Saturday, 22 November 2014

“FROM MY BLACK SPITFIRE TO MY FUNERAL BARGE”: KATE BUSH'S 'LIONHEART'


”I don't care what I see outside. My vision is within! Here is where the birds sing! Here is where the sky is blue!”
- 'A Room With a View'

Just as the big splash of Kate Bush returning to live performing has subsided again, the time seems ideal for a belated post about her. (I will almost certainly be late for my own funeral. In fact, if I should be there now please let me know via the mailing comments.)

'Oh England My Lionhearted', to give the song its full title, appeared on Kate Bush's second album in '78. As with many of her early songs, Bush is not thought to look back on it favourably. But at the time it not only gave the title to it's album, the lyrics got the personalised handwritten treatment while all about them were typescript. The inevitable embedded YouTube video (below) makes it look like she saved the song for her encore. At the time, it mattered to her.

In the clip Bush is sporting a pilot's uniform. For the song takes the perspective of a Spitfire pilot, shot down over Wartime London. But from there, as you might well expect from a Kate Bush song, things start to get strange...

“The soldiers soften, the war is over
The air raid shelters are blooming clover”

Highly melodic, the song lives in the juxtaposition between that kind of pastoral imagery and the knowledge of the destruction of war. Notably the Spitfire is coloured black when they were normally camouflage green. (Did they even make black Spitfires?) No matter, this blackness allows it to become the funeral barge, while the flowers and blossom of the garden of England become the garlands and wreaths which decorate it.

The reference to war being over might suggest the crashing plane has somehow time warped to somewhere the other side of VE day. Seen this way, the song revolves around the paradox of the soldier who fights for peace. Fighting a war he never wanted, he has become a sacrifice to a peace he will only ever get this glimpse of. (He's presumably been shot down during the Battle of Britain, the main air battle over London, which happened in 1940.)

And one of the appealing elements of this interpretation is that it places the bucolic dream England not in the past but the future. “Dream England” songs are virtually a sub-genre by now, but they normally overlap with state-of-the-nation songs. Think for example of June Tabor's 'Place Called England' or the Waterboys' anti-Thatcherite parable 'Old England' with it's refrain “old England is dying”.

But what about Peter Pan stealing the kids in Kensington park? Where does that fit this narrative? And yet the line does seem to match the haunting music, which Bush described as “madrigally”. All too often songwriting is talked about in terms of the writing, with scant notice paid to the fact this writing comes to us in the form of a song. Unusually for a modern song, 'Lionheart' has no real bass parts. Instead there's Bush's high-pitched voice, some high-pitched piano, a high-pitched harpsichord and even-higher pitched recorders. It's music which couldn't do more to sound ethereal, to suggest at the immaterial.

...all of which might suggest the pilot is not fast-forwarded to the future, but transported into a spirit world. Bush punned on the Fairy King name Oberon on the later track 'Cloudbursting', and things here have something of a 'Midsummer Night's Dream' feel – of another world alongside ours, separated only by a permeable membrane.

Yet that's probably not really it either. The ending makes it clear the pilot doesn't end up in this spirit world, like some pastoral happy hunting ground. He's “in your garden” but “fading fast”. He just perceives if, before being taken aloft. (The final line, with its reference to the gathering shepherd, is an unusually Christian image for Bush.)

Moreover, quite mundane images appear among the more esoteric stuff, such as the flapping umbrellas on rainy London Bridge. And take the reference to “wassailing”. These days we tend to take the term as a reference to singing carols, but she specifies the context is an apple orchard. It's the tradition of singing the fruit into bloom. Similarly the Thames is compared to Shakespeare, but described as itself a “river poet”, flowing like stanzas.

How about this? The pilot crashes in his contemporary London. He probably grew up there, the smog-ridden streets and rainy bridges over-familiar to him. But in his last few minutes of life he sees things the way they always were. To paraphrase Huxley, his doors of perception are given a bit of a wipe.

Crucially, it's not a song about passing into some pure Platonic realm where flowers smell sweeter, but about the interconnections. Notably, Bush sings about the natural and constructed landscape, the Thames and the Tower, interchangeably.

“Our thumping hearts hold the ravens in
And keep the tower from tumbling”

...is perhaps the key couplet to the song. Most tourists to London learn the popular tale - should the ravens fly away from the Tower, the building will fall and Britain with it. (These days they’re kept captive with clipped wings, so we’re probably safe.) The superstition may originally have been based on the perception that, prior to the invention of flight, climbing a tower was the nearest a human could ever get to a bird’s perspective.

But of course its continuing popularity is because it acts as a kind of a fable. Why would a mighty tower need a few birds to stay up, rather than just acting as a perch for them? Because it suggests a symbiosis between the human and natural worlds, that however big we build our towers we remain dependent on nature. The tower stands for the physical world and human body, with the ravens/ hearts as the spiritual - and each is contingent on the other.

For ultimately, its a song about the thing its made of - language. Language is not a mere labelling system for the physical world, a signifier to hang on the signified. We don't just look at the landscape, we impose language upon it, we inscribe it with meaning. The world out there enters into an inter-relationship with the world going on in our heads. Language and reality are conjoined, perhaps each is just one side of the other. (As Bush later sang, in the self-same track she punned on Oberon, “just saying it could even make it happen”.) The garden of England, the rolling landscape of patchwork fields and summer lawns we like to imagine, it mostly just exists in our imaginations. But language allows us to connect it to the real world. That's how we do it – that's how we make home into home. We just need to be reminded sometimes that's what we're doing.



Late addendum! My old mate, and knower of such things, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, contacted me on Facebook to say there were black Spitfires. But as these weren't launched till after the Battle of Britain, where air combat became a nocturnal affair, I was sort of right. In a gormlessly literal sort of a way.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

THE POP GROUP/ MOGWAI/ ANTEMASQUE (GIG GOING ADVENTURES)

THE POP GROUP
Sticky Mike's Frog Bar, Brighton, Sat 25th Oct


I had wondered if, after so recently seeing Hawkwind again, this would be another guilty pleasure gig – an old post-punk band reforming to perform tracks from a classic album. After all, last time I saw Mark Stewart he was glaring down the lens of a BBC4 documentary to firmly state “punk isn't about asking forty-something old blokes what punk is”. Moreover, the Pop Group were the walking, talking definition of music as an unstable element. They were like a Hadron collider - throwing together their heady cocktail of punk, funk, dub, noise and more, just to see how it all combusted. Reproducable? I'm surprised it was ever captured in the first place.

