Quatermass returns to the Museum and tells Roney about the meeting he’s just had at the War Office. Needless to say, he’s not best pleased and concedes that the Minster is “scared stiff. Scared of the press, scared of being blamed for something, scared of his colleagues. All he wants are easy answers.” As we saw in the last episode, the Minister is happy with Breen’s theory that the object is a German propaganda weapon and that the insects are fakes (Quatermass ironically says that if you look closely enough, you’ll be able to see little swastikas on them!)
There’s no time to brood though, as Barbara Judd arrives and tells them both about the strange experience in the pit. Shortly after this, Quatermass and Barbara set off for the vicarage where Sladden has ended up. The conflict between religion and science is a familiar one in science fiction and it’s played out in this episode. The Vicar (Noel Howlett) is convinced that Sladden has been in contact with spiritual evil (later he comes to the pit with an exorcism kit – “bell, book and candle” as Fullalove says) but although Quatermass agrees that they are dealing with evil, he simply disagrees about the nature of it. For the Professor, there’s a rational, scientific explanation. The Vicar also has an explanation – but for him, it’s a matter of faith.
The scene in the vicarage is nicely lit (with a flickering fire) and Cartier’s use of close-ups on the agitated Sladden really help to focus the audience’s attention on his plight. In a rather incoherent fashion he’s able to explain what happened. “I remember. It started and then … then I couldn’t see anything but them! Like you took out of the hull! With eyes and horns! They were alive! Hopping and running. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds!”
Quatermass is convinced that Sladden had a vision of life on Mars – five million years ago (a race memory that may lay dormant in all of us). He plans to record these visions via an invention of Roney’s (the optic encephalograph). It was mentioned in passing a few episodes ago and now we can see that it wasn’t a throwaway moment – as it’ll have a fairly important role in this episode. When attached to a user, it can record visual impressions in the brain and Quatermass uses it (via Barbara Judd) to record a “wild hunt”. The Doctor Who story The Ark in Space would later use a very similar device to establish how the insect-like Wirrn came to be aboard the Ark.
Quatermas later arranges for the film to be shown at the War Office, in front of Colonel Breen, the Minster and various other interested parties. He tells them that “you’re going to see a race purge, a cleansing of the hives.” The short sequence (a nightmarish series of shots of the insects) is very effectively done (and is as good, if not better, than the similar sequence mounted for the Hammer film a decade later).
The Minister receives it with mild interest (“most curious”) but once more he’s able to rationalise it away. Miss Judd has been in a nervous and excited state and therefore he considers the pictures to be nothing but hallucinations. So again Quatermass is unable to make him understand just how dangerous the situation is. The aliens may have died millions of years ago but there’s still a lingering power remaining – which is able to unleash primal forces.
It’s all to no avail though and that evening the press, radio and television are invited down to the pit. We switch to film once more for the final few minutes of the episode (so we can guess that another set-piece sequence is about to begin). This scene is also of interest as we see a typical BBC outside broadcast vehicle and camera (which does demonstrate just how bulky and cumbersome the cameras of this era were). It’s also nice to see John Scott Martin (who would spend the best part of twenty five years playing many Doctor Who monsters, including the Daleks) as the tv technician.
There’s a cracking confrontation between Quatermass and Breen. “Is Colonel Breen an imbecile or a coward? Is Colonel Breen afraid of something, so afraid that he resorts to the thinnest rationalisations?” Sadly, there’s no time for the argument to heat up any more as there’s been a death inside the capsule. The last shot is rather oblique – “something” seems to be growing inside the capsule. But we’ll have to wait until the next and final episode to find out what.