DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 1

This is the second of the three Quatermass stories that aired on the BBC. After the great success of the The Quatermass Experiment in 1953, this sequel followed the further adventures of Professor Bernard Quatermass and his Experimental Rocket Group in 6 episodes in the autumn of 1955.

Episode 1: The Bolts

Before we catch up with the professor’s activities, the first episode opens at a military radar station somewhere out in the English countryside. They are picking up a weak signal–something too small, too low, and too slow-moving to be an airplane.

“Another one of them,” says the sergeant watching the radar screen, and tells the officer in charge, Captain John Dillon, about it.

They continue to track this mysterious object until it comes down about 2500 yards from the radar station.

An elderly farmer is out riding a tractor across his field nearby, when a meteorite lands in front of him. He gets off the tractor to go and have a closer look.

A Farmer out sitting in his fieldPeople in science fiction stories should already know instinctively: Don’t put your face near that thing!

John Hurt could tell him why this is unwise. But put his face near it he does.

Unaware of the farmer’s discovery, Dillon and the sergeant have gone out in a jeep to try and find the object themselves. As they drive along, their conversation informs us that this is the third such object they’ve tracked since they set up their radar base, though they weren’t able to find the other two. There was also some sort of UFO scare about a year ago, perhaps explained by a large meteorite shower in the area. Since then, the army has orders not to discuss any UFO-type sightings with the general public to avoid further panics.

The farmer’s anxious wife is standing at the roadside ahead of them; she flags down the jeep, asks for their help with her husband, and takes them to where he’s still sitting in the field. On the ground beside him are the broken remains of the meteorite. At least, there’s no sign that a crustacean-like, alien face-hugger or similar creature was inside it, but whatever was has caused him to become woozy and disoriented.

When asked, the farmer reports that the meteorite broke apart after it hit the ground, and that there was a funny smell. “Like old stables.”

He seems well enough not to need medical help. Dillon gathers up the broken meteorite fragments. He and the sergeant feel as if they ought to contact some about them. But who?

“There’s a man I know named Quatermass,” Dillon tells the sergeant.

The sergeant knows just who he means. “The Rocket Man?”

And now we finally go to the hero of our story, wearing a full-body radiation suit as he examines his latest rocket with a Geiger counter.

John Robinson as QuatermassReginald Tate was slated to play Professor Quatermass again, but died while the show was in production. His replacement was John Robinson–an actor I know nothing about, but the moment you first hear that man speak, you can guess that he’s a classically trained Shakespearean actor. You can just imagine that voice reciting “Friends, Roman, Countrymen…”

But what he actually announces in beautifully modulated tones once he removes the suit’s protective headgear is “There’s no spread of radioactivity outside the rocket. No… None.” Strangely, he sounds a bit dismayed by his findings.

A phone at the rocket base rings; it’s Quatermass’s daughter, telling him that the film from Australia has arrived.

Wait–Quatermass has a daughter? Indeed he does. When we switch to the other end of the phone conversation, we see her at the Experimental Rocket Group’s offices. Her name is Paula and she looks to be in her middle twenties. She is a member of the group, working with her father and presumably following in his footsteps.

The title of this series, Quatermass II, not only refers to this being the sequel to The Quatermass Experiment, but to the name of the prototype the professor’s group is working on. The Quatermass I (QI) was the unfortunate rocket launched in the first series, and the one we just saw Quatermass checking over is therefore the QII. One of the QIIs, anyway.

After Paula hangs up the phone, she turns to another member of the team, mathematician Leo Pugh. They talk about the problem with the QIIs. Paula mentions “a set-back,” which is shortly clarified as “an explosion” and “a disaster.”

Mushroom cloud--not what's supposed to happen at rocket launches When Quatermass joins them, they watch the film, which is narrated by someone with an exaggerated “G’Day, Mate” Aussie accent, and shows exactly what happened to the other prototype rocket. In short, the other QII was set for a test-fire in Australia, when a flaw in the fuel supply for the nuclear engine (the rockets have two engines, the other chemical) led to an uncontrolled nuclear reaction.