Then again, as the reformed band put it - “let's face it, things are probably even more fucked now than they were in the early Eighties, and we are even more fucked off.” (I offer fulsome apologies, of course, for their use of that inappropriate word 'probably'.) And perhaps more to the point this was my first and, for all I know, only chance to see so legendary a band.

Simon Reynolds famously pointed out that Public Image were able to take up the essence of dub without the cliches, so avoiding sounding like the usual clod-hopping white-boy imitators. And the Pop Group, all self-styled 'funketeers' before the dawn of punk, are similarly able to plug into funk. Some of the most laid-back music suddenly sounds agitated, sharpened into a weapon, but like it had been intended to be played that way all along.

At times the rhythm section sound so tight you can hardly conceive they go back to inhabiting separate bodies afer the show. But then seconds later they can sound engagingly ungainly; you're never sure if they're cleverly deconstructing the music they'd only just been throwing out or just breaking apart. (Back in the day, they could be provocatively vague about that in interviews.) And those opposites crash together most in the figure of frontman Mark Stewart, gargantuan yet ungainly. As he rages and punches the air he's like a combination of an apocalyptic blood-and-thunder prophet and care-in-the-communty type suffering an attack in Tescos. (All of which does also mean that, if you listen back to those classic albums, they can be maddeningly uneven. The silver lining has a cloud.)


Of course the curse that normally befalls bands isn't that they get worse but that they get better. They become tighter, more professional, and lose the looseness – the unstable elements that had made them so idiosyncratic and unpredictable. Had I seen them back in the day, would I think the same of them? Probably, but I hadn't so I didn't.

Hilariously, with echoes of when Half Man Half Biscuit played against Culture Shock, anarcho-punk surviors the Mob are playing across town this very night. It's like those old oppositions will never die. The anarchos forever portrayed post-punk as the music of posers and empty aesthetes, playing with gestures and taking polariods of themselves while Babylon burnt. While they sang about a laboratory animal they'd just liberated, we sang about a book we'd just read.

Yet, while I'm in no position to tell you how the Mob sounded, I simply can't imagine a band more impassioned and committed than the Pop Group. Almost the last thing Stewart says is that the gig's put on in association with the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, before launching into the classic 'We Are All Prostitutes' for the encore. Yet, lyrically, songs could be defiant calls to arms or dread warnings, but they both sound similar. Stewart's shrieks and yelps were always a far cry from bold, declammatory statements. The band's prevalent theme was not so much revolt as tribulation, the chaos to come. (“Our children shall rise up against us.”) At their best they were a band you couldn't fail to be absorbed by, yet they seemed innoculated against the idea you could follow them. Like the lyric from 'She's Beyond Good and Evil', there's no antidote for them...

No decent footage from Brighton, so here's something from Manchester. (With a very cool backdrop...)


...and speaking of 'Where There's A Will', this this is something of a gem. Back-in-the-day footage from Belgian TV, with the band showing a somewhat... deconstructive approach to lip-synching...



MOGWAI
Brighton Dome, Sun 26th Oct


At times, I confess to having something of a love/hate relationship with Mogwai. Their epic soundscapes can seem no less than soaring, as if looking down on straight song structure from a majestic height. Yet it can also sound expansive yet arid, portention at the expense of substance, cinemascopic in width yet screen-thin in depth.

One way to look at them might be as the counterbalance to Sigur Ros. When catching Sigur Ros live, I became quite insistent their music shouldn't be portrayed as “merely some kind of template, a big cavernous space onto which the listener can project what they want to imagine”. A description which ironically does seem to stick to Mogwai, so often used in soundtracks. Put their music on top of almost anything and it would most likely magnify it. Sigur Ros may be like a Romantic painting, and indeed live they used quite bucolic nature imagery as a backdrop. While Mogwai come with a gleaming bright lighting rig that borders on abstract art.

They pre-load the set with some of their softer material, and to be honest nearly lost me at that point. They seemed a shadow of their former combustible selves, and I came to long for some fire in the bellies of those guitars. Plus, while I'm quite happy for their tracks to include the human voice, conventional lead vocals don't seem to lend to their strengths at all.

From there, thankfully, guitars started to spark up and more sonic variation appear. One track, unusually foregrounding keyboards, had the prog-meets-arcade-game ring of Goblin. For another the band lined up at the front of the stage for a wall of fuzz guitar. But one with the sweetest of tunes held within it, like a butterfly in a bottle.


And yet once the noise arrives it came to be the quietest parts which spoke the loudest. There's something to those stately tempos, like they're the antidote to the modern world of just-in-time economics. (Slow being the new fast, and all.) There are those who dismiss the band as ponies with one trick – dynamic contrast, setting up the noodly kindling of a track to toss a guitar explosion in midway. Yet, for example, '2 Rights Make 1 Wrong' is almost a spiritual for us unreligious types, combining the genuinely hymnal with a kind of Christmas-lights twinkliness. (Maybe they're one of those bands you really should see on a Sunday.) But it took set-closer 'Mogwai Fears Satan' to sum it all up. Yet there is a guitar outburst mid-way, but the loudness is there to enhance the quiet parts rather than the other way around. It's the sonic equivalent of looking at a colour field painting, music to bathe in. The guitar notes sounded so delicate they were almost dissolving as they reached your ears.

If I didn't like everything they did... well, I don't like everything that Mogwai do. But when these guys get good, they can get very good indeed.

Talking of 'Mogwai Fear Satan'... (Alas it cuts before the end. And at times the camera can't capture the full range of sound. But surf YouTube and that would seem to be the general rule.)


ANTEMASQUE
Concorde 2, Brighton, Monday 13th Oct


Antemasque are a successor band to legendary American hardcore outfit At the Drive-In, featuring vocalist Cedric Bixier-Zavala and former bassist Omar Rodrigues-Lopez, now on guitar. ATDI were like the featherweights of hardcore, balancing out the piledriver heavyweights like Black Flag or Nomeansno. (Maybe Fugazi were the welterweights. I am probably reaching now...) Their tracks were writhe, wiry and dynamic, capable of taking unexpected moves. Had you been foolish enough to try and wrestle one, you'd have been held to the floor before you knew it.

Music Emissions called them a “chaotic balance of adrenaline and intellect”, which seems about as close to pinning them as anyone's likely to get. Though commonly dubbed 'post-hardcore' they were more like a hardcore and an art rock band somehow happening at once – Sonic Youth and the Ramones as conjoined twins.

