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Professor Bernard Quatermass is a heroic scientist character featured in four television serials — The Quatermass Experiment (BBC, 1953), Quatermass II (BBC, 1955), Quatermass and the Pit (BBC, 1958), and Quatermass (ITV, 1979) — and a radio serial — The Quatermass Memoirs (BBC, 1996) — all written by Nigel Kneale.

  • The Quatermass Experiment: The British Rocket Group, led by Professor Bernard Quatermass (Reginald Tate), successfully launches the first manned mission into space. When it returns, it's carrying an alien lifeform with the potential to bring about the end of life on Earth.
  • Quatermass II: Professor Quatermass (John Robinson) is asked to investigate a series of strange meteor showers and discovers that they're part of a subtle alien invasion.
  • Quatermass and the Pit: Professor Quatermass (André Morell) is called in when building excavations uncover a mysterious object that turns out to be an alien spacecraft that has lain undisturbed for five million years.
  • Quatermass: Professor Quatermass (John Mills) comes out of secluded retirement when his granddaughter disappears. He finds that she has joined a New Age group called the Planet People, who believe that benevolent aliens will come and take them to a better life on another planet. This being science fiction, there really are aliens, and they really are taking Planet People, but Quatermass has grave doubts about their benevolence.
  • The Quatermass Memoirs: Really a retrospective documentary about the series, but includes a fictional strand, set before Quatermass, in which the retired Professor (Andrew Keir) is interviewed about his career.

The Quatermass serials were very successful, and broke the ground for original science fiction on television (previous TV SF had either been children's telefantasy or adapted from literature). As one instance of the series' influence, 1970s Doctor Who owes a huge debt to Kneale and Quatermass, both in the types of stories being told and in the willingness of BBC executives to let the series tell them. (Kneale himself was reportedly unimpressed by this, feeling that Doctor Who was stealing his ideas.)

The first three serials were successfully remade as films by Hammer, two of which were scripted by Kneale himself. The fourth was re-edited directly into a film-length version, titled The Quatermass Conclusion, and given a limited theatrical release. There were also novelizations by Kneale himself.

The Quatermass Experiment was remade for television by the BBC in 2005 as a single feature-length drama, with the spy subplot and some comic material edited out to save time. For added conformity to the original, this version was broadcast live (the first live drama broadcast on the BBC for many years, with the exception of filmed stage plays) with no special effects that would have been unavailable for TV in 1953. Notable amongst the cast is David Tennant, who'd been cast in Doctor Who just before the broadcast.

The stories provide examples of:

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    Multiple instalments 
  • Broadcast Live: The three 1950s serials, as was usual in those days because the video recorder hadn't been invented yet.note  The second and third serials did include some scenes that were filmed in advance, with the film being played back and fed into the live broadcast feed at the appropriate point.note 
  • Content Warnings: Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit were both preceded by content warnings for those "of a nervous disposition", possibly the first ever British examples.
  • Hidden Depths: James Fullalove is a reporter for an evening newspaper who is fluent in Medieval Latin.
  • Market-Based Title: The three films produced by Hammer were all renamed when released in English:
    • The Quatermass Xperiment became The Creeping Unknown.
    • Quatermass II became Enemy from Space.
    • Quatermass and the Pit became Five Million Years to Earth.
    • Another release simply restored traditional spelling of "Experiment" to the first movie's title. That peculiar title only made sense in Britain, where The Quatermass Xperiment was given an X rating. The British "X" was applied to much tamer material than its American equivalent, but highlighting the rating in the film's title gave notice that the movie invokedfeatured stronger fare than the norm, for those who like that sort of thing.
  • Nuke 'em: When the chips are down, Quatermass has few qualms about the applied use of nuclear weaponry. Attempts by the superpowers in Quatermass to employ this trope are less successful.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Professor Quatermass develops into one of these over the course of the three fifties serials. In the first, he pointedly notes describes himself as "only an engineer" during one scene and relies on surgeon Dr. Briscoe for anything relating to biology, but by his third encounter with aliens, he's done quite a bit of brushing up on other fields.
  • Science Hero: Bernard Quatermass is a rocket scientist who battles alien invaders and always manages to dispatch them by using science to uncover their weaknesses.
  • Starfish Aliens: The aliens in The Quatermass Experiment and Quatermass II are weird to almost Eldritch Abomination levels. Put another way, the least bizarre aliens Quatermass encounters are three-legged telepathic insects from Mars.
  • Television Serial

