QUATERMASS II by NIgel Kneale (1960, Penguin Books)
This is the second screenplay publication of the Quatermass series, first broadcast in 1955 as a 6 part BBC series. It was later adapted for film as The Enemy From Space (1957). Although Quatermass II didn’t make the KEW list, it’s still an excellent teleplay. Once again, Neal understood the need to create tension to keep the audience enthralled.
In the first section, “The Bolts”, we learn that Quatermass’ Experimental Rocket Group has had a disaster in Australia: an experimental nuclear engine exploded during a test. There is another rocket-ship ready for testing in England, but the disaster has put its future on hiatus. While Quatermass ponders the long-term effects of this failure (he’d planned to use the nuclear rocket to colonize the moon), strange meteorites begin falling all over the earth. They seem to be centered in particular parts of the world, remote parts of England being a prime target. The meteorites cause little damage, but anyone coming in contact with them starts acting very strange. When Quatermass and a soldier named Dillion visit one of the areas where the meteorites have fallen, they are shocked to see a huge production facility under construction. Dillion finds a freshly fallen meteorite and becomes sick.
The second episode, “The Mark” has Quatermass trying to find out what the plant is doing which is so secret and how the meteorites are connected. As Quatermass helps Dillion back to the car, armed guards storm out of the plant and haul Dillion away. Later, Quatermass begins to notice groups of people who have a strange black mark on their face. An official commission on the plant produces nothing and Quatermass decides to investigate further.
By episode three, “The Food”, Quatermass has decided to take a trip out to the town where the mysterious plant is located. There’s an amusing note in the teleplay which shows how careful Kneale was in capturing local color:
Dissolve…to interior of tea shop. In a backwater not far from Whitehall, its genteel poverty is more suggestive of a small provincial town. Dead flies lie among hardening home-made cakes on paper doilies. The age of plastics has passed it by.
Episodes four, “The Coming” and five, “The Frenzy” is where Quatermass confronts the horror in the plant. An alien invader has converted the plant to its own use, creating ideal conditions for its survival in the large processing tanks. Quatermass is able to get the plant workers on his side and seize control of it. By now, his colleges at the Experimental Rocket Group have figured out the aliens are using an asteroid approaching the earth as a base of operations for their attack.
Everything comes to a climax in the final episode, “The Destroyers”. Quatermass pilots the other nuclear powered rocket with Dr. Pugh, his second in command, to destroy the asteroid before it can unleash the full bombardment of meteorites on earth.However, Dr. Pugh, a mathematical genius, is starting to act funny shortly after take-off.
Quatermass II is an excellent follow-up to the first Quatermass serial. Since you can watch it on YouTube, it’s possible to use the teleplay book to follow along with the serial. The effects show their budget, but it’s obvious Kneal understood his limitations when writing the script. It’s still impressive.