Quatermass and the Pit – Episode Three – Imps and Demons

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The unfortunate Private West (John Walker) has seen something strange inside the capsule.  His collapse agitates Breen considerably – it’s another inexplicable happening and therefore something that the Colonel hasn’t been trained to deal with.  But it is interesting to see that later in the episode he does calm down and his relationship with Quatermass, whilst still a little spiky, is more settled.

Quatermass is intrigued by the composition of the capsule.  “Ceramic material of some kind, resistant to heat to over three thousand degrees, harder than diamond.  It’s what every rocket engineer has been searching for.  A heatproof casing to get through the earth’s atmosphere.”  Although the inference is plain that this is some kind of spaceship, it’s not overtly spelled out at this time – as with six episodes to play with, there’s no need to rush.  Quatermass is also able to mock Breen’s faint hope that it may be a German device.  “You think the Germans made it in 1940 and then lost the secret?  Ask them.  Ask von Braun.”

Observing the activity around the capsule, Corporal Gibson (Harold Goodwin) wonders if Quatermass knows what he’s doing and decides that “he doesn’t.  None of ’em do this time.”  This is quite true as Quatermass is as much in the dark as everybody else.  By the time we reach the end of the story we’ll be able to consider just what the cost of Quatermass’ scientific curiosity was.  He wants to see inside the sealed chamber (as does Breen) and it’s this desire which causes all the problems from hereon in.  But, of course, had he not then the story would have been a good deal shorter!

Quatermass and Breen agree that a borazon drill might have a chance of making an impression on the door.  It would mean hiring a civilian contractor, but it’s judged to be worth the risk.  Sladden (Richard Shaw) turns up and prepares to set to work.  He’s a cheerful chap, although subsequent events wipe the smile off his face somewhat, especially in the next episode.  Sladden’s initial drilling certainly generates a reaction – creating an unearthly sound which affects everybody – especially Sladden, Quatermass and Breen.  Quatermass grabs Roney and leaves the pit area in a hurry, urging Potter to tell Breen not to continue with the drilling until he returns.

Whilst this is going on, the press (in the shape of James Fullalove) begin to take more of an interest.  The character of Fullalove had featured in The Quatermass Experiment and it had been hoped that Paul Whitson-Jones would reprise the role, but as he was unavailable Brian Worth took over.  Fullalove attaches himself to Quatermass and Roney and the three of them set off to do some research.  In the previous episode, we saw how Hobbs Lane had featured in the newspapers (back in 1927) when the story of the ghost surfaced.  Imps and Demons delves even further back into the past as it becomes clear that mysterious sightings and disturbances have been recorded for centuries, dating back to medieval times.

Returning to the pit, Quatermass finds that a hole has been made in the capsule, but not by Sladden – it just simply appeared.  Breen is still attempting to find a logical explanation for this strange occurrence.  “I suppose the vibrations of the drill must have affected all this material in some way.”  But even he can’t explain what he sees within the chamber.  He allows Quatermass to look and the Professor is equally surprised and shocked – there’s a telling moment between the two of them (for once, we see no bluster from Breen – he simply has to accept the evidence of his own eyes).

When the door is finally opened, the occupants of the capsule are exposed for the first time in five million years.  Quatermass reassures Breen.  “It’s all right.  They’re dead.  They’ve been dead for a long time.”  It’s another striking cliff-hanger which only adds another layer of mystery to the story.  If the strange inhabitants are dead, where do the centuries worth of disturbances emanate from?

Quatermass and the Pit – Episode Two – The Ghosts

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Quatermass and the Pit is as much a ghost story as it is a science fiction one.  This is a theme that Kneale would re-use in the years to come (The Stone Tape) and it’s easy to see why – the clash between science and superstition is a very potent one.  Doctor Who would also draw heavily from this Kneale template over the following decades (The Daemons is a prime example and Image of the Fendahl is probably the Doctor Who story most indebted to QATP).