Yet, though a keen ATDI fan who never managed to see one of their frenetic live shows I couldn't muster the enthusiasm to see either of the earlier successor bands, the Mars Volta or Bosnian Rainbows, when they came to town. Which, judging by the relative size of venues, was a common choice. They seemed to have all the intellect yet a deficiency of the adrenaline, taking things in a jazzier, proggier direction which left me less than keen to follow.

Not so this time.


Yet if I'm here because Antemasque are back to the patented ATDI sound, in a way that could bring its own set of problems. Not having been in the room at the time I can't offer any special insight, but its notable the band split soon after hitting their creative peak with the acclaimed 2000 album 'Relationship of Command'. Perhaps they simply figured their work here was done. As Omar himself has commented “if you're not moving forward, you're stagnant. And that's no way to be”. Which left me initially apprehensive of Antemasque sounding a bit apres.

Notably, however, they play no ATDI tracks and seem keen to strike out on their own. Truth to tell their trajectory may well be the opposite direction to the Mars Volta, straying more into conventional rock territory. Guitar solos start to creep in, and at times you hear the echoes of Led Zeppelin. Watching Cedric's unmissable wild mane in mid-toss, whereas once it resembled the MC5's Rob Tyner now its starting to look like Robert Plant. Now as the record shows I love Led Zeppelin as much as the next music fan, and besides its more a raw Sixties sound than stadium rock they're channelling. But my feelings are mixed as to whether its a sound Omar and Cedric should be straying back to. It can at times feel like avoiding stagnation via reverse gear. Perhaps significantly they've reverted to the world of singles, releasing no less than four in the month of April.

Yet overall, if they don't match previous heights they're still coming up with damn fine tracks put across with no small amount of conviction. And their lack of adherence to the old sound is made most unmissable by a lengthy trance-out soul track, the sort of thing Van Morrison went in for in the Seventies. Turning up late in the set like beamed in from elsewhere and featuring Cedric uncharacteristically cooing, it was about as enthralling as it was unexpected and swept the whole of us away. It suggests perhaps than rather than old-timers living in the shadows of past glories, Antemasque are a new band still forming their sound. I would tell you the name of it if I knew myself.

This isn't it...



Coming soon! Probably more music stuff...

Saturday, 8 November 2014

'NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR'


Contunuing our series on SF from classic British TV. After looking at Nigel Kneale and Rudolph Cartier's work on the pioneering BBC TV SF series 'Quatermass', we shift to their adaptation of 'Nineteen Eight-Four'

You could be forgiven for regarding Kneale and Cartier’s choice of follow-up to the successful 'Quatermass Experiment’ as an eccentric one. While much of the early part of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel ’Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is given over to a man writing a diary, this later develops into scenes of him reading a book. It’s central question is not whether the totalitarian regime will catch dissident Winston Smith, which is rather assumed to be a foregone conclusion, but whether it can get inside his head and make him love Big Brother. As the old saying goes, you can’t photograph thought. So how do you dramatise thoughtcrime?

In fact the BBC had bought the rights to the book very shortly after publication, and Kneale and Cartier had quite distinct advantages over other adaptors. Though working a good six years after the novel’s publication (in 1954), they perhaps found it easier to reproduce the spirit of the book than the later versions. The Jewish Cartier had to flee his native Austria after the Nazi take-over, and lost family members to the Holocaust. Which, somewhat needless to say, might well have sharpened his feelings about totaliarianism. However, despite this dramatic sequence of events, it would have been more his later experiences in Britain that informed this adaptation.

Though the novel takes place in a scenario of perpetual war, Orwell wrote it after hostilities were over. And, like many others during theat period, he had become convinced that it had stratified the possible outcomes for history – into socialism versus totalitarianism. Hence his book is still steeped in ration-book austerity, the smell of boiled cabbage and ‘careless-talk’ style paranoia. (Aspects of it now seem dated to us, such as the Anti Sex League. They stopped trying to censor sex a long time ago. In fact nowadays it’s their favoured ruse to try and sell us shit.) Kneale, and to a lesser extent Cartier, would have been similarly steeped in such a spirit. Rationing, for example, did not end until shortly before the programme was broadcast.

Added to which, they perhaps had the advantage of irony. Orwell had based Smith’s work at the Ministry of Truth on his own experiences at the BBC, and prophesised the widespread adoption of TV (or ‘televisor screens’). Producing an adaptation not just for the BBC but on television therefore gives proceedings both an edge and a fillip. (It’s perhaps a peculiarity of British society that such apparent contradictions empower artworks as often as they emasculate them. As cultural commentator Martin Barker has argued, the best children’s comics of this era were produced for the most conservative publisher – DC Thompson.)

Perhaps more importantly, television of this time was by necessity ‘talky’. Though the programme begins with one matte painting of futuristic horror, any attempts to ‘sex up’ this cautionary tale would have run into an intractable Anti Sex League of budgetary constraint. If Orwell wrote long passages of conversation to explain the concept of ‘newspeak’, that’s exactly what is put up on the screen.


Admittedly, the sheer interiority of the book still causes problems. There’s an early point where Smith joins in a workplace chant of “we love Big Brother.” His thought voice then gets overdubbed – “I hate Big Brother.” You can see what they’re trying to convey, the way our own thoughts can take us by surprise. But it feels clumsy, even if we’re to accept that this is the first time Smith ever thought such a thing. Similarly, if typically for the era, the acting frequently veers to the melodramatic.

Nevertheless, the adaptation commendably displays both a feeling for and faithfulness to Orwell’s book. It may well be the best filmic representation of the book and certainly eclipses Michael Radford’s version (released, with typically limpid literal-mindedness, in 1984).

Of course Kneale is too smart a writer to attempt to literally hold up a book before a camera. Though I last read the book a long time ago, I was still struck by a number of large and small divergences. Take for example the scene where Smith is called to his neighbours’ flat to fix the sink, which is used to demonstrate the party’s effect upon the young. In the book he is challenged by the son with a toy pistol. Told at school to watch out for spies the children are now playing at this, using it as an outlet for their bullying instincts. (“Like the gambolling of tiger cubs who will soon grow into man-eaters.”) In the TV version they are led by the daughter who is in earnest in challenging Smith. Like Abigail in 'The Crucible' she is old and smart enough to have worked out that such claims give her power, that adults can be taken away merely on her word.

