Friday, 3 June 2016

Quatermass!

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"London calling!"

One of the best TV shows of all time seems to be on the way back. (Skip down to the link if you know all this stuff already.)

Quatermass began on nascent BBC television in 1953 and ran  to three serials (not series) in the Fifties. Each serial was divided into six episodes of just over thirty minutes each. The scripts were by the Manx writer Nigel Kneale, whose first and only collection of short stories won a prestigious literary award before he moved on to radio work, then television. Kneale summed up the first three 'classic' serials in terms of how we encounter some other, arguably superior, alien life form: 'We go to them, they come to us, they've always been here'. Simple, as good ideas often are.

Each serial was adapted as a movie by Hammer and the first, The Quatermass Xperiment, essentially launched Hammer horror as it was to become known. The third movie adaptation, Quatermass and the Pit (1967) is one of the best Hammer films and for my money rates as the best British sf/horror film of all time. (In America the Hammers were retitled The Creeping Unknown, Enemy From Space, and Five Million Years to Earth.)

And now BBC America is to make a new Quatermass show, scripted by Jeremy Dyson. I feel very 'up' about this, not because everything is guaranteed to go well, but because if you're going to do a British sf show involving aliens and such, Mr. Dyson seems like a splendid choice. Like all the League of Gentlemen he has a grasp of Gothic and grotesque that should serve him well. Indeed, Mark Gatiss might make a very good Quatermass, though the way things are on British telly these days I think we may well get a Quaterbatch.

While not supernatural tales the Quatermass stories were deeply weird. This is despite the fact that the hero invariably solved the threat facing humanity by more-or-less scientific means. The first story is a classic monster movie blended with a locked room mystery, the second a rather grim conspiracy thriller involving meteorites and mind control (which inspired the classic Doctor Who adventure 'Spearhead from Space'), while the third story combines elements of full-on supernatural fiction with somewhat Lovecraftian ideas about the origins of our species.

A fourth serial simply entitled Quatermass was produced by ITV in the late Seventies starring Sir John Mills as  the eponymous boffin, and while it was not as exciting as the first three it was still full of ideas and made for fine drama. There was also a radio series, The Quatermass Tapes, starring Andew Keir, reprising his role from QatP.

So, we have a fine writer taking on a genuinely great British TV franchise. The stakes are high, as are expectations. But, having briefly met Jeremy Dyson and heard a lot about him, I'm sure he's the right man for the job. Keep it weird, Jeremy. 



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