On a whim, I decided to educate myself on the roots of Doctor Who, by watching some original Quatermass stories. If readers of this blog (outside the UK) know Quatermass at all, it is probably from the Hammer movie, Quatermass and the Pit - which was originally released in the US with the title, Five Million Years to Earth. (see above photo) Before this week, it was the only Quatermass I'd ever seen, too.
But, Bernard Quatermass featured in four stories total. Like Doctor Who, he started out on television, and three of the original television serials were adapted into Hammer movies. Like the Doctor and James Bond, many different actors have played the role, even though there were only a total of four television serials and three theatrical movies. Rather than repeat a lot of data, I refer you to the wiki page.
In a nutshell, Quatermass is a scientist who heads the British Experimental Rocket Group. In the first story, The Quatermass Experiment, three astronauts are sent into orbit, but only one returns. The returned astronaut behaves in very peculiar manners. Did he murder the rest of the crew? Or, did something even more sinister occur in the depths of outer space?
In the second tale, Quatermass's new atomic rocket has exploded just after launch in Australia. Struggling with failure and the loss of life, Quatermass has no time to idle as he discovers an alien invasion underway. Strange meteorites are falling, government officials are behaving oddly, and an entire English village has been razed to make way for a "food processing plant."
Quatermass is a large influence on British scifi, certainly television scifi at least. Nearly any alien invasion/conspiracy tale probably has some roots back to Quatermass. It certainly influenced Doctor Who - particularly the early Jon Pertwee years when the Doctor was exiled to Earth and constantly fought off alien incursions.
Like Doctor Who, Quatermass suffers from a loss of episodes. The first serial, The Quatermass Experiment, only has two available episode - parts 1 & 2 - of the six-part serial.
I went ahead and watched them, anyway. It held promise, and it is a shame the rest is lost.
Then I went on and finished up Quatermass II last night. It holds up very well, I think. I found it suspenseful and intriguing, though the new lead needed an episode to warm up to the role. The fifth and six parts suffered a bit of sag, but overall it kept my interest all the way through.
I am looking forward to getting through more Quatermass stories this year; the remaining television serials and the movie adaptations - especially the original Quatermass and the Pit television serial.
p.s. - for your convenience, my Quatermass YouTube playlist of the first three 1950s serials.
p.p.s. - coincidence would have it;
1.) The first Hammer Quatermass movie, The Quatermass Xperiment, finally became available on blu-ray in December. (For the North American market - it's been available in the UK.) Here's hoping the other two get the blu-ray treatment - especially Quatermass and the Pit.
2.) Spectral Press are planning on a book about the creator of Quatermass, Nigel Kneale.