A website about UK Science Fiction, digging through the past to uncover the future.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Buy content through ScooptWords Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD: "It appears to be landing in the vicinity of Sloane Square!"

It’s 2150. In the ruins of a destroyed London, the last members of the human resistance plan and scheme, surviving in the shadows, living like rats in the walls of the world. All of Bedfordshire is a concentration camp, thousands dying, worked to death by the invaders and those forced into their service. Nothing remains of civilisation, the invaders rule from the air like gods, picking off any mortal they choose from high in the clouds. The survivors stay quiet, hunger ruling the fields and forests; hanging like a mist over the buildings turned to rubble. Time stopped in the 1960s, nothing new has come into being, reduced to a never-ending struggle for survival the human race survives, picking through roots and scavenging, a mere irritation to the expressionless beings remaking the world in their own image…

In an introduction to his 1971 collection of short stories ‘Vermillion Sands’, J.G. Ballard makes the statement:

“It is a curious paradox that almost all
science fiction, however far removed in time and space, is really about the present day. Very few attempts have been made to visualize a unique and self-contained future that offers no warnings to us.”

Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150AD is a film that is often interpreted as a science fiction treatment of British anxieties about the Second World War, with the Daleks cast as the Nazis, the Dalek mine as a forced labour camp and the resistance movement of the film
modelled upon the various partisan groups that audiences were used to seeing on screen. Released in 1966, Daleks’ Invasion Earth is a film for children who weren’t even born during the Second World War, a war that finished over twenty years earlier. It strikes Archeology of the Future that it is more correct to view Daleks’ Invasion Earth as a film almost nostalgic for the war and the strange certainty of terror it conferred upon Britain, at a time when upheavals of other, more nebulous kinds were occurring in the country and the world at large.

The film itself, the second Milton Subotsky produced featuring Terry Nation’s creations The Daleks and the second featuring Peter Cushing as a character called
Doctor Who, is a children’s romp with a grim undertone. Released during the school holidays at the height of Dalekmania, it begins with Bernard Cribbins as an affable copper Tom Campbell stumbling into the TARDIS after trying to stop a jewellery heist. As the TARDIS, because of a broken Chameleon Circuit, is stuck in the form of a Blue Police Box this is not an impossible mistake to make. Finding a similarly affable old man with white hair and a nice line in corduroy jackets (Peter Cushing as ‘Doctor Who’), his niece Louise (Jill Curzon), and his granddaughter Susan (Roberta Tovey), Tom is unsurprisingly puzzled. After a little bit of business about the TARDIS being bigger on the inside than on the outside and establishing that it travels in time and space, we are whisked to future Earth, only to find London in ruins.

Following the classic Doctor Who structure of separating the Doctor from his companions, the film wastes no time splitting Doctor Who and Tom from Louise and Susan, pitching the lot of latter in
with the resistance and getting the former quickly into a bit of bother with The Daleks, who glide menacingly around the bombed out city with their human slaves, the Robomen.

Susan and Louise are taken down into the underground, literally, via Embankment tube station, meeting the three major figures of the resistance. David is a young, serious fighter, played with conviction by Ray Brooks. Wyler is a tough scot, played very straight by Andrew Keir. Dortmun (Godfrey Quigley) is a kind of Douglas Bader, in both the sense that he believes the resistance must take the fight to the Daleks and the fact he survives and thrives despite injuries or disabilities that leave him in a wheelchair. The resistance is working on bombs to battle the Daleks, drawing around the radio when the Daleks make broadcasts ordering them to surrender.

The film quickly establishes that humanity has been more or less vanquished by the Daleks, who bombarded the earth with meteors, arriving in their spaceship(s) to mop up. They take prisoners, ‘robotising’ the most resourceful and sending the rest to an immense work camp in Bedfordshire.
These Robomen, dressed in black PVC jumpsuits and radio helmets with mirrored visors are the Daleks main troops. Patrolling the city in almost mechanical fashion and armed with whips and guns of Dalek origin, they are literally brainwashed into collaboration. Doctor Who and Tom narrowly miss being ‘robotised’ when they are captured and taken to the Dalek ship, the process interrupted by a resistance attack which ends in failure.

After this first act, setting up as it does the ruined city and showing just how much the Daleks have destroyed, the second act concerns the country under the Daleks, with the various characters weaving their way to an eventual rendezvous in Bedfordshire, the centre of the Daleks activities.