This also places a more sinister twist upon a later scene where she denounces her father. From the book we assume he must be ‘guilty’ of his thought-crime, in this version it’s more than likely she set him up. But this altered version is most likely to be in itself an adaptation, taken from a very similar scene in Brecht’s ’Fear and Misery in The Third Reich.’ (Cartier would go on to adapt Brecht’s ’Mother Courage’ in 1959.)

However, the deeper and more problematic alterations are to the political aspects of the book. Though, as in the book, the ‘counter-revolutionary’ Goldstein is depicted as resembling Trotsky, the adaptation’s main approach to the politics is to leave them out. As in the book, this tension is conveyed through Smith’s relationship with Julia. While Smith sees their affair as a springboard towards political rebellion, Julia sees it as their rebellion – they love each other and not Big Brother, and that is enough. (It would be interesting to know how, with homosexuality then still illegal, a contemporary gay audience responded to their clandestine affair. Smith’s description of his joyless, businesslike marriage sounds almost like a ‘beard’, while Julia’s ability to “tell” deviance equates to ‘gaydar’.)


Orwell’s own stance could be said to be ambiguous, implicitly siding with Smith’s political yearnings but then making his denouncing of Julia into his breaking point. But the adaptation almost explicitly suggests that Smith’s notions of rebellion are chimerical, and that Julia is right in her first instinct to shun contact with the underground.

It’s reminiscent of another Julia from contemporary fiction. In Waugh’s ’Brideshead Revisited’ (1945), Julia Flyte breaks off an affair with Charles Ryder because it would be “ a rival good to God’s”. Things are merely inverted here, for this Julia, for here that is the precise reason for going ahead. In Kneale and Cartier’s hands, ’Nineteen Eighty-Four’ becomes almost a secularised theological story, all about their love versus the love for Big Brother. Kneale and Cartier have not done anything so crass as to turn the book into a love story with a political background. But they have set up a story which counterposes love against politics, rather than one politics against another. Love ceases to be a form of freedom buts something paramount, and their affair holds the stage to itself.

There are a number of factors which could have led to this. One of these is the already-discussed interiority of Orwell’s novel. Goldstein’s book, for example, is quoted from only scantly and becomes more a totem than a source of political information, while Smith’s diaries are collapsed into the four words “I hate Big Brother”. The love story was simply easier to dramatise, a more attractive target.

Another might be the six years that passed between book and adaptation, in which a newly forged post-war consensus appeared to make Orwell’s political predictions obsolete. (We got neither the predicted fully fledged totalitarianism nor socialism but, in a very British fudge, bits of both.) But ultimately, you can’t help but reflect that Kneale was a less political writer than Orwell and was consequently less engaged by the political themes.

Does this matter? In one sense, no. Kneale is free to adapt the work as he sees fit, which includes shaping it to his sympathies. (As a fan of Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’, which borrows highly liberally from Orwell's original, I could hardly claim otherwise!) But, in another, yes. In an incident both famous and infamous, a group of right-wing MPs submitted a Commons motion effectively condemning the BBC for broadcasting such a programme. (Though, in a piece generally suggesting the show's controversy to have been overstated, Oliver Wake debunks any suggestion this motion ever reached debate stage.) Less well known, if admittedly covered by Wikipedia, is that amendments and counter-motions were drafted to defend broadcast, which included the following: "many of the inhuman practices depicted in the play Nineteen Eighty-Four’ are already in common use under totalitarian régimes.”

Like the saying goes, with friends like these... As mentioned when covering Atilla the Stockbroker's song 'Down On Airstrip One', written on the cusp of that auspicious year, Orwell had gone from prophet to hostage. Perhaps it even started with that very motion. If he hadn't deigned to write the book the British establishment wanted him to, it just needed reflecting in their distorting mirror. Fear what's over there coming over here! Pay no attention to that little man behind the curtain...

Of course, on a prosaic level, the counter-motion's words are correct. But they could not be further removed from Orwell’s purpose, which was to demonstrate how easily Britain could slide down such a road – how far, in many ways, it was already along it. Though Big Brother himself may resemble Stalin, adding to the antipathy between Orwell and Stalinists, the book is quite explicitly located in a Britain locked in with an American superpower. So thickly is the book steeped in Britishness, that even the most cloth-eared adaptations tend to retain this setting. This version even starts with the description of “one man’s alarmed vision of the future, which with dangerous ease might be brought about”.

(For that reason I would half-seriously suggest that the adaptations most true in spirit is the 1979 Dead Kennedys track 'California Uber Alles', which uses collage-like black humour to insert Orwell's dystopia into their contemporary California, where “the suede denim secret police... come for your uncool niece”.)

But that afore-mentioned opening matte painting shows the pyramid-like Ministry of Truth towering over familiar London landmarks such as Big Ben. Perhaps the problem is partly hindsight becoming a slippery slope. It’s impossible for us now not to see in it the germ of Dalek spaceships in Trafalgar Square, and all those so-familiar images of alien invasion. By sidelining Orwell’s politics, and centering the theology-of-love question, Kneale and Cartier have left the door open to such readings. This is unfortunately the most common way for the book to be read today, which in short is to mis-read it.

However, despite that serious but single failing, ’Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is a compelling and effective piece of drama which is both more effective and far more faithful to Orwell’s vision than most subsequent versions. It's doubleplusgood!

Friday, 31 October 2014

MONSTERS VERSUS ALIENS (THE LEGACY OF 'QUATERMASS')

This concluding installment of our overview of the influential BBC SF series 'Quatermass' is considered slightly less unsuitable for children and those of an anti-plot-spoiler disposition


It can't really be doubted that British TV science fiction started with a Q. In fact it’s almost a cliché to talk about 'Quatermass’s founding influence. A recent BBC series on the subject telegraphed this by calling itself 'The Martians And Us', borrowing a line from ’Quatermass and the Pit.’ (In much the same way as a documentary on music and fashion felt obliged to take its name from David Bowie.) Well ’Blake’s Seven’ fans may want to cover their ears now, but such a statement really means we’re talking about a baton being handed to ’Doctor Who’.

Kneale, who could be irascible, was defensive about the shows which took his prototype into production – and ’Who’ in particular he regarded as stealing his thunder. (Despite offers, he steadfastedly refused to write for it.) Indeed Derrick Shewin, Pertwee-era ’Who’ producer, has openly acknowledged the influence of ’Pit’ in particular upon the 'The Daemons' (1971). Not to mention 'Image of the Fendahl' (1977) or even the more recent 'The Satan Pit' (2006), also almost direct copies. And you know what they say about once being happenstance, twice co-incidence and three times enemy action. The Third Doctor and the Brigadier's relationship, a current of the Pertwee era, made them less feuding cousins to Quatermass and Colonel Breen.



