Quatermass II – Episode Two – The Mark


Whilst we’ve previously touched upon the debt that Doctor Who owes to Quatermass, it’s clear that Quatermass II was influenced by various stories published during the mid 1950’s.  Invasion of the Body Snatchers, written by Jack Finney in 1954, was one possible influence.  It tells of an stealthy invasion which sees alien duplicates of people grown from seed pods.  Quatermass II would mine similar territory – whilst the concept of an alien invasion is frightening enough, how much more frightening would it be to realise that it’s already happened?

In Finney’s novel (and the subsequent 1956 film) the drama derives from the possibility that your nearest and dearest (next-door neighbours, parents, etc) may be alien duplicates.  As the book was written during the early years of the Cold War, it’s hardly a stretch to say that there’s a fairly clear allegory at work here.  It’s bad enough to find out that people close to you are actually aliens, but it could be worse – they might be communists.  Quatermass II also has the hallmarks of a story crafted during the Cold War, but here the aliens have infiltrated the higher echelons of government and are directing the unwitting humans to service their, at this time, unfathomable ends.

The Cold War was different from conventional conflicts such as WW2 (which ended just ten years prior to the transmission of QII) due to its lack of large-scale battles.  Instead, the “fighting” occurred beneath the surface of normal society, so most people simply wouldn’t have been aware that it was happening.  In QII we see a good example of this – as the aliens have effectively won, without a shot being fired.  The drama is therefore driven by the growing realisation of Quatermass that nobody can be trusted – just how widespread is the alien influence?

Whilst Kneale would later claim that he wasn’t a particularly political writer, QII certainly has some interesting points to make.  There’s a general theme that the authorities are suspect (which is fair enough, since they’ve been infiltrated by aliens) but it’s possible to see this as an allegory for a more general swipe at the post-WW2 secretive nature of government.  There were certainly research projects carried out at the time which were not publicised (but if they had would presumably have been claimed by the authorities to have been “for the greater good”).  The chemical warfare research carried out at Porton Down is one such example (and some of their research work carried out in the past, and their work continuing now, has never been made public).

Episode Two, The Mark, sees Professor Quatermass begin to understand what’s happening.  We see Dillon affected by the gas which seeped out of a meteorite at the end of episode one and which also left a mark on his cheek, which will be an important plot-point later in the episode.  Guards from the mysterious nearby plant take Dillon away, despite Quatermass’ protests.  He seems unable to communicate with them, as they appear to be operating in a zombie-like state.

We can assume that the guards are under alien control (although, of course, at this stage it’s not clear that aliens are at the bottom of this – it could be that first-time viewers simply assumed the guards were very bad actors!).  Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the emotionless nature of the suspect humans is something of a giveaway – dramatically it would have been more satisfying for the controlled humans to act normally, but there is a certain eeriness to them – thanks to their monotone speaking voices.

Powerless to prevent Dillon’s removal, he doesn’t have much time to ponder his next move before he discovers a tramp (Wilfred Brambell) emerging from a hole in the ground.  Brambell seemed to spend most of his career playing old men, even when he wasn’t terribly old (in 1955 he was forty three).  Rudolph Cartier had previously cast him in the 1953 Kneale-scripted production of Nineteen Eighty Four, and he would later admit that, like many directors, he liked to employ a “rep” of regular actors in his productions.  Another actor cast by Cartier in Nineteen Eighty Four (André Morell) would later have an important part to play in the Quatermass story ….

If it’s possible to wonder why the guards didn’t simply kill Quatermass, rather than let him walk away, then you could also regard the appearance of the tramp (who points Quatermass in the right direction to continue his investigations) as a slightly clumsy piece of plotting.  Yes, it is – but it’s also necessary to keep the story moving so it’s best not to worry too much about it.  The tramp mentions that some five miles away from Winnerden Flats is a prefab town that’s been built to house the workers employed on the plant.

The Camp Voluntary Committee Duty Office has a number of posters on the wall (“Remember, Secret Means Sealed Lips” and “Talk About Your Job And Lose It”).  The committee are disinclined to help Quatermass and they explain why.  “We’re doing all right. A lot more than all right. We’re asked to co-operate by keeping our mouths shut. Just like in the war.”  The posters are an obvious nod back to similar ones used during WW2 and it’s clear that the workers, whilst they may be aware of strange occurrences, are happy to keep quiet for the reasons stated.  Partly because they’re being well paid, but also because this sort of blind obedience to authority was something they were used to in wartime and therefore it’s easy to see how it could be used to manipulate people in peacetime.

The police are also unable to help, so Quatermass turns to the ministry.  Fowler (Austin Trevor) is a civil servant with something of a sense of humour (“we’ve had dealings for a number of years.  You as a driving force as an enterprise of the future, I as one of the obstructive civil servants you have to contend with.”)  Since he has a personality he’s clearly not been taken over and he’s able to advance the plot by telling Quatermass about Winnerden Flats.  It’s used, he says, to produce synthetic food – considerable money and absolute secrecy has been required since it’s a revolutionary new process.

He introduces Quatermass to Vicent Broadhead (Rupert Davies) who’s an ambitious MP making his own enquries into Winnerden Flats.  Later to become a household name in Maigret (1960-1963), Davies is a strong addition to the serial, although his part isn’t particularly large.  But he is able to tell Quatermass that identical plants have been built in other countries (so whatever they’re doing it can’t be revolutionary).

Quatermass insists that Broadhead calls him as a witness in the enquiry he’s been running.  Broadhead agrees and the two take their place in the meeting room.  This is where the emotionless nature of the controlled humans works well as it’s rather eerie to see the six men sitting around the table, all of them hardly showing any reaction.  And when Quatermass spots that one of them has a mark on his face, the pieces of the puzzle seem to be slowly falling into place …..

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