Tom and Louise, trapped on the Dalek spaceship, escape when it lands, only to discover they have escaped into a giant forced labour camp, where teams of prisoners, Robomen armed with whips guarding and running them, are worked to death. Susan escapes London with Wyler, leaving a message written in chalk at Embankment for the Doctor to meet her in Watford. Escaping in a van, Dortmun is killed by Daleks in the process, a fate that Susan and Wyler narrowly avoid when the Dalek spaceship targets them from the air as they drive down cold deserted country lanes, forcing them to continue by foot. The Doctor, saved by David from being robotised, is chased through the streets by Daleks. David saves him again leading him through a manhole down into the sewers, end then back to the resistance base. Reading through Dortmun’s notes, he decides that they must make their way to Bedfordshire, pronounced in a lovely eccentric fashion by Cushing as ‘Bedford-Shire’, to get to the bottom of the Daleks plan.

When Doctor Who and David are travelling across country to Bedford, the well-dressed and raincoated Brockley captures them, taking them to the Dalek camp, despite his puzzlement at their
enthusiasm to go there. A fascinating character, Brockley, played by Philip Madoc, is a kind of spiv or quisling, a pantomime profiteer, selling information to the Daleks and food to the camp inmates. In one scene, after Doctor Who and David have been sleeping, we see Brockley cooking something in a tin over a small fire. When David says that it smells good, Brockley gestures for David to take some. When David bends to pick it up, Brockley gives the can a petulant kick and spills the contents.

There is pure malice in Brockley with no redeeming features, a kind of self-serving spoilt brat, lacking the backbone and moral fibre that, with the rosy glow of nostalgia, all Britons displayed in the face of threat. He is the nostalgic vision of those who made profit from the conditions of war, a ruthless, immoral turncoat, suspiciously flash and well groomed, a code for everything that the earthy, clean cut Britons of the propagandised national image were not supposed to be. There is no hint of the moral complexity of the situation that occupation actually forces upon people, Brockley is a bad ‘un, a ‘flash Harry’ who eventually gets his comeuppance when he is disposed of by his masters as he informs on the rebellion. In some ways, he represents the view that those who ‘go over to the other side’ do so out of a kind of spite towards the country that raised them.

Wyler and Susan have a similar experience. Deciding to make for Bedford on foot, the burly man and the bubbly schoolgirl in her red dress come across a house by a bridge, hidden amongst the misty trees. Stopping for food, they find an old women and her daughter. They are invited to stay the night and fed from the meagre rations the Daleks give the women for cleaning the clothes of people at the camp. Wyler wakes in the night to find the daughter sneaking in with a bag full of food. When he tries to wake Susan silently so that they can make their escape, after hearing the women cackling at their good fortune having, in himself and Susan such a prize to trade, he draws back the curtain to discover a Dalek waiting for them outside.

This episode has a paradoxical feel of both dream and grim reality. The women, dressed like medieval peasants in their house over the misty bridge feel like characters from fable or fairytale. Indeed, when Archeology of the Future saw this film as a child, we believed that the purpose of the women was to catch unwary travellers and turn them over to the Daleks, so much did they seem rooted in the logic of myth, like the witch in her gingerbread house, waiting intently forever for innocents to arrive and fulfil her function. The reality of the situation, the hunger, the ill health, the selfishness necessary for survival, the facts of most collaboration only really hit us as adults. Britain in this film is a country that has been, to borrow a phrase, almost bombed into the Stone Age.

The third act reunites all of our chrononauts, along with David and Wyler, inside of the Daleks forced labour camp. Here Doctor Who devises a way of disrupting the Dalek plan to detonate a bomb inside of the Earth’s core, part of a hazy plan to ‘pilot the Earth like a spaceship’ back to the area of their planet. Redirecting the bomb, it increases the Earth’s magnetic field and destroys the Daleks, freeing humanity and allowing just enough time for Doctor Who to return Tom Campbell to the present in time to foil the jewel thieves, before the jaunty, jazzy theme tune that plays over the cast list tells us it’s time to pick up our things and head out of the cinema into the bright, new world of mid-sixties Britain.

Considered in terms of the world that it is born into, Daleks Invasion Earth looks backwards rather than forwards for its inspiration. It arrived in a world where Pop Art, youth cult, rock ‘n’ roll, Tamla Motown and the Beatles and Stones were asserting the primacy of youth, where Harold Wilson and Tony Benn were exploring the possibilities of new markets and new technologies with MinTech, where the Telecom Tower would emerge glittering like a space craft landed at the heart of London, where everything was faster, shinier, newer, younger, more brash, less deferential, less respectful. It is a warning to the young, rather than a discussion for the old. It reduces fears and experiences of World War II to a fable told to damp the spirits of this world of uncertainty and possibility.