But let’s look at the slightly wider picture...

In both, our protagonist represents the open mind - set against the closed mind of military or government types. Quatermass is always trustingly talking to journalists, while bureaucrats try to hush him up. Science fiction becomes an arena where we may battle not just against bug-eyed extras but between the best and the worst in our nature.

When Quatermass insists in ’Pit’ that we must “outgrow the ancient destructive urges in us” or “this will be their [the Martians’] second dead planet” he hit upon not just the concept but the very title of the Daleks’ first appearance. Consequently, adversaries are seldom defeated by might alone, if at all. Both shows contain a huge emphasis on sacrifice – victories are rarely full and never bloodless.

However, it’s also true to say that ’Quatermass’ set a bar that ’Doctor Who’ often struggled to step up to. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare three series by the same author to a production-line brand, particularly when one was aimed squarely at adults while the other had to stretch to appease a general family audience. But this is nevertheless the case. From the opening image of a space rocket crashing into an East End street, Kneale understood that the extraordinary was contingent upon the ordinary. With it's police boxes materialising on alien landscapes ’Doctor Who’ would seem to have picked up this lesson.

Or did it? Time and again ’Who’ reverted to familiar stand-in Nazi storylines, even in its better storylines such as the already-mentioned ’The Dead Planet’ (aka ’The Daleks’). Though closer to wartime and continually referring to its bomb-site residue, ’Quatermass’ never took anti-Nazism for a theme. In a historically authentic detail, ’Experiment’ makes one of the rocket group a German - Dr. Ludwig Reichenheim. But while the script might make some play of his ‘sinister’ German accent, Reichenheim is not just one of the good guys - the whole ending comes to be predicated upon his goodness!

The black-clad policemen in ’QII’ are continually referred to as “zombies”, but never once as Nazis - despite their robotic manners and autocratic killing sprees. (In fact the Camp Committee is full of ‘careless talk costs lives’ posters, more reminiscent of the Allied side of the War.) But perhaps most telling is Colonel Breen in ’Pit’, who hopelessly clings to the insistence the alien object is some left-over Nazi plot, a falsehood he clearly finds more comfortable than the truth.


And this detail leads us to an important distinction, perhaps most neatly summed up as monsters versus aliens. The ‘monsters’ in ’Doctor Who’, though theoretically alien, are always reducible to human foibles and hence are always explicable in human terms. The Daleks represent megalomania and paranoia, the Cybermen conformity and so on. There is an almost compulsory scene where the Doctor confronts them by counterposing human values to the error of their ways. Clanking pepperpots aside, they tend to be humanoid. Of course they have our shape – they're our shadows! Think of the first New Who story, 'Rose', when the character most needed re-establishing - and how the Doctor demanded to “seek audience with” the week's enemy.

Indeed the figure of the Doctor, essentially both human and alien, acts as a necessary bridge and familiarising force. He's always able to explain to his companions that the guys who have just showed up painted green are in fact Kleptons who are there to try and shoplift the Earth in order to get it through Galactic Duty Free, thereby representing the human sin of avarice, or whichever. The fact that he theoretically isn't human is just used to emphasise the supposed universality of human values.

But a rule of ’Quatermass’, which got entrenched more and more deeply as it went on, is that there can be no direct communication between human and alien – the alien always stays alien. However ceaselessly the ordinary and extraordinary are juxtaposed they never mix, they are inherently held apart – like oil and water.

The motif of an alien not as humanoid or pepperpot-shaped but as shapeless recurs throughout the series. It starts with the growing transformation of man into vegetable, finally losing all semblance of humanoid form, then continues through the churning things in the domes in ’QII’ and the pre-Mysteron swirling lights in ’Pit’.

‘Pit’ is perhaps central - the aliens induce something ‘buried’ within us, but themselves are not only inexplicable - their very presence is enough for us to lose our capacity to comprehend altogether. Then in the fourth series the aliens don’t appear at all, but remain merely supremely unknowable. As Mark Fisher comments: ”[Their] purposes remain sublimely, unfathomably opaque, like their physical forms. Anything we ‘learn’ about them is conjecture, inference, speculation. They are light years away from us. In every sense.” These other-worldly creatures are closer to Lovecraft’s other-dimensional demons than to 'Doctor Who's more straightforward morality play.

Let's end on a question- how do you get to be good? Aspiring to would seem a good start. ’Experiment’ at one point parodies ray-gun shoot-up sci-fi sprees, with a faux-film about Space Captain Dallas and his obliterator gun. The swipe was perhaps a little sweeping. (The Shakespeare-based ‘Forbidden Planet’, for one counter example, was made at a similar time.) But the desire to distance itself from such pulpy fodder was genuine and not entirely unearned.

When 'Quatermass' instigated small-screen SF in the UK it insisted on some basic rules – it should be done intelligently, take seriously both its nature as SF and its capacity to comment on current events, and it should be aimed at a general audience. It should ideally come with a thick streak of black humour. If most of what followed was to miss this bar, few fared worse for having such a bar to aim for. Even 'Who', which could more shamelessly plunder the cliches of space opera and horror, often felt some obligation to do something with those cliches once they were pocketed and brought home. In short, after 'Quatermass', even some of the failures failed better. Every now and again, reputations can be deserved.

Grateful thanks, as ever, to ‘Redsock’

Coming Soon! “And now it is nineteen-eighty-four…” (Actually, something else is probably coming sooner)

Friday, 24 October 2014

'QUATERMASS IV' (1979)

(aka 'The Quatermass Conclusion' or sometimes just plain 'Quatermass', depending on who you talk to)


This final installment in our series of Quatermass reviews is also considered unsuitable for children and those of an anti-plot-spoiler disposition

"...as if some primal disorder was reasserting itself."

’Quatermass’s fourth and final chapter was not to appear until 1979. It received a poorer contemporary response than its predecessors, and was commonly seen as a grumpy old man’s whingeing over a modern world he barely understood and (perhaps not coincidentally) concerned with out-of-date issues. Indeed it was quite literally out-of-date, Kneale had written the script during 1972/73 but a perfect storm of false starts and delays had served to push back its production.