    The Quatermass Experiment 
  • The Assimilator: When Victor Caroon begins to transform into a monster, he absorbs a potted cactus into his alien-growth-infested arm. When that arm next appears on screen, it's mutated into a lumpy fingerless mass with protruding cactus spines all over it.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Judith's parting words to Victor, before he set off in the rocket, were a request that he bring her back something from space (in fact, the teleplay was originally titled "Bring Something Back"). As it turns out, he does bring something back... something alien and horrible.
  • Blob Monster: The alien has an amoeboid form and absorbs organic matter that comes in contact with it. What's disturbing is that it retains their brains in full functionality after it absorbs them.
  • Broadcast Live: The 2005 remake was done live as the original serials had been, as a gimmick, although it backfired slightly because the live footage was treated to look like film.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: In the climax, Quatermass defeats an alien plant which has absorbed three astronauts by use of this technique. It's a pity invokedwe can't actually watch it.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: When the infected Victor encounters a young girl, he prevents himself from succumbing to the alien's drive to absorb living matter by frightening her away, thus leaving her unharmed.
  • Insufferable Genius: Quatermass comes across as one in the film, refusing to listen to criticism from anyone.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Army's plan to kill the creature in Westminster Abbey.
  • Live Episode: The 2005 remake, like the original serial, was broadcast live (thus actually making it a 1:40 serial...) but ironically treated to look like a film. A few goofs present in the broadcast were replaced with filmed rehearsal footage for the DVD.
  • Same Content, Different Rating: The Hammer film was given an X certificate when it was released in 1955, due to the horror of a human transforming into a Starfish Alien as the precursor to an invasion. By the time of the video release in 2003, it got a PG rating in the UK.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: The climax of the Hammer film, replacing the "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight denouement of the original. Kneale was not impressed.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: An alien life force had absorbed the consciousnesses of three astronauts, and Quatermass convinces them to commit suicide to keep the creature from reproducing via thousands of infectious spores.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: The film was actually titled The Quatermass Xperiment, to draw attention to its X ratingnote  (for motives as described in Avoid the Dreaded G Rating, except that this film came by its rating honestly).

    Quatermass II 
  • Atmosphere Abuse: A chemical plant, run by humans under alien control, manufactures gases in which the aliens can live but which are horribly corrosive to human flesh. The aliens plan to manufacture enough gas to ultimately replace the Earth's atmosphere.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Yeah, aliens, it's a great idea to liquidize your rebellious minions' representatives For the Evulz when the minions have rocket-launchers.
  • Domed Hometown: Professor Quatermass shows off a concept drawing of his planned Moon base, which has domed buildings to provide an atmosphere on the airless Moon. He's surprised to find a chemical planet in Britain has the same domed buildings... because aliens are using it during their Hostile Terraforming of the Earth.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: To infiltrate the higher security domes in Winnerden Flats, Quatermass nabs a dead plant worker's uniform.
  • Hazmat Suit: Quatermass and his team watch film footage of the aftermath of a nuclear-powered Retro Rocket exploding in the Australian desert, killing hundreds. Men in 1950s hazmat suits are shown running Geiger counters over the area, which is invokedHarsher in Hindsight given what was actually happening at Maralinga in the 1950s.
  • Hostile Terraforming: Part of the aliens' plan. An alien vanguard takes over selected humans so they can build a chemical plant to make an atmosphere that will support their kind of life and kill all terrestrial life.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Subverted, as the apparent success of this trope on an alien-controlled Dillon is actually the aliens changing his orders and instructing him to go along with Quatermass' plan (to launch a nuclear-armed rocket at their asteroid base) because they intend to seize the rocket and bring the rest of their race to Earth.
  • Justified Title: Quatermass II features the Professor's experimental rocket, known as the Quatermass II. invokedKneale later confessed that he only wrote in that connection because he couldn't think of a better title for the second serial than "Quatermass II", and he had to justify it to himself.
  • Kaiju: The large alien creatures that emerge from the domes to destroy the plant.
  • Law of Inverse Recoil: A somewhat questionable aversion occurs when an astronaut fires a submachine gun on an asteroid — the recoil knocks him off the low gravity surface and out into space.
  • Numbered Sequels: A Roman numeral in the 1955 original (II), and an Arabic numeral in the 1957 film (2). The latter is probably the first example of an Arabic numeral number in a sequel title. In both cases, it's technically a subversion, as the title actually refers to a rocket ship literally named Quatermass 2.note 
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Zig-zagged. During The Infiltration, these oppose Quatermass' attempts to uncover the truth about the Alien Invasion, some out of petty authoritarianism, others because they're possessed by aliens. However, a senior civil servant named Fowler helps Quatermass because experienced enough in how the system works to realize that the obstructiveness is happening in a way that doesn't make sense.
    Fowler: Quatermass, we've had dealings for a number of years. You as a driving force of an enterprise of The Future, I as one of the obstructive civil servants you had to contend with.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: Aliens from a nearby asteroid reach Earth via hollow meteorites and start infiltrating the upper echelons of society.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Played with — Quatermass is trying to get a committee of Obstructive Bureaucrats to authorise an inspection of a well-guarded synthetic food factory, which has some connection with strange hollow meteorites landing in the area. A politician who also wants to get to the bottom of the matter agrees to help him and starts pitching to the committee the idea that the factory might be in danger from these meteorites crashing down on top of it. Rather than realizing what he's up to, Quatermass keeps interrupting to 'correct' the politician's supposed scientific error.