There are many explicit references to the lore of World War II, to the horrid litany of abuses carried out during its duration. When the chrononauts first arrive, Susan remarks that there are no people, and ‘no birds either’, bringing to mind the horror of death camps. At the Dalek mine in Bedfordshire, Brockley trades food for a handful of rings, again making reference to the horror of death camps, the implication that rings are not the only things of precious metal that are brought to Brockley. Near the beginning of the film, Doctor Who and Tom pass through a room that has a prominent framed picture of a Spitfire or a Hurricane. The use of the Underground as a refuge and
a place were industry could continue is again an obvious reference, (see this article for more about the underground). The Dalek radio broadcasts, with their mocking tone, again speak to the lore of the War rather than an actual experience of it. The film is nostalgic for the War, in that it strips a complicated narrative down to its most evocative and emotive images, removing them from their context and making them emotional triggers only.

Like a fable, Daleks Invasion Earth reduces the characters and situations to ciphers and removes all notions of context or politics from the equation. With the characters of Brockley and the Mother and Daughter, we see that collaborators are resoundingly bad. With the Daleks, we are given an image of invasion that removes any of the difficult ambiguities that arise when examining history and the motivations of people. The Daleks are evil, because they are evil. There are no geopolitics, no history, no relationship before their invasion. In many ways, they are the reassuring bogeyman conjured up by wartime propaganda, an all destroying; unreasonable force that can only be beaten rather than accommodated or lived with. In a time of total war, there is a comforting certainty, and an escape from the anxiety of having to make responsible political choices, in having an implacable enemy to oppose.

One aspect of the film that is always pointed out is that it doesn’t look to be set in 2150 AD, but about five minutes from when it was filmed. Based on the underlying message of the film, this doesn’t pose as much of a problem as most reviewers suggest. Given the film’s deep hankering for the certainties of the War, the message to the present seems to be ‘don’t get too excited about relentless progress and forward motion, it could all just stop’. This is a very English response to the apocalypse, an anxiety about adversity stopping the march of progress and the advancement of civilization. American popular culture, overall, has a much more rosy view of the breakdown of civilisation, with many seeing it as kind of ‘back to nature’ return to the essentials of life where, at worst, you and your family will be enjoying the kind of life someone on the Frontier might have had.
British popular culture, on the other hand, is usually concerned with what will be lost. If there was an invasion by immensely powerful alien beings tomorrow, the process of commodity capitalism as we know it now would stop. There wouldn’t be the time or resources to create new and exciting shiny things to signify that the future had arrived. Although it is a stretch to believe that the Britain of Daleks Invasion Earth is two hundred or so years hence of the date that the film was made, the cultural and technological entropy that it portrays does fit with its overall orientation.

On top of all this subtext, there is a fast moving children’s film, with excellent set pieces and some lovely, local references. When Tom and Doctor Who see the Dalek saucer, a brilliant bit of Dan Dare style design, landing in London, Doctor Who exclaims: “It appears to be landing in the vicinity of Sloane Square!”. The fact that Bedfordshire becomes a huge concentration camp adds a huge thrill to the proceedings; as does the fact that characters need to travel across country to get there, plunging into the chilly interior of the landscape. The use of the London Underground as a hiding place for the human underground adds a wonderful sparkle to Archeology of the Future’s enjoyment.

In many ways, the Daleks are amongst one of the most recognisable artefacts of the bright, brash, shiny, poppy mid-sixties. They achieved huge popularity and iconic status precisely because they were colourful, exciting and from a very low, mass-culture source, beginning with the kids then finding more and more fans amongst the grown-ups… Looking back at the film now, it almost seems to say, in a grumpy, reactionary way, that we should be careful, lest the new world of Pop and bright colours turn around and wreck our cities and enslave us…

Buy Daleks Invasion Earth: 2150 AD from Amazon.co.uk here.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Buy content through ScooptWords Val Guest, director of Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass II dies

Variety.com - Val Guest Obituary

It with great sadness that Archeology of the Future was informed this evening of the death of Val Guest, Director of 'The Quatermass Xperiment', 'Quatermass II', 'The Day The Earth Caught Fire' and 'The Abominable Snowman'. Val died Wednesday, May 10 in Palm Springs, California at the age of 94.