Whilst the work to uncover the mysterious object continues, Quatermass is intrigued by the derelict house at the nearby Hobbs Lane.  This disrepair wasn’t caused by bomb damage (as it’s clear that only a handful of incendiary devices fell in this area during WW2.  Which also makes Breen’s claim that the object is a previously unknown German weapon rather unlikely).

The discovery that the object is emitting radioactivity (although at a very low level) is enough to ensure that operations are suspended whilst tests are carried out to verify whether it’s safe to continue.  At something of a loose end, Quatermass heads over to the abandoned house to have a look around.  He’s joined by P.C. Ellis (Victor Platt) who knows the history of the place and confirms that it’s been empty since 1927 due to a ghost scare.  Although Ellis was only a child back then, he still remembers the stories and whilst he tells Quatermass that it’s clearly all nonsense, he displays a palpable sense of unease as he moves through the house with Quatermass.  Victor Platt is terribly good in this scene, it’s mostly just exposition (laying the groundwork for the tale of the haunted house which Mrs Chilcott will explain in more depth later) but Platt is able to give Ellis a real sense of character.  Good performances from the minor players are one of the main strengths of this serial.

Two residents, Mr and Mrs Chilcott (Howell Davies and Hilda Barry) have been evacuated nearby, so Quatermass pops in to speak to them.  Barry had previously appeared in Quatermass II (as Mrs Large) and she gives another nice cameo performance here.  It’s obvious that she’s the dominant partner in the marriage, particularly since Mr Chilcott seems to be rather poorly.  “I couldn’t find his long woolies, you know, his clean ones. He may have to wear two pair at once. It’s cold.”  As the majority of the story is set amongst the military, her appearance does lighten the mood a little.

The Chilcotts are staying with Miss Groome (Madge Brindley).  When Quatermass enters, Miss Groome is telling Mrs Chilcott’s fortune with tea leaves.  This tells us that Miss Groome is a believer in the supernatural and is therefore somebody who holds diametrically opposed views from the rational Quatermass.  So his interest in the haunted house does surprise her.  “I thought all you scientists were sceptics” she says.  “We’re open-minded, most of us, or we try to be” he replies.  Mrs Chilcott’s story – mysterious noises, objects moving by themselves, a ghostly figure – is fairly typical, but what’s the explanation?  Miss Groome would no doubt be adamant they were manifestations from the other side, but the obvious inference being drawn is that it may have something to do with the mysterious object – which has apparently lain undisturbed for five million years.

The discovery of another ape skull – this one actually in the object – gives Colonel Breen even more pause for thought.  Anthony Bushell is very solid as the blinkered solider.  He likes things to be logical and rational and as the evidence begins to pile up to the contrary, he begins to lose his grip.  It’s only expressed in a subtle way during this episode, but it becomes more pronounced as the story progresses.  His reluctance to believe the evidence in front of him is highlighted by a report that confirms the radiation dates from five million years ago.  Since he finds this impossible to believe, he’s quite happy to dismiss it – anything that’s outside of his understanding he ignores.  If Quatermass and the Pit is something of a puzzle, then Breen is the sort of man that will desperately try and make the pieces fit – even if it’s clear they don’t.

Quatermass later tells Roney exactly what he feels about his new colleague.  “I told you my Rocket Group’s been taken over.  Well, he’s the official receiver.  He’s a career militarist of the worst type.  Cold, efficient, just biding his time.  That’s my colleague.”  Breen elects to use excavators to quickly unearth the object and its eventual reveal is an impressive moment.  It’s a wonderful piece of design work from Clifford Hatts – it looks substantial and solid.

Whilst some people may feel that this episode hasn’t advanced the plot very far, I’d disagree.  It’s been more about character and atmosphere – and both have been delivered in spades.  The cliff-hanger is also very striking and provides a strong hook into the next episode.  One of the soldiers, upon entering the object, reacts in terror at the sight of a mysterious figure who walked through the wall.  Instantly this recalls to us the stories of the haunted house in Hobbs Lane and the connection helps to tie the various story threads a little tighter together.