    Quatermass and the Pit 
  • Adapted Out: Fullalove is in the TV serial but doesn't appear in the film version.
  • The Aesthetics of Technology: The Retro Rocket-style design for the alien spacecraft in the TV serial is replaced in the film with a more exotic design that gave it a more weirdly "alien" look.note 
  • Alien Fair Folk: Ancient aliens who not only gave the human race intelligence but also were the inspiration for supernatural beings, most notably horned demons.
  • Ancient Astronauts: Beliefs in witchcraft and demons stemmed from the arrival of Martians early in Earth's history, who attempted to engineer the hominids of Earth to become the successors of their own Dying Race.
  • Anyone Can Die: The rather casual death of Fullalove, who had survived The Quatermass Experiment.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Invoked by Sladden in the film after the lights go out in the Underground station and he mutters to himself:
    "Where was Moses when the lights when out?
    In the flippin' dark."
  • Astral Projection: In the climax, a Martian (whether real or just a manifestation of the spaceship) appears in this way.
  • Cold Iron: In the climax, the Martian "devil" appears as a ghostly projection, powering destructive atavistic urges in humans. Professor Quatermass and Ronay realize that "cold iron", in the form of an electrical conductor, can be used to short out the energy responsible.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Roney actually achieves a lot more when it comes to understanding and neutralizing the alien menace than Quatermass.
  • Dying Race: The alien Ancient Astronauts were apparently dying out and thus attempted to genetically engineer humanity to become their successors.
  • Enemy Within: Any human who still has the Martian race memory left intact.
  • Head-in-the-Sand Management: In the Hammer film, the Minister of Defense believes that the items in the pit are planted propaganda rather than alien artifacts, which makes sense at first. However, he sticks to this theory even as incredibly weird stuff starts happening, including displays of psychic powers by people who previously had none but were exposed to the items in the pit.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Reversing the usual roles, Quatermass himself (along with most of the human race) falls prey to possession by ancient Martian psychic energy, while his friend Dr. Roney is one of the comparatively few people immune. Roney desperately tries to talk Quatermass (who is at the same time doing his best to kill Roney) out of it — and is ultimately successful.
  • Insectoid Aliens: The Martians look like large locusts.
  • Kilroy Was Here: The very words "Kilroy Was Here" can be seen written in a tunnel in the Hammer film version.
  • Magic from Technology: Traditional black magic and the occult are explained as being garbled racial memories of Ancient Astronauts meddling with the brains and cognitive abilities of primitive hominids.
  • Mental Picture Projector: Roney's thought-visualizing machine, called an "optic encephalograph", shows racial memories of Martian genocide.
  • One Myth to Explain Them All: The insectoid Martians, their telekinesis and their spectral projections are the origins of the beliefs in poltergeists, ghosts, and horned demons.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: An ancient alien evil which has laid buried under London for millions of years is finally unearthed by building works.
  • Sinister Subway: The film replaces the ordinary building site of the TV show with a London Underground station (not exactly abandoned, just closed, being reconstructed for an extension), making the scenes and the unearthly events therein even creepier.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Quatermass may be the title and main character, but it's Dr. Roney who first investigates the pit, is one of the only characters unaffected by the Martian Devil, and ultimately performs a Heroic Sacrifice to defeat the Martians.
  • The Vicar: The Vicar who comes to Hob's End is a decent man of the cloth confronted by forces which he can't begin to understand.
  • The Wild Hunt: The episode "The Wild Hunt" involves the alien race holding a periodic Wild Hunt to weed out the unfit. Quatermass theorizes that this urge has been genetically passed down through the human race, leading to wars and racial conflict.
  • Zombie Gait: Non-zombie example: when Sladden the drill operator falls under Martian influence, he walks with a weird lurching gait, the idea being that he's trying to replicate the Martians' tripedal locomotion with only two legs.