If you look at his filmography here, you can see that Val had a hand in everything from the bleak majesty of Quatermass, to the youth cult of Expresso Bongo to the ill lit, freezing cold smut of 'Confessions...'. As a writer, director, writer of music, producer and even actor Val was around for almost every weird twist and turn taken by the British film industry from the 1930s onward.

A sad loss that even the hard headed Quatermass of Val's two Quatermass films would have to mourn...

Archeology of the Future offers these two previous articles in memory of his work:



Archeology of the Future feels saddened that Val's death seems to have been mentioned nowhere of any note. The UK does have a film heritage, but we seem to want to forget it, as if it makes us uncomfortable because it was different to Hollywood. It's as if we feel that people like Val, who were involved in British commercial cinema for all of their careers, are somehow embarrassing, being a reminder of a time when we thought that as a country we could make films on our own terms.

A sad death, for the most part unremembered in the country and industry where he worked for the majority of his life.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Buy content through ScooptWords Meme Therapy: Archeology of the Future guest blogs on SF Memes

Meme Therapy: Archeology of the Future guest blogs on SF Memes

In response to a discussion at Meme Therapy, Archeology of the Future has managed to escape from the twisted wreckage of Winnerden Flats for long enough to discuss Science Fiction memes. Responding to a previous discussion, Archeology of the Future advances the idea that rather than Science Fiction ideas being more prevalent now in popular culture than in the past , it is that Science Fiction fandom is more watchful and ready to cry foul when the wolf of popular culture snatches an idea from the cosy enclosure labelled SciFi.

Science Fiction is, in its most potent form, only a distorted mirror of the present. Science Fiction ideas are tools and machines for making new and surprising understanding...

The postcard that accompanies this post can be considered a trailer for an excavation that we're currently undertaking at the request of a regular reader. Just taking in what's going on in the photograph should give you an idea of what's in store when we present what we've dug up...

Thanks to Meme Therapy.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Buy content through ScooptWords "We're on the verge of something so ugly": Quatermass II

It is fifty years ago or so, in a place not so alien… In the greens and browns of the countryside, New Towns of tile, concrete and rational planning spring up. Roads arrive metre by metre to join them. Places of work, factories and refineries grow and evolve like intricate corals between. A government still wary of the people that it works to protect plans and plots for the worst of all worlds. Wary people keep quiet; blowing the whistle will destroy a chance of a comfortable life for them and their families. A man tries to turn the tide of history, aware that his vision of the future, clean and bright, is slipping away, consumed by the squalor of plans for war and national hubris…

Quatermass II, the second film Quatermass film produced by Hammer, is often held up as a kind of British answer to American films such as ‘Invasion of The Bodysnatchers’. While there are similarities, with people being controlled or replaced by a malevolent alien force, there are also significant and interesting differences.

Often coming off a critical third when compared to the two Quatermass films that bookend it, Quatermass II is generally seen to lack the imagination of its siblings, producing a hackneyed exploration of themes treated far more excitingly in US films of the period. What this analysis misses is the very thing that gives Quartermass II its particlular power. The film is imbued with very a particular sense of British unease, and is, in fact, extremely responsive to the domestic concerns and unease of a nation nearly a decade out of the War but still in many ways living with it.

Quatermass returns, played again by famously thirsty American actor Brian Donlevy, this time in a far more precarious position than when we last saw him in The Quatermass Xperiment. The future of his British Rocket Group is hanging in the balance, a grand plan to colonise the moon passed over for funding. Still a hard headed driving force, eyes locked upon achieving his aims, we now see Quatermass as others see him: A grumpy man with big ideas, pacing the corridors of his own scientific fiefdom, his life rotating around the aerodynamic rocket that pokes into the overcast sky above his experimental research establishment.

Travelling back from another meeting with the people from the ministries, Quatermass runs into a couple in trouble, beginning about a chain of events which climax in the ending of an insidious alien threat and a perversion of his beloved rocket, the Quatermass II, which like the predecessor we saw in our previous meeting with him, brings destruction rather than scientific hope. He can’t even manage to be civil to his own staff, complaining that they are wasting valuable time tracking a succession of meteorites that entering the atmosphere with precise regularity.

Investigating the claims of the young couple, Quatermass travels into the green emptiness of the English countryside, travelling up a new road that quite literally ends under his feet in a mess of government property signs and distant chainlink fences. Tracking back, he finds the remains of a village, Winnerden Flats; he also finds a huge copy of his moon base, all domes and pipes, sitting seemingly undiscovered amongst the hills. His colleague, uncovering one of the meteorites we’ve seen being tracked, is struck down by what Quatermass describes as ‘a big black bubble’ shooting from it. Uniformed and armed guards arrive, complete with breathing apparatus, bundling Quatermass’s colleague into a car and sending Quatermass on his way.

