The Quatermass Experiment, BBC4

by | Apr 2, 2005 | All, Reviews

What to say of you liked it

A brilliant re-enactment of one of the pivotal dramas of the 1950’s, which was bravely performed live to maintain an alluring grip on the intellect through this acute adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s original script and with little reliance on lazy special effects.

What to say of you didn’t like it

A ham-fisted example to tragically illustrate how much contemporary television towers over the epic delusions of the 1950s that always resulted in misshapen unwatchable abortions on the screen.

What was good about it?

• An excellent cast which was held together by the brooding Jason Flemyng as the ambitious but contrite Professor Quatermass who was ably supported by Indira Varma, David Tennant, Adrian Dunbar, Adrian Bowers and Mark Gatiss as the frantic flustered John Paterson.

• The ingenuity of Nigel Kneale’s script that achieved a plausible scenario that the world was at risk and which was played out in the great British sci-fi tradition (innovated by Kneale himself) of all the action taking place in just a few rooms.

• There was much tension created by the spooky narrative of a spaceship crash-landing with the surviving astronaut carrying a virus-like alien which threatened to consume all of humanity into its being. On top of that, there was great anxiety hoping the actors could pull off the near two-hour live drama without major mishap, which they managed with only a few hiccups.

• The live broadcast meant that small errors such as actors talking over one another gave an eerily realistic atmosphere, meaning it felt innovative and fresh and made recorded dramas seem sterile in comparison.

• The superb direction that ensured any little problem such as an actor covering their talking co-star’s face with their back was quickly and unobtrusively remedied. The breaks between scenes were filled with ominous aerial shots of the nocturnal London, microscopic close-ups of the rapidly reproducing virus and the Jane Hill-fronted BBC News reports.

• As the scientists rushed from a press conference back to their laboratory after Judith (Indira Varma) screamed, David Tennant almost came a cropper navigating a tight bend.

• The chilling moment when Dr Gordon Briscoe (Tennant) and Quatermass realise that the three astronauts have been condensed into one body after the apparent survivor Victor starts speaking in the German language of one of his colleagues on the mission.

• At the end, the whole cast hugged and embraced one another which could have been observed as being part of the script in relief that the alien threat had been neutralised, but could also be interpreted as a genuine expression of delight from the cast that they had successfully staged the first live drama on the BBC for more than 20 years.

What was bad about it?

• The events seem to have taken place during a strike by BBC News journalists as Jane Hill seemed to be on duty each and every hour for the latest bulletins on the fate of the astronauts.

• While the foul-ups were few and far between, there were a couple we noted. The first came when Adrian Bower got a name wrong and was thrown, causing him to stumble over his next few lines, but he largely got away with it. The second came after Quatermass and Inspector Lomax (Adrian Dunbar) had followed the trail of the escaped Victor to a chemist’s shop he’d wrecked; as their conversation finished and moments after Dunbar exited stage right there came a crash and the sound of bottles shattering.

• Occasionally the dialogue was muffled by background conversations or someone clearing their throat. The near-identical aerial shots of London did become a little tiresome after the first hour.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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