It’s set in a dystopian near-future in “the last quarter of the Twentieth Century”, where society is almost on the point of collapse, beset by inner city gangs and power cuts “…as if some primal disorder was reasserting itself”. (In a case of life imitating art the series own launch was delayed by a strike at ITV.) However the end of human society is pretty much a backdrop. Kneale is primarily interested in the Planet People, gangs of hippy cultists who believe they will be mystically ‘rescued’ from the fading Earth and transported to another planet. (Helpfully labelled by them as “the Planet”.) When the first Quatermass series was broadcast, the teenager was barely a concept. Here the conflict of youth versus age is central, with Quatermass attempting to find his lost grand-daughter who he suspects has smelt the patchouli oil and joined the long-haired weirdos.

The passage of time has made Quatermass into quite a different character from previously, elderly and unsure of himself. It’s tempting to speculate that while he had once been a mouthpiece for Kneale’s views, here he’s a stand-in for Kneale himself. As he spends episodes anguishing whether he still has it in him to combat this new evil, you sense Kneale wondering whether he can still write ‘em any more. The storyline is strung around his travelling from retirement in rural Scotland to discover the degree of urban collapse, just as you suspect Kneale (an Isle of Man resident) did himself on infrequent trips to London.



Kneale’s portrayal of the Planet People is in many ways amusing. Of course he's riffing off the hippie fetish for the 'cosmic', as exemplified by the classic Hawkwind track 'Time We Left This Earth Today'. But there is no getting round the fact that he clearly knows very little about hippies or what made them tick. The critics had a point, it is in many way’s an old man’s perplexity at a youth culture - struggling to understand why they wear such strange clothes or gather to listen to their funny music, and ultimately finding something sinister in his incomprehension.

Just like in tabloid shock stories, youth culture is never actually the culture of youth. There’s always some manipulating force secretly whipping them up – Communists, Satanists or (inevitably for here) aliens. The series’ central premise is that aliens are manipulating our minds to make us gather together, the easier to be harvested - but only the young are suggestible. (The Planet People are essentially millennial cultists, who merely happen to see their heaven as a planet.)

There is also something generically science-fictiony about their portrayal. They are basically shoehorned into the role of the herd-minded Frankenstein villagers against the rationalism of the scientists. Both 'Experiment' and, to a greater degree, ’Pit’ had already utilised the standard SF fear of the crowd, but here this is turned up a notch. Quatermass’ new sidekick Joe Kapp introduces them by contrasting them to the gangs; “they’re violent in a different way – to human thought.” There are Luddite scenes of them smashing up laboratories and frequent cut-to’s of them massing mindlessly in the countryside, chanting their mantra-word “Lei”, filmed as if they were zombies. Kneale’s novelisation describes their movements as “an angular jerking and twitching of their legs and arms, a rolling of eyes.”

(There does also seem something zeitgeisty to this theme, however. The BBC series ’The Changes,’ about a global outbreak of Luddism which takes us back to the Iron Age, filmed the year Kneale first wrote his script , was broadcast in ’75. It also shares themes and several plot points with the 1974 'Tomorrow People' storyline 'The Blue and the Green'.)

Moreover, the Planet People become fuzzy within the storyline itself. They’re sometimes presented as a kind of ascetically amoral cult, oblivious to earthly matters like life and death. There’s a scene where they walk chantingly into a gun battle between youth gangs. The first wave are mown down, but as more follow the gangs find themselves dropping their guns to join the procession. Yet, as they’re Quatermass’ chief antagonists, every now and then they’re given something villainous to do in order to spice up the melodrama. When one member looks like deserting, ‘chief’ Kickalong casually and somewhat pointlessly shoots her dead. (However, he could point out in his defence that she was being played by Toyah Wilcox.)


Yet by 1979 many wondered just what hippies were doing there in the first place. Three years into punk, surely they were yesterday’s moral panic. “All that’s different from them an’ those they were reacting against”, Johnny Rotten had sneered, “is that they’ve got long hair and bowler hats.” Even tabloids like the ’Daily Mail’ were becoming quasi-soft on hippies, if only in order to paint punks like Rotten more blackly. In Grant Morrison’s comic strip ’Zenith’ an ex-Sixties superhero Mandala was transformed into a suited and scheming Tory MP, Peter St John. Morrison was admittedly writing eight years later, but his take on hippiness felt far more cogent.

In truth, the hippies were never homogenous nor neatly defined. Indeed, that’s perhaps even more true of hippy than most youth cultures. Talking about 'hippy' in the way you would about 'punk' or 'mod' feels strange; you instinctively tend towards the more pluralised term "the hippies". Nevertheless
Richard Cross recently attempted a broad (if vague) definition of the hippies' "common principles — a rejection of crushing social conventions; of miserable wage-labour; of war and militarism; and a celebration of freedom, both collective and individual”. Put like that, hippie culture even starts to sound appealing. Perhaps we should be passing the patchouli oil after all...

However, their ideology doubtless contained a strong dose of New Age claptrap where whatever felt good was automatically deemed to be right. It’s now generally accepted that when hippy culture went mainstream it became a prime instigator of our current self-fixated therapy culture, ‘positive thinking’ gurus and other such arrant but insidious nonsense.

Kneale’s novelisation frequently returns to the analogy of a mental circuit breaker – “when the senses overload, a safety cutout says enough is enough.” This is of course the Planet People in a nutshell, convincing themselves they could believe their way out of a bad situation without needing to lift a finger to fix it. They first disinterestedly dismiss signs of death among the alleged transported as “accidents – you always get accidents.” But when there comes to be too many ‘accidents’ this becomes ‘spillage’, those who weren’t pure of heart enough to make it through the cosmic pearly gates. Even harm in the here-and-now can be justified by comparison to the vacuities of the greater good.

And if that wasn’t a fair or rounded portrait of hippy subculture, why should it be? SF’s job description is to find fault, to hold a distorting mirror to the present - not a neutral or a flattering one. Moreover, Kneale’s penchant for black humour has not deserted him. When one Planet Girl spits at Kapp “stop trying to know things” it’s both chilling and hilarious. It’s in many ways a Swiftian satire, not a sociology lesson. (It contains, among other things, a 'Top of the Pops' parody, filtered through 'Clockwork Orange', called 'Titupy Bumpity' - you can't get much more Swiftian than that.) SF dystopias often contain more satire than is commonly recognized, for an important reason. The satirical element reinforces the metaphorical nature of what is being presented, with which comes it’s sense of warning, - without which the entire exercise would be somewhat pointless.