Nearby, Quatermass finds a New Town in the early stages of construction. Housing for the workers at the plant, it is still in the process of coming into being and carving its existence into the countryside. It has wide, planned but unfinished streets that end in empty fields and a general air of desolation.

The community centre, the only bit of the town with any sign of activity, is plastered with posters extolling the necessity of secrecy. Trying to ring for help, Quatermass is stopped by a community leader who tells him directly not to stir up trouble. The plant produces synthetic food, no more, no less.

Travelling back to London, Quatermass is put in touch with MP Vincent Broadhead, implicitly Labour, who is as unconvinced as Quatermass that the production of synthetic food is what is actually going on at Winnerden Flats. Broadhead has been campaigning and asking questions, mainly about the huge amounts of public money being channel into the project and, having finally arranged an official site visit, invites Quatermass to accompany him.

Once there, Quatermass, Broadhead and other visitors are guided around the sprawling plant, all tangles of huge pipes, domes and gasholders, empty and exposed. Quatermass manages to sneak off, finding an empty infirmary and no sign of his associate. Their guide is most forceful that they remain with the group, as they have a schedule to keep.

Broadhead manages to slip away, and it becomes clear to Quatermass that there is some sort of unpleasant fate awaiting him. The guide’s brittle efficiency soon evaporates as Quatermass manages to escape, only to find Broadhead screaming covered in horrid black ooze, slumping to his death amongst the steel and concrete. Under fire, Quatermass manages to escape and make it back to London, taking his experiences to his old friend Inspector Lomax.

Despite what Quatermass saw, the newspaper shows Broadhead to be alive and well. Lomax, hoping to ask his superior for advice notices a tell-tale mark on his hand, one not dissimilar to the marks that Quatermass has described on those who have been exposed to the meteors… Picking up a drunken yet sharp reporter played by Sid James, a long way from Carry On and all the better for it, Quatermass and Lomax set out to get to the bottom of what seems to be no less than a silent, careful invasion, where figures of authority are being controlled from afar…

Giving a commentary on the current DVD edition of Quatermass II but nowhere credited on the disc itself as doing so, Nigel Kneale, who handled the adaptation of his script from the television series he had written the previous year for the BBC, says that in the 1950s, there were plenty of things to be afraid of. He talks about a country that was secret prone, where too much was taken for granted. All over, actual research projects and military sites were being created at the same time as New Towns were being built. It is the Hemel Hempstead New Town Development Corporation that is acknowledged in the opening credits, alongside the Shell Haven Refinery, for providing the settings for events. Rather than being set in an imagined landscape of secrecy and change, Quatermass is actually set in a real landscape minded for its maximum discomfort. He talks of consciously setting the events in “the new British scene of the 1950s”, of how it was "easy to imagine anything at that time” with the “guarded, secretive announcements of the War Department” where “no-one knew who was responsible for what” and where “people took a great deal more on trust than they should have”. As we have seen, the UK really was a place where rockets took off and where huge structures did spring up guarded by secrecy.

Britain as portrayed in Quatermass II is a threatening, dark place full of dislocations and only partially perceived threats. Shot under overcast skies and in squally winds, even the familiar green and pleasant lands have a sense of menace and bleak emptiness, as if the pastoral celebrations of Powell and Pressberger and the little people in triumph of Ealing that so informed Britain’s image of itself during the war years had turned sour in the mouth of post war realities.

The film has a particularly British sense of localism, displaying a pre-flight and pre-mass car ownership understanding of landscape. Advances in popular mechanical modes of transport, as well as ever proliferating media outlets, mean that we have progressively collapsed space and time, folding together geographically distant points until we feel that we know intimately everything about the UK. We can hold an image of what we think the UK is in our minds, so used are we to moving almost instantly from place to place, town to town, eating up the landscape and carrying it in our heads as an illusion of a totality. In Quatermass II, the landscape is unknown, unknowable. It is possible to go slightly off the usual path and find a whole huge development, unknown to the world at large. New towns are springing up, their inhabitants as distant from London as settlers on a distant island. When Quatermass asks the way to the police station in Winnerden Flats, he is told they don’t have one, the implication being not that this new town is so peaceful and well ordered that it doesn’t need one, but that it is like a frontier town, pushing beyond the reach of the law. When Quatermass finds the site of the alien project, his colleague remarks, “Maybe we’ve struck a rival project”, as if it were to be expected that the countryside would be littered with top-secret establishments. Scenes of uniformed, gasmasked troops spreading out across fields like a virus, occupying the unfamiliar terrain, heighten this sense of the unknown regarding one’s own county.

