Seperated from Annie and Isabel, an injured Quatermass finds help from an unexpected quarter ….
If the first two episodes concentrated on the young (the Planet People) then the first half of What Lies Beneath redresses the balance as Quatermass finds refuge with a group of senior citizens, led by Edna (Gretchen Franklin) and Jack (Larry Noble). With society in tatters, they’ve had to scratch out a living below ground. They’re mostly a rather sad collection of characters, although Franklin (later to become a regular on Eastenders) is good value.
Quatermass attempts to explain what he believes is happening – although what concerns them most is why the young should be saved and transported to another planet. Why not them? Of course, Quatermass doesn’t believe they were “saved” and later on he’ll reveal his theories ….
This part of the episode is nicely lit – as the underground location provides some interesting shadows. But when a group of soldiers (guided by Annie) rescue him, it’s possible to wonder whether the whole section was simply a case of running on the spot (as the plot seems to have advanced very little). We’ll have to wait until the final episode to see if there’s any pay-off for the characters introduced here.
Isabel is dead – Annie and the doctors watched, helpless to intervene, as she levitated from her hospital bed and then disintegrated. It’s quite an arresting moment and although the effect was low-tech, it was still effective.
A common theme of the Quatermass serials was how the Professor was unable to convince the authorities that the danger was real. Here, that’s not the case (at least temporarily) and the second half of What Lies Beneath sees Quatermass work with the remnants of the British government.
First, he and the army take over the sole remaining television station – British Television. The logo is rather similar to one used by the BBC and it’s possible that Kneale was taking something of a swipe at his old employers. With the country in desperate straights, BTV’s most popular programme is a bizarre soft-porn show called Tit-Umpity-Bumpity, When the rather camp director (Tudor Davies) is firmly told that the studio is needed for a slightly more important purpose he gives way, although with very ill-grace. “It’s the only show that anybody watches anymore. Don’t they realise?”
The television land-lines allow Quatermass to link up with the Rusians and Americans and he propounds his latest theory. Areas such as Ringstone Round were visited during their creation by the aliens, who somehow implanted triggers (possibly deep underground). When the time was right (as now) the signal would be activated and the young would be irrestably drawn there.
The Americans want to send a spaceship to intercept a mysterious object in space, but Quatermass tells them it’s not a good idea. “The ripe crop can’t appeal to the reaper. I think this is the gathering time. The human race is being harvested.” This is a familiar Kneale trope. Alien intelligences in the Quatermass stories are never corporeal or articulate. Instead, it’s up to Quatermass and others to suggest what their motives are – based on the available evidence.
Next, he meets with the Prime Minster (the always impressive Kevin Stoney in a rather small role, sadly) and David Hatherley (David Ashford). Ashford’s probably best known (to me anyway) for his many appearances as Charles Lotterby in Crown Court. The news that thousands of Planet People are moving towards Wembley Stadium concerns Quatermass, although Hatherley (who’s heard the Professor’s theory that the young are taken from sites with a spiritual or magical nature) is sceptical that it’s going to happen at Wembley. Although Quatermass does remind him of the sacred turf!
As for Joe Kapp, he spends the episode walking around in a daze – viewing the devastation of his home and hearing the voices of his children in his head. There’s a dreamy (or nightmarish) quality about these scenes and it’s interesting that by this point in the story the position of Quatermass and Kapp has totally reversed. At the start, Quatermass was barely functioning whilst Kapp was in command. But the loss of his family has rendered him bereft.
Annie and Quatermass observe the growing clamour at Wembley. The plot makes another swift gear-change as the soldiers and Hatherley turn on the pair of them – shooting at the Land-rover they’re sitting in. More converts to the Planet People maybe? Annie is hurt, possibly dead, so it looks as if Quatermass is on his own once more.