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Quatermass II (1955)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Quatermass II (1955)
BBC, 22/10-26/11/1955
6 x 30 mins, black & white
ProducerRudolph Cartier
ScriptNigel Kneale

Cast: John Robinson (Professor Bernard Quatermass); Monica Grey (Paula); Hugh Griffith (Dr Leo Pugh); John Stone (Captain John Dillon); Roger Delgado (Conrad); Rupert Davies (Vincent Broadhead); Austin Trevor (Fowler); Wilfrid Brambell (Tramp)

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After a series of mysterious objects fall to ground in a rural community, Professor Bernard Quatermass uncovers a sinister plot to colonise the Earth.

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This second outing for Nigel Kneale's scientist hero Professor Bernard Quatermass was broadcast on BBC over six Saturdays in 1955. Like The Quatermass Experiment (BBC, 1953) before it, Quatermass II was near-compulsory viewing.

Reginald Tate, who played the Professor in the first series, fell ill during rehearsals, and was replaced by John Robinson. He was the second of six different actors to take the role in television and film versions. Roger Delgado, who would become familiar to audiences of Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-89) as the Doctor's arch-enemy, the Master, makes a brief appearance as an investigative journalist.

Where the first series dealt with man's journey into space, Quatermass II told of an alien invasion of Earth. Its scenario, in which alien parasites turn their human hosts into 'zombies', was extremely influential, setting the template for, among others, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (US, 1956, remade in 1978 and 1993), and the Dr Who story 'Spearhead from Space' (BBC, 1970).

With its tale of an invasion by an invisible enemy indistinguishable from ourselves, Kneale's story tapped into contemporary fears about the 'red' (i.e. communist) threat, although in a less direct way than the American science fiction films of the 1950s, including Invasion of the Body Snatchers. At the same time, it reflected the widespread anxiety of the nuclear age - the story begins with a failed test of a nuclear-powered rocket in Australia (at a time when the country was in reality a site for a series of British nuclear weapons tests). In short, Quatermass II was the perfect cold-war drama.

The series also demonstrated Kneale's distrust of the State: the aliens are quick to infiltrate the upper echelons of the government and the military, while the fightback begins with a trade union shop steward leading a workers' assault on the plant which is the aliens' headquarters.

Like most television drama of the period, Quatermass II was performed live in the studio, with the few exterior shots filmed in advance and inserted at transmission. The series survives (in its entirety) only because it was filmed from a television monitor, which explains the slightly variable image quality.

A cinema version, Quatermass 2, directed by Val Guest, was released by Hammer in 1957.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
Complete episode: 'The Mark' (30:09)
Quatermass (1979)
Quatermass Experiment, The (1953)
Quatermass and the Pit (1958-59)
Brambell, Wilfrid (1912-1985)
Cartier, Rudolph (1904-94)
Delgado, Roger (1918-1973)
Griffith, Hugh (1912-1980)
Kneale, Nigel (1922-2006)
Live TV Drama