The Quatermass Experiment (1953)
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-The Kneale Tapes
Featurette-Cartier And Kneale In Conversation
Featurette-Quatermass And The Pit Omnibus Version-Opening & Closings
DVD-ROM Extras-Scripts For The Four Missing Episodes
|Year Of Production||1953|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Rudolph Cartier|
Roadshow Home Entertainment
W. Thorp Deverreux
Richard R. Greenough
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.29:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||English for the Hearing Impaired||Smoking||Yes|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
If you thought that British television science fiction started with Doctor Who in 1963, then think again. A science fiction series had been an early success for the BBC a full decade earlier.
In 1953 a young writer in the BBC stables was given an opportunity to create a series at short notice to fill a programming gap. Nigel Kneale came up with a science fiction drama series that was performed live (as was virtually all TV at the time) and was a big success, paving the way for decades of TV drama, not just science fiction. The series was The Quatermass Experiment, featuring the adventures of Professor Bernard Quatermass, head of the British Experimental Rocket Group.
As episode 1 opens, Quatermass (Reginald Tate) and his London crew are overseeing a manned rocket launch that took off from a base in Western Australia. Instead of orbiting the Earth, the rocket has shot off into space in an ellipse that will see the three man crew pass once more by the Earth and then disappear into space forever.
Quatermass and his team manage to separate the command module and bring it crashing down to earth into a building in Wimbledon. When the rocket cools and the scientists are able to open it, they find only one occupant: Victor Carroon (Duncan Lamont), wife of Quatermass's assistant Judith (Isabel Dean). The other two members of the crew have disappeared, and yet the instruments show that they did not leave the spacecraft. Carroon is ill and unable to give any account of what has happened, but he begins acting strangely.
Unfortunately, that's it. The six-part series was performed live, and the BBC only made telerecordings of the first two episodes, reportedly because they were dissatisfied with the results. Quatermass made appearances in two further BBC serials which do survive, and all are presented on a three-disc set with a number of extras.
So this disc only contains the two episodes that survive. Also included are copies of the scripts for the other four episodes. If you don't feel up to reading those, then you could either obtain the Region 1 DVD of the movie version made by Hammer two years later, The Quatermass Xperiment, or await the arrival in this country of a recording of the 2005 BBC remake, which was also broadcast live.
The movie version as I recall it follows the TV story closely. The cast is different, with American actor Brian Donlevy brought in to play a more ruthless Quatermass than in the TV serial.
It's hard to make out what the entire series must have been like, but the first two episodes are very good. Reginald Tate is a good Quatermass, and the cast has a number of familiar faces from British TV and film. One of Quatermass's assistants is Moray Watson, who was George Frobisher on the Rumpole series. Paul Whitsun-Jones plays the reporter Fullalove, a character that reappears in the third serial, while Oliver Johnston is his boss. Katie Johnson plays the owner of the house in which the rocket crashes: she would later become well known from the film The Ladykillers. Duncan Lamont would have a prominent film career, and would play a supporting role in the film version of the third serial, Quatermass and the Pit, in 1968.
It is difficult to enthuse over something that is only one-third complete, but these two episodes are still worth seeing, if only as an introduction to the two complete serials included in this set.
The programme is shown in an aspect ratio of 1.29:1. The original aspect ratio would have been 1.33:1.
This material is a telerecording or kinescope of the original TV broadcast. In effect, a telerecording is created by pointing a film camera at a TV monitor. The camera is adjusted to match the frame rate of the television broadcast.
As such, the visual quality is disappointing. There is a slight distortion at the extreme left (presumably due to the curve of the screen) which affects some motion towards that side of the image. Otherwise the image is blurred, with visible scan lines and a lot of detail missing. It is worth noting that at the time the resolution of television in the UK was 405 lines, compared to the present 575.
Contrast is poor, so there are a lot of featureless blacks and over-bright whites. There are film artefacts, though relatively few. The spots that appear on the screen were probably on the camera lens or the screen that it was filmed off. In episode two from 51:10 an insect seems to have landed on the camera lens. It remains there for a while, disappears and then reappears.
There is a fair bit of what appears to be aliasing, although again this could simply be a limitation of the recording and could be present in the original material.
The disc is dual-layered, but there is no layer break within either of the episodes. The usual small BBC subtitles in white font are available, and are reasonably complete in terms of transcribing the dialogue.
The sole audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.
Dialogue is mainly clear, but some is not so easy to understand and requires use of the subtitles. The recording is a little rough, with some harshness and distortion, but less allowances need to be made for the audio than for the video. There is no indication that the transfer to DVD has caused any issues with the audio. I did not notice any problems with audio sync.
Music is provided in the form of stock music from the BBC library, with the theme being "Mars, the Bringer of War" from Holst's The Planets.
|Surround Channel Use|
A good selection of extras. All of the extras in this set are on the first disc, and with the exception of the scripts should be viewed after watching all three episodes, as there are spoilers. All are in full frame unless stated otherwise, and all have subtitles. According to the case, a collector's booklet is included, but I did not receive this with the review copy.
Some footage from the film is seen on the main menu together with some of the music.
A recent (2003) documentary about the career of the writer. I could have sworn that I read an obituary of Kneale sometime in the early 1980s, and laboured under the impression for years that he was dead. However, happily, he is not and this documentary features the octogenarian writer and his wife Judith Kerr, also a writer. Starting with The Quatermass Experiment, the programme delineates his career, including excerpts from a TV production of 1984 with Peter Cushing. There are interviews with various people, including author Kim Newman and a couple of the League of Gentlemen, one of whom appears in the 2005 version.
Of interest is that Kneale still has the gloves used for the monster in the first serial, and one of the creature models from the third. The programme is in 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.
This is taken from interviews with Kneale and producer of the three serials Rudolph Cartier made in the early 1990s, not long before the latter's death. Speaking of which, Cartier seems to suggest that John Robinson did not appear in the third series due to being dead, which is not true. In fact he outlived his replacement.
This is a piece from the early 1990s with the two special effects people who worked on 1984 and the later serials. Quite interesting material.
The third serial was repeated in an omnibus version, with two programmes consisting of three episodes each. These are the opening credits for both and the closing credits for Part One.
This is a bit of a damp squib. On the disc accessible via DVD-ROM are four portable document format (PDF) files, containing the scripts for the four lost episodes. You will need Acrobat Reader or an equivalent PDF reader to view them. Unfortunately, they turn out to be images of photocopies of copies of the original scripts. The text is very difficult to read, as the typewriting did not always come through properly, so some characters are only partly visible. These scripts were printed in book form some years ago, which might be a better option if you can access them.
A substantial photo gallery covering all three series, including some sketches for the sets.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 4 is identical to the UK Region 2 release, and the series remains unreleased on DVD in Region 1.
An interesting piece of television history well presented on DVD.
The video and audio quality require the viewer to make allowances.
Some good extras.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-S733A, using Component output|
|Display||Sony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||Main: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175|