There is a sense of fading idealism in Quatermass and his Rocket Group that very much mirrors the feelings of engineers who worked on the real British Space Programme. (See this previous post for more details) Relaying the results of his meeting in London to his staff, Quatermass says:

“No more money… To date you’ve spent a lot of money on a rocket that isn’t even safe to launch. At the moment we have projects of far more importance. Isn’t it important enough to be the first to build a colony on the moon? To get men there against the odds?”

While it may be inferred from the plot that the project of more importance is the alien bridgehead at Winnerden Flats, there is a much stronger indication that it is the military application of Quatermass’s work which is of interest, a point underlined by the use of his rocket as a bomb to destroy the alien base and the huge, dirty and unpleasant creatures that emanate from it at the films climax. The film seems concerned with this inversion, with the sullying of science by its association with The Bomb. As Nigel Kneale says: “There was a lot of cheap joy when the British H Bomb exploded… It was not healthy that people should rejoice such a thing”. Quatermass is concerned that his work should be put toward constructive, not destructive purposes, but the plot systematically turns this wish on its head. His rocket, the Quatermass II of the title, doesn’t bring life to other worlds; it destroys life on this planet. His moon base design doesn’t protect humanity from the hostile elements; it encloses hostile elements to nurture a hostile form of life. Even this form of life represents ‘getting your hands dirty’, comprising as it does of a huge liquid thing resembling nothing more than a kind of caustic manure, leaving a black, stinking trail behind it. The plant itself is said to produce food but in fact produces the opposite, materials that kill rather than sustain life. There are two wonderful shots in the film of a huge dome, with the party of visitors walking towards it, followed later by Quatermass running away from it alone. Standing as it does on a flat horizon, the dome looks like nothing less than a huge black sun, taking in light and life rather than giving it out.

In a wonderful shot of the New Town earlier on in the film, a street of houses, empty but for a mother pushing a pram, simply ends in fields. This sense of artificiality is another factor of the film that may not travel well. The people of Winnerden Flats New Town are dependent on the Refinery for work, marooned as they are. The scene where all ages are having a dance or function at the community centre, with drinks served by a brassy young lady from behind a makeshift bar, is at once a perfect expression of the dreams of town planners and a throwback to the frontier towns we are used to seeing in Westerns. They have no choice but to be complicit in the goings on at the Refinery, only rebelling and marching upon it when the actions of Quatermass and his colleagues bring about a brutal repression. The worry about artificiality versus organic growth in communities is a British preoccupation; with town planning being both demonised and lionised depending upon circumstance. The suggestion that the relocation of people to newly created places may introduce them to new pressures and problems may seem obvious now, but at the time of the films production the first wave of post war New Towns was in full swing. It would eventually result in the construction of twenty-nine 'New Towns'. Twenty-three towns in England and Wales and six in Scotland, Stevenage being the first. (See this previous post for more on New Towns)

Quatermass II has a sense of unease in the future that can only be experience by engaging with the present, which it shares with many British New Wave films that followed it. It also suggests that there are more problems in Britain than can be solved by the final destruction of the Refinery at the films climax. While it was possible to vanquish the alien foe, the conditions of the country continue beyond the titles. There is a sense that, while there were extenuating circumstances, the way in which Britain functions made it ripe for an invasion of the sort detailed in the film, with secretive governments and deferential workers conspiring to allow unspeakable things to happen. At one point Quatermass, in despair, exclaims: "We're on the verge of something so ugly."

In many ways, Quatermass II is the most British of the three Quatermass films, depending as it does on topical, domestic developments for its sense of uneasiness. In a genre widely considered American both in parentage and in practice, Quatermass II unsurprisingly fails to push the right buttons for some audiences.

Archeology of the Future, on the other hand, thinks it’s a bleak, British wonder.

In a strange piece of life imitating art, the climax of Quatermass II had an almost exact mirror in real life when Hemel Hempstead was the scene of the biggest fire in Europe since World War II when Buncefield oil depot exploded. The BBC reported the initial explosion like this:


This site includes some amazing pictures of the huge plumes of smoke and the devastation caused:


Suddenly, the world doesn’t seem so predictable or cosy…

Buy Quatermass II from amazon.co.uk here

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