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Why was The Quatermass Experiment a TV Landmark? We look back after 70 years!

It was 70 years ago yesterday that “The Quatermass Experiment,” first aired in 1953 on the BBC. The show was a groundbreaking science fiction television serial that had a significant impact on the genre and the way science fiction was perceived on television. Prior to “The Quatermass Experiment,” science fiction was more commonly found in literature, radio dramas, and films; this series, one of the first instances of science fiction specifically created for television in the UK by Nigel Kneale, demonstrated that science fiction could be a compelling and engaging genre for television audiences, opening the door for more science fiction content on TV in the years that followed.

Unlike many other contemporary science-fiction works that often-featured B-movie-like elements and aimed at entertaining without much depth, “The Quatermass Experiment” took a more serious and intellectual approach. The show explored complex themes related to space exploration, extraterrestrial life, and the potential consequences of scientific experimentation. This shift towards more thoughtful and mature storytelling helped elevate the perception of science fiction as a genre capable of exploring profound ideas.

The serial was broadcast live, which was an ambitious and daring move at the time. Live television was challenging and risky due to the lack of editing and the potential for technical errors. Despite these challenges, “The Quatermass Experiment” successfully demonstrated that sci-fi stories could be told effectively in a live format, inspiring future productions to explore this approach. The first episode drew an estimated audience of 3.4 million, and increased to 5 million for the sixth and final episode! It also introduced viewers to innovative storytelling techniques for the time, especially considering it was broadcast live. The concept of a six-part, continuous narrative was novel in television, and its success in this format inspired future television shows to experiment with longer, serialised storytelling. This serial format allowed for more in-depth character development and world-building, which became a standard practice in many science fiction series that followed.

“The Quatermass Experiment” generated significant public interest during its original broadcast. Its gripping narrative and eerie atmosphere captured the imagination of the audience, leading to widespread discussions about space exploration and the possibilities of encountering extraterrestrial life. This cultural impact spurred further interest in science fiction as a genre, both in television and other media. In fact its final episode left UK pubs empty as people stayed home for the dramatic conclusion.

As mentioned, “The Quatermass Experiment” laid the groundwork for future science fiction television shows, both in the UK and internationally. It directly led to the creation of sequels like “Quatermass II” and “Quatermass and the Pit,” further solidifying its place in science fiction history. Its impact on future science fiction series and its enduring cultural significance solidifies its place as a landmark in television history.

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