"We can't shoot them sir, they're unarmed civilians!"
Predictably rejected by an increasingly patronising BBC, this was one of the last thought-provoking dramas to be broadcast in Britain before Thatcher and her friends' clampdown on creative thought.
John Mills stars as the eponymous Professor in 1979's Quatermass, the fourth, final and best of the celebrated television science fiction serials. The Professor's early adventures were 1950's TV productions, all made into cult Hammer films, including the excellent Quatermass and the Pit (1967). Here Quatermass, now an elderly scientist searching for his missing grand-daughter, finds himself facing a new alien nightmare in a convincingly bleak near-future Britain of urban decay, social collapse and unchecked violence.
Written by Nigel Kneale, as were all the Quatermass stories, this was an intelligent extrapolation of 1970's industrial-strife-ridden Britain, a continuation of the apocalyptic British SF tradition of John Wyndham (The Day of the Triffids was serialised by the BBC two years later). Thanks to a generous budget sufficient to allow for an international theatrical version, the production values are impressively large-scale, and the naturalistic performances from a cast including Simon MacCorkindale, Barbara Kellerman and Brenda Fricker add greatly to the sense of reality. Best of all, John Mills brings tremendous class to an adventure which remains a rare example of serious, ideas-based adult TV SF. Director Piers Haggard (Pennies from Heaven) packs considerable tension and not a few scares into Kneale's epic canvas.
Chapter One: Ringstone Round
Quatermass (John Mills), now living in retirement in Scotland, travels to London in search of his granddaughter, Hettie Carlson (Rebecca Saire), who has gone missing. He is shocked by the scale of the urban collapse that has struck the city – law and order has broken down and marauding gangs terrorise the litter strewn, decaying streets. Appearing as a guest on a television programme covering the "Hands in Space" project, a joint space mission between the United States and Russia, Quatermass is horrified when the two spacecraft are destroyed by some unknown force. Astronomer Joe Kapp (Simon MacCorkindale), another guest on the programme, invites Quatermass to join him at his home in the country where he has constructed a radio telescope. At the radio telescope, Kapp's colleagues report that they detected a powerful signal at the exact time of the incident in space. Quatermass is intrigued by the behaviour of a group of hippie-like youngsters known as the 'Planet People' who are travelling to various Neolithic sites where they believe they will be transported to a better life on another planet. Quatermass suspects Hettie has joined them. Along with Kapp's wife, Claire (Barbara Kellerman), Quatermass and Kapp follow a group of Planet People to a stone circle of megaliths; 'Ringstone Round'. As they watch, the Planet People assembled inside the circle are bathed in a bright light and disappear, leaving only a residue of white dust.