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Sunday, April 03, 2005  

An unsuccessful Experiment

In the end, BBC4's Quatermass Experiment disappointed. It was brave to air it live - the first live drama on BBC TV in over 20 years, according to the trail - but it just served to remind me how right we were to turn our backs on live TV. There were only a couple of times when actors visibly forgot their lines, but these were enough to cut my disbelief down from its suspension and breathe air into its lungs.

I'm puzzled by my own response. I love theatre, and it has a far greater impact on me than film or TV.

It was too clever by half to try to raise the terror level by not showing us the full-grown monster. The soldiers preparing to save the human race by blasting Tate Modern - I expect Brian Sewell had volunteered to lead the charge - could see the thing clearly: they had orders to concentrate their fire on 'the dark patches'. So why couldn't we see it?

There was some pathetic hand-waving about the monster 'interfusing the very fabric of the building' to explain away the fact that we had a good view of the interior of the building and there was nothing there. Nigel Kneale and his wife are still alive, and they've still got the original rubber gloves with bits of plant attached; I'm sure they'd have been willing to waggle these if asked, just as they did in the very first production.

It was a shame; the show was growing on me earlier. The shot of the returning space capsule manoeuvring above the Earth as cloud fields streamed past below was beautiful. The infected Victor Carroon [spelling?] looked terrifyingly rabid as he advanced on the hapless cactus that was to be his first meal; I really thought his wife wasn't going to get out of the way in time.

This production stuck pretty close to the original script, as far as I could tell. The fall of the returning craft had been brought not very up to date by having it occur right next to a car that was rocking because of the copulating couple inside. (It must have a very spongy suspension to do that, I reckon.) This cliche fortunately didn't prove to be a bad omen.

I well remember the scholar who in the original blithered on about "Must we destroy beauty just for the sake of our own survival?" I found it tedious even then, when the beauty in question was Westminster Abbey. The answer is so obviously: "Yes, and be quick about it!" When it's Tate Modern that's going to get zapped, the question seems even sillier.

One scene in the chemical lab that had been looted by Carroon ended with the sound of a huge crash from somewhere out of shot, unexplained and unconnected to the action. Something like that could almost reconcile me to live drama. In the age of the Internet, the truth about that crash must soon be public knowledge. I'll keep trawling for it.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to getting the DVDs of the almost complete originals of the Quatermass shows. I don't think the fluffs and muddles of live productions will seem so bothersome seen through the murk of an ancient telerecording.

10:07 PM

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