Moreover, while the above complaints may have some validity, perhaps they look at the series too much from the perspective of its delayed release date. Now we can see the whole thing in hindsight, why not get the benefit of it? Why not elongate that hindsight a little and imagine it had come out on time? After all there's much which was been dismissed on release, only to be later taken for a classic.

In 1969 Buckminster Fuller published a book titled 'Utopia Or Oblivion', three words which might well sum up an era. It’s difficult to capture in retrospect just how contrapedal Seventies culture was. And how science fiction, which had always held to a view of the future which was bifurcated verging on bipolar, was the ideal arena to capture that. The future would either turn into a fluorescent silver techno-fix or else fall into pieces, with neither middle ground nor third option.

The juxtaposition of the jaunty Thames TV fanfare bleeding into the series’ doomy synthesized theme makes for a perfect microcosm. Like Romero’s 'Dead' films, the horrific nature of Kneale’s dystopia was not that it presented as something incredible but conversely something alarmingly credible. Even the coda suggests the alien menace is only leaving us alone temporarily.


But perhaps the truly eerie thing about this series arrives when we see it precisely the opposite way up - its strangely prophetic nature. What had seemed past its sell-by in 1979 would come to feel more and more contemporary over the succeeding years. In one scene the Planet People riot when the police attempt to stop them reaching a stone circle, which seems to strangely foreshadow the conflicts over Stonehenge in the late Eighties. The Stonehenge Festival had begun in 1972, but was then a small affair known ony in marginal and counter-cultural circles. It wasn’t propelled into the popular consciousness until it was banned with the ensuing ‘Battle of the Beanfield’ in 1985 - six years after transmission. But there the scene is.

(It even has signs of being shoehorned in, as if it were attempting to insert a duplicate of a real event. It’s been established the police are now mercenary ‘Pay Cops’ who do nothing except for bribes, and are anyway unable to keep control in central London. Why they should find time and inclination to defend a bunch of old stones in the middle of nowhere would seem somewhat mystifying.)

The explosion of raves in 1988 (dubbed ‘the Second Summer of Love’) were also popularly presented as mass gatherings of blissed-out mindlessness. Environmental protestors (usually labelled as starry-eyed ‘eco-warriors’ or simply smelly ‘crusties’) were to become a stock-in-trade for hackneyed scriptwriters, trying to spice up their dull dramas or stodgy soaps… ‘Planet People’ were soon to be everywhere!



But even Kneale’s paranoid reading of youth culture was to gain more verity. In the Seventies, while some hippies had craved escape into oblivion the more militant ones had fuzzily imagined getting past the existing society and replacing it with something better. Whereas environmental protestors today increasingly talk of what's to be done when things inevitably collapse…

Another counterbalance to the somewhat caricatured portrait of the Planet People is the character of Joe Kapp. Kneale gives Quatermass an arc, from befuddled old man who’s lost his grand-daughter back into the scientist we knew. (He effectively marshals a gang of ‘oldies’ to match the youth gangs.) But he smartly gives Kapp the opposite arc, descending as Quatermass ascends. In their first encounter with the Planet People, Quatermass tries to engage with them while Kapp can only offer them disdain. (“They infest the land! Like bloody lemmings…”) Paranoid of his own wife and daughters going over to them, Quatermass’ sidekick is like his shadow - as fanatically devoted to science as the Planet People are to their cult. (Much as Patterson has been the shadow of Quatermass’ guilt in 'Experiment'.) While Quatermass’ efforts to communicate with the Planet People are fruitless, the encounters are enough for him to intuit what is happening to them. Kapp’s closed mind, meanwhile, leads to personal tragedy…

…not that Kapp’s the only character around here who will suffer tragedy. Quatermass’ private life had previously been kept at a rather English reserve from events. Peter Hutchings has written how he “remains a curiously isolated figure, bereft of anything resembling a meaningful relationship.” While 'Experiment' extracted melodrama from an adulterous subplot, Quatermass himself was uninvolved in it. He’s a father figure without a wife, a literal one in ’QII’ but with honorary daughters in both other series. Even here his connection to his grand-daughter seems remote, there are no flash-backs to their lives together nor, while we continually intercut to her with the Planet People, is her character ever developed.

Nevertheless, Quatermass’ search for her is the impetus of the series and their estrangement its epitome, like a thread not always visible but holding everything together. “That’s all that matters to me now!” he cries, holding up her photo. “A human face.”


Perhaps not uncoincidentally, all three previous series had been resolved with the sacrifice of another. First Patterson and the three astronauts; then the construction workers and finally Roney in ’Pit’. It is the new weakened, humanised Quatermass who is finally able to make his own sacrifice, reunited finally with his grand-daughter. Sacrifice, after all, only has meaning when you are giving up something meaningful.

Earlier in these reviews I compared ’Experiment’ to a flimsy Wright brothers plane. Created over a quarter-century later ’IV’ would be by comparison a jump-jet, making it almost absurd to compare them. (Though if measured against films that came out the same year, such as ’Alien’, it would be at best a paper plane.) Perhaps consequently ’IV’ became the most ambitious series, the first one to try and depict a dystopian future. (While there had been haphazard attempts to locate earlier stories in a near future, particularly with ’II’, these were easily overlooked.).

But ironically these fine days would bring their own flaws. ’Experiment’ was rushed through to fill a gap in the schedules, and extemporised on such timely events as the Coronation. ’IV’ sat on the shelf for years and the timing of its eventual release was poor. It’s tackling of youth culture was sometimes amusing for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps it was also too successfully dystopian for a mass TV audience. But far from the failure that is sometimes depicted, it holds up more strongly today than is often recognised. Like his chief character, Kneale's innate talents did not desert him.

And speaking of 'Titupy Bumpity'...


Continuing thanks to RedSock

Coming Soon! The last word (honest!) on ’Quatermass’...

Friday, 17 October 2014

'QUATERMASS AND THE PIT'

This third instalment of our Quatermass series reviews is also considered unsuitable for children and those of an anti-plot-spoiler disposition


”He wasn't very tall. He had the face of an ape, but he had a big brain. And he stood like a man.”

A shorthand summary of the third ’Quatermass’ series (made in 1958) might be ‘Von Daniken upside down’. A New Age guru, professional maker-up of things and all-round crank, Erich Von Daniken claimed civilization to be a gift bestowed on us by benevolent aliens. You know, just like those benevolent European colonialists were always giving the Africans stuff. (Disclaimer, yes I do know won Daniken was writing later. This is a comparison, okay?)