The film ends with stock footage of mushroom clouds–the same ones you see in a lot of science fiction films of this era, usually resulting in giant insects or atomic mutants of some other kind. Men in radiation suits examined the blast area afterwards, but found no sign of the rocket or crew, horribly mutated or otherwise.

Quatermass and his team discuss what this disaster means for their project. Quatermass believes that it is the end. “It’s over.” Even if they were willing to carry on their work, the government is unlikely to continue funding them. The first rocket, the one in The Quatermass Experiment did take off and land successfully, but the crew “died horribly.” And now this fueling flaw makes the new prototypes useless.

Moonbase Quatermass
The professor is especially disappointed that he’ll never see the fulfillment of his long-term pet project–a base on the Moon. There’s an artist’s vision of it on one wall of his office, all life-support domes and tall, thin towers, which he gazes at longingly.

Well, it would only have gone off into space when the Moon blasted out of Earth’s orbit in 1999 anyway.

It’s at this depressing moment for the Rocket Group that Captain Dillon shows up. Paula is certainly cheered by his arrival; that she calls him “Johnny” and her dad refers to him as “your soldier” tells us what we need to know about their relationship even before she greets the captain with a kiss.

When asked by Dillon, Leo remarks that the odds of a meteorite landing on Earth in one piece is a billion to one. Three in a week is impossible, never mind one landing intact and breaking up only after it’s on the ground. When John Dillon produces the fragments of the meteorite that has supposedly done just that, Leo assembles the pieces and discovers that the meteorite was hollow.

At Quatermass’s request, Dillon takes him out to the farm to interview the old man who saw the meteorite land. The farmer is surly and uncooperative, refusing to answer their questions. His wife is apologetic and tries to excuse his behavior by saying that he’s taken a chill and hasn’t been himself lately, but there’s really no excuse when he orders the visitors to get out of his house.

The professor wonders if something happened to the old man before his wife or Dillon came along. When they leave the farm, they stop off at the nearest pub to chat with the locals and pick up some gossip. The men at the pub agree that the old farmer isn’t usually so surly, and it must’ve been Quatermass’s suggestion that he see a doctor that touched him off. Quatermass also asks about meteorites or fireballs seen in the neighborhood, and that meteorite shower the previous year is mentioned again.

One old man blames “the government.” Although it has nothing to do with the farmer, he mentions a place called Winnerden Flats that’s about 10-15 miles away down the coast. There used to be a little village and a small research facility, no more than a couple of shacks until a year ago, when the facility suddenly expanded and became a huge, top secret plant with gates and guards. The village was bulldozed down.

Quatermass and Dillon drive out along the coast to see this place. A sign beside the road says “Danger–Do Not Go Past This Point,” but they keep right on going until they see the towers and domes of the facility ahead. It looks very much like something we’ve already seen, but let’s save that until later, when Quatermass talks about it.

The top-secret factoryWhat he does murmur at this point is “I think I’m going mad.”

As they drive at little closer for a better look, he adds cryptically, “Just a coincidence of shapes.”

Another of those meteorites flies by overhead and comes down by the side of the road. They get out of the car to have a look at it. The meteorite appears intact but Dillon, like the old farmer, is stupid enough to get his face close to the thing as it cracks open. There’s a smell of ammonia.

An alarm goes off at the facility and guards come out of the nearest gate.

As Dillon reels back suddenly, Quatermass cries out in alarm, “There’s something on your face!”

To be continued…


Author: Kathryn L Ramage

Kathryn L. Ramage has a B.A. and M.A. in English lit and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She lives in Maryland with three calico cats named after the Brontë sisters. In addition to being the author of numerous short stories, reviews, essays, and period mystery novellas, she is also the author of a series of fantasy novels set in a dukedom called the Northlands on an alternate Earth whose history has diverged from ours somewhere during the medieval period.