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The setting is a dystopian future UK plagued by social breakdown, fuel and food shortages, and heavily armed street gangs. The Soviet Union still exists, and it vies with the US to spend billions on useless space projects. No date is given but clues in the text of the novelisation (written by Kneale) indicate that it is happening in 1990. Ironically, it turned out to be at least partially Truth in Television, as the Soviet Union did still exist in 1990, not having broken up until around Christmas 1991, and the late '80s were the scene of a last spat in The Space Race. Social breakdown in the UK, not so much (despite teenagers readopting hippy-ish culture and dancing themselves silly in fields).
  • Amoral Afrikaner: In a grim, dystopian, near-future Britain, the UK's police services have been disbanded and replaced by the Contract Police, or 'pay cops', a force comprised of overly aggressive and not-very-bright mercenaries. The Novelization of the story makes it clear that they are almost exclusively white South Africans; the ones heard speaking in the serial have Afrikaner accents.
  • Ancient Astronauts: A race of aliens is responsible for the existence of Stonhenge and other ancient stone rings. They were originally markers to warn of spots where the aliens used to harvest humans.
  • The Apunkalypse: Britain and by implication other parts of the Earth are in the early stages of this, due to out-of-control youth violence and delinquency. It's implied to be due to alien interference.
  • Author Tract: The serial is so reactionary as to occasionally tip into self-parody. Its central premise involves alien mind control which targets hippies but doesn't affect old people. The other part of its premise is that there's a cult who believe that the aliens are transporting them to a utopia, when in fact they're just being incinerated. The result, basically, is 100 minutes of Nigel Kneale yelling at viewers to get off his lawn.
  • Big Red Button: The nuke detonator has one.
    "Just thump it."
  • Circle of Standing Stones: Young people are drawn to stone circles and apparently ascended to a higher plane. However, all is not as it seems. It is eventually revealed that standing stones and other ancient sites are warning markers at places where an alien device killed people in the past — and is doing so again.
  • Compilation Movie: Quatermass was edited down into a feature film called The Quatermass Conclusion for release in other countries, like the US. An odd example, since the original serial was deliberately written and shot so that it could be edited down into a much shorter movie (the section with the old people in the scrapyard was specifically written to be cuttable without affecting the plot too much).
  • Cool Guns: Kickalong prominently uses a Sterling in several scenes.
  • Dead Man's Switch: Quatermass is not happy about his planned Moonbase being used to launch nuclear missiles for a proposed Dead Man deterrence strategy, the idea being that if an aggressor nuked Britain, missiles would launch from the Moon and wipe out the attacker three days later.
  • Death of a Child: Joe Kapp's wife and children are suddenly killed off-screen in an alien bombardment.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The Stonehenge stand-in is named Ringstone Round.
  • Down in the Dumps: A badly injured Professor Quatermass, stumbling through the streets of a London in the late stages of urban collapse, is saved by a community of elderly people hiding out in an ingenious labyrinth made out of old vehicles in a scrapyard.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Twice:
    • Annie gets either knocked out or killed in a sudden head-on crash with a Land Rover driven by possessed soldiers, then incinerated by an alien energy bolt.
    • Joe Kapp gets ready to heroically sacrifice himself as a backup to Quatermass to ensure that the nuke is detonated but is casually shot dead by Kickalong when the Planet People invade the observatory grounds.
  • The Generation Gap: It turns out that the Generation Gap is caused by the malign influence of aliens.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Quatermass himself and possibly his granddaughter — it doesn't seem that she actually knew what that big red button was for, although the novelization claims "she knew because he knew". Plus, the fact that her photo was propped up against it might have given her a clue.
  • Horror Hippies: The Planet People are a hippie-like movement being mind-controlled by a malevolent alien force]. Luckily, old people's brains are unaffected by the mind control, so are able to save the Earth from the pernicious influence of hippiedom. This was made in 1979.