Inevitably, when Nigel Kneale reflects this in the darker mirror of 'Quatermass' the aliens instead keep us bound and fearful. As in Wells' ’War of the Worlds’, the Martians ravage first their own planet then turn to ours. But Kneale brings in contemporary knowledge, that Mars is a dead planet, to incorporate a vaster timescale. The Martian capsules arrived and buried themselves deep into our prehistory and brainstems, psychically manipulating us into their servants. Our most horrific folk images, gargoyles and devils, are therefore really projections of this Martian control – boogeymen, internalised prison guards.


Like ’Experiment’, ‘Pit’ is at root a Freudian fable; we all have a brutish unthinking id within us, buried no more deeply than the dug-up capsule which sets off the story. But ’Experiment’ drew its horror from a thing which absorbed three men. The capsule here isn't the rocket, it could reduce us all to savagery! Kneale has commented this upping of the ante was a reaction to the late Fifties, which he perceived to be “a more violent time”.

Argubaly it puts its two predecessors together, the resurgence of the regressive brutes hanging out in our back-brains from 'Experiment' combined with the sinister, unknowable, puppet-master aliens of 'Quatermass II'. And perhaps partly for this reason it was this third instalment which would become the fulcrum, the template for much Brit SF which followed.

Perhaps its shallowest but most widespread influence was the idea that scientists might have some place in science fiction. In pulpy sci-fi scientists were either megalomaniac adversaries for action men heroes, worringly brainy Lex Luthors to be struck down by brawny Supermen, or ray-gun-supplying equivalents to Q from James Bond. Here it is the scientists who are the protagonists, pitted against the military and bureaucracy. One stands for the open, enquiring mind; the other the closed and blinkered. Quatermass spends more time struggling against stiff shirt Colonel Breen than any Martians, who he describes as “a career militarist of the worst type... with a slide-rule mind.”


Of course, like most science fiction the science isn’t exactly what you'd call scientific. When Breen tells Quatermass “you’re letting your imagination run away with you”, you can’t help but feel the slide-rule mind has a point. For a scientist he seems to have a shaky grasp of the distinction between theory and conjecture. After deciding the capsule is from another planet he seems to pick on Mars almost arbitrarily, which then becomes canonical for the rest of the series. Not for these great minds all that slow slog of consolidated research, they proceed by flashes of insight. (Most commonly followed by dramatic music.) Roney’s opticencephalaorgaphi (to you and me, a thought projecting machine) turns out to have been built as a hobby, the way someone else might knit a sweater. When the script describes him as “unscientifically impulsive”, you sense this is meant as a compliment.

The shameless science-as-magic of ’Doctor Who’ is still some way off. But the scientist is being fused with the creative visionary who stands against the weight of tradition. In a telling exchange Breen complains “your imagination’s running wild” and Quatermass exclaims ”Yes! Isn’t yours?” If the buried capsule becomes a metaphor for the Freudian id, space stands for the ego, for imagination. In this way the lack of any genuine scientific method doesn't really matter, as the science is only there to stand for something broader. Hence Quatermass’ poetic plea against the militarisation of exploration: “We are on the edge of a new dimension of discovery. It’s the great chance... to leave our vices behind. Not to go out there dragging our hatreds and our frontiers with us.” Perhaps its not just von Daniken that's being reversed. Surrealism prized the imagination as a ticket back to the savage state. Here it's what takes us out of it. Surrealism placed the imagination with the id, Kneale with the ego.

’Pit’ is most commonly billed as a battle between science and superstition. As Mark Fisher asserts, it “attempted to wholesale swallow Horror into SF by tracing a whole slew of ostensibly supernatural phenomena back to scientifically-plausible phenomena”. Indeed it’s even tempting to read these themes back into its predecessors. After all, they both mixed SF with horror and ’Experiment’ at least focused on the human slide back into irrationalism.

In ’Experiment’, a colleague crossly tells Quatermass “I’m a scientist not a convert to superstition”. But here, despite Fisher, science will have surprising allies before the series is out. In fact, the storyline is almost strung along Quatermass’ journey of acceptance of superstition. Early on, he has an uneasy encounter with a reader of tea leaves. But when a local Vicar later expects Quatermass’ disdain he tells him “on the contrary I agree with you”. (Similarly in the later ’IV’, (aka ‘Conclusion’ the Kapps' Jewish ceremony is treated sympathetically.) “Ever study legends?” Roney asks him. “Legends gave us the first clue in this business.”

So it becomes the fusion of scientific knowledge and superstitious notions of the devil that save the day. Nigel Kneale is no Richard Dawkins. The serial closes with the Vicar sitting at Quatermass’ side, in an echo of the way he worked alongside a journalist and police inspector in 'Experiment'. Similarly, susceptibility to the Martian’s powers is – inevitably enough - greatest in the feebler craniums of women and the lower orders. But it’s also associated with enhanced mental powers – such as psychic sensing. We’re told the humans who served the Martians had been engineered “bigger brains”. Those bigger brains alone can mean merely better servants to the Martians, science alone is necessary but not sufficent for what the human race requires.


Pixley’s notes to the DVD collection mention the BBC hierarchy disliking Quatermass’ concluding speech, claiming it put him “into a pulpit”. (It was gone from the otherwise faithful film version.) Indeed, ’Pit ‘ does contain the same humanist notions as ’Experiment’; we are not merely the puppets of Martian monkeying, we have our own selves. But ’Experiment’ suggests our better nature can appear as soon as whistled for. Here there is nothing automatic about it. Quatermass’ speech does not solve anything but comes after the final battle. And he appears not as exaltory but somber and resigned; he walks out of the TV studio after making it, as if unconvinced of his own hopes. In short it will be a struggle to “overcome the Martian in us”; in the classic quote it is entirely possible that “this will be their second dead planet” if we don't get our thinking caps on. And our main weapons in that struggle will be knowledge and rationalism, catalysed by a heavt dose of imagination.

(Historical footnote: lest the big Q's reference to “race riots” now sound reactionary, it refers not to civil rights activism but anti-immigration riots which were then besetting England, most infamously in Notting Hill. The digging crew in the opening include a black workman. As noted in 'The Quatermass Trilogy: A Controlled Paranoia' his straightforward portrayal is replaced in the later movie version by “a stereotypical, superstitious Negro of the eyeball-rolling variety”, a shift which almost works to enhance the original intent. Yet as they also note he is the only black character in the original trilogy, suggesting intergration had its limits even to the liberal mind.)


Continuing thanks to RedSock

Coming soon! Not the last word at all about 'Quatermass'...