role. Mills performance is perfectly suited to this particular story and this particular take on Professor Quatermass.
The supporting cast is strong as well. The supporting cast includes Simon MacCorkindale as Joe Kapp, a radio astronomer who takes the elder Quatermass under his wing in this not so brave new world and becomes a much needed ally. Also appearing throughout the four the episodes is Ralph Arliss as Kickalong, the most prominent of the youthful Planet People and who becomes a way of measuring the decent of society into chaos. The rest of the supporting cast ranges from Barbara Kellerman as Kapp's wife Clare, Margaret Tyzack as district commissioner Annie Morgan, Brewster Mason as Soviet scientist Gurov, David Ashford as the government minister David Hatherley, Bruce Purchase as scientist Tommy Roach, David Yip as scientist Frank Chen and Tony Sibbald as former astronaut Chuck Marshall. The supporting cast does what any good supporting cast should do: back up the leading actor and serving the story well.
The production values of Quatermass hold up well for the most part. The production design gives a strong sense of the story's setting of a world in a constant state of anarchy and collapse from the bodies and rubble in London streets to the worn out facilities used for the television studio and Kapp's radio telescope. The costumes are a bit of a mixed affair as some of them give a strong sense of what the production design does so well yet some of the costumes are hopelessly dated. The dating might work in giving the sense of society sliding downhill after the 1970s but looking back on it from thirty years later it doesn't quite work. The special effects are a mixed bag as well. The more earthbound effects, such as the lightning strikes and what happens to Isobel in episode three all hold up very well for a three decade old production. When the effects go into outer space, as they do on a number of occasions across the four episodes, the results are less than satisfying. Indeed, the model shots used in episodes one and three in particular are almost laughable at times in their failure to convince. Whatever the faults of the costumes and some of the special effects, the production values of Quatermass hold up for the most part and serve the story well.
The real star of any of the Quatermass productions of course is the script by Nigel Kneale. The script for this fourth Quatermass story was originally written several years for the BBC but was unmade until the late 1970s. It might be important to remember that was going in Britain at the time it was written: a miners' strike that put Britain on a three day work week, rolling power cuts, public unrest and a sense that society might be on the brink of collapse. All that feeds into the script by Kneale along with both the rise of hippies, a revived interest in megalithic stone circles along with some of the themes he had explored throughout the scripts of his career (ancient forces terrorizing the present from Quatermass And The Pit and The Stone Tape for example). The result is perhaps the most intriguing of the four Quatermass stories. While all that might make this story seem dated it might be worth keeping in mind the rise of belief in an apocalypse in 2012, the popularity of end time prophecy and the rapture or increasing concerns about the economy. Somehow this Quatermass story seems more relevant than ever.
So how does the fourth and final Quatermass story hold up after more than thirty years? John Mills Quatermass holds up just as well as Andre Morell's or Andrew Keir's, the supporting cast is a strong one and the production values hold up despite issues with both costumes and special effects. Yet it is the script from Nigel Kneale that stands up stronger than anything else in the story. Quatermass has been overlooked when compared with its three BBC predecessors yet, with the themes in Kneale's script makes it more relevant than ever. Perhaps the time has come for its rediscovery?
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