  • Human Resources: Quatermass speculates that this is the aliens' motivation, although we never find out for sure.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: The children's nursery rhyme "Ringstone Round" contains seemingly innocent lyrics which actually indicate that the terrible, inexplicable events currently occurring have happened before.
    "Huffety puffety Ringstone Round.
    If you lose your hat, it will never be found,
    So pull up your britches right up to your chin,
    And fasten your cloak with a bright new pin,
    And when you are ready, then we can begin,
    Huffity, puffity puff!"
  • Jerkass: Kickalong is a seething cauldron of hate. In one scene, he pretends to beg for food from a man cowering in a boarded-up house, and when the man passes out a can of beans, Kickalong machine-guns him.
  • Kill Sat: An alien device lures people into small areas and then engulfs them in a column of light. True Believers assume that the light will transport them to a better planet. No such luck; it's actually a nasty and insidious form of Kill Sat, only just to make things worse, there isn't an actual satellite that can be shot down (there's something that the Russians launch nuclear missiles at, but it doesn't work). In Kneale's Novelization, Quatermass theorizes that it's a kind of energy field surrounding the Earth like a huge soap bubble. When it needs to fire, it just concentrates its energy on one spot.
  • Mind-Control Music: Implied. While the Planet People are gathering, ethereal music plays on the soundtrack, apparently symbolizing the alien influence that's drawing them to their deaths like a deadly version of the Pied Piper. The final closing credits make it clear that it has the same tune as the Ringstone Round nursery rhyme.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: The serial somehow managed to combine this and The New Rock & Roll; the cities are decaying, and one symptom of this is a band of violent hippies — sorry, "Planet People" — who believe they've made contact with a peaceful race of aliens (who are actually conning the hippies and plan to harvest them as a food source). Kneale decided in retrospect that he shouldn't have gone with hippies (as it was 1979) and should have used punks instead, but that's another trope entirely. Although the more explicitly violent youth gangs certainly have the appearance of punks, and prove just as susceptible to the alien influence as the Planet People.
  • Older Hero vs. Younger Villain: Young people are affected by an evil alien force, and old people are the only ones who can save the day.
  • One Myth to Explain Them All: Stone circles (which do nothing; the stones only mark the places where people congregated in the past) around the world becoming activated; people congregate there (an activated race memory), expecting to either be contacted by aliens, be 'raptured' into heaven, 'go to the planet', etc. Instead, they are 'harvested' by an interstellar energy beam that reduces them to dust, with a tiny fraction lost to the beam. It is further suggested that all religions, and by extension, all of human politics, wars and history, have been the result of this race memory: to congregate and be harvested.
  • Path of Inspiration: The Planet People are a sect influenced by aliens to voluntarily submit themselves for consumption.
  • Pillar of Light: The Planet People are a sect who believe they are being transported to a wonderful new planet by beams of light that descend to the Earth. Professor Quatermass discovers that the beams have a much deadlier purpose.
  • Re-Cut: The serial was specifically written so that it could be recut as a cinema movie for US distribution. One subplot, the one dealing with the old people living in the junkyard, was specifically designed to be cut without affecting the main plot.
  • Spontaneous Human Combustion: The sole survivor of an alien attack suddenly explodes into ash a couple of days later. Quatermass had previously wondered why Annie hadn't noticed the corpses he saw at Ringstone Round a few days earlier — they'd obviously gone the same way.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: The section with the old people living in the scrapyard was specifically written so that it could be removed for a condensed feature-film version.
  • Writer on Board: According to Nigel Kneale, hippie teenagers are terrifying, lawless punks with no respect for anything, and when the chips are down, only a scientific team made up entirely of old people ignored by the world are capable of saving it.

Alternative Title(s): The Quatermass Experiment, Quatermass II, Quatermass And The Pit, The Quatermass Xperiment, Quatermass 2, The Quatermass Conclusion