Quatermass and the Pit – Episode One – The Halfmen

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For many people, including myself, Quatermass and the Pit is the pick of the Quatermass serials.  Partly this may be due to familiarity (an edited compilation was released on VHS in 1988) but it’s undeniably a quality production.  It’s certainly the best-looking of the original trilogy, thanks to advances in the late 1950’s with the telerecording process as well as the existence of the original film sequences.

Quatermass II was telerecorded with a suppressed-field recorder, whilst Quatermass and the Pit used a stored-field film recorder. The upshot is that the picture quality of this third serial is much more detailed and smoother (plus the original video look was restored for the DVD release).  The film sequences, as per usual for the time, were shot on 35mm film and the majority of them have scrubbed up very well.  Comparing the pristine film inserts here to the blurry ones from Quatermass II is pretty much a night and day scenario.

So it looks very good, but what about the story?  It’s a very different beast from Quatermass II.  QII hopped from location to location and had a fairly large cast.  Whilst various characters come and go in QATP, the action centres on just three individuals – Professor Quatermass, Dr Matthew Roney and Colonel Breen.

After the wooden performance of John Robinson, it’s clear within a few minutes that we’re in very safe hands with André Morell.  Morell’s Quatermass has many traits that Robinson’s take on the character sorely lacked – a wry sense of humour and personal charm, for example – whilst he still exhibits the same steely determination. As we’ll see in this episode, this is an older, more embittered Quatermass. The rocket group that he founded is still active, and establishing bases on the moon is still the intention, but the military now have the upper hand and Quatermass faces being reduced to a mere bystander.

Dr Matthew Roney (Cec Linder) is, like Quatermass, an expert and enthusiast in his field. The opening scene shows us the discovery of a strangely-shaped skull, unearthed during the redevelopment of a site in Knightsbridge. There’s a nice piece of visual shorthand used after this – as the camera tracks across a series of newspapers, each displaying related headlines (“Apemen at Knightsbridge”, “Further discoveries at Knightsbridge”, “Knightsbridge Apemen – More Finds” and “Three More Bodies Says Scientist”) which significantly advances the plot in a matter of seconds.

Roney, together with his devoted assistant Miss Judd (Christine Finn), calls a press conference to try and drum up some publicity for his finds – he’s also trying to force the contractors to give him extra time to continue the excavations. Roney unveils an impression of what he considers the apeman (who he believes has lain undisturbed for at least five million years) could have looked like.  Later he receives some good-natured ribbing from his friends and colleagues about this.  “You know, a lot of people may think it’s a trifle improper to publicise wild guesses”.  Roney agrees, but it was a gimmick that sparked press interest – and publicity is what he needs.  Afterwards, he runs into Quatermass.  Quatermass is off to the War Office and tells him that “for all your troubles you’ve got one thing to be thankful for.  There’s no military value in fossil apes.”

Colonel Breen (Anthony Bushell) has just been seconded to Quatermass’ rocket group as deputy controller.  Breen is the personification of everything that Quatermass despises, so it’s pretty clear that their partnership will be an uneasy one.  In this episode, Breen appears to be a straightforward, capable officer.  As the serial develops, we’ll see how he reacts when faced with events that are outside his strict frame of reference ….

The meeting at the War Office therefore couldn’t have gone worse for Quatermass.  He’s essentially lost control of the rocket group (the Minister makes it clear that whilst there’s no call for his immediate resignation, it’s something that will probably happen in the not too distant future).  Quatermass created the rocket group for peaceful, scientific research and he’s horrified to find it appropriated by the military for their own ends.  “From the very start we’ll be going into space with one thought – war!  We’re on the verge of a new dimension of discovery.  It’s the great chance to leave our vices behind us, war, first of all.  Not to go out there dragging our hatreds and our frontiers with us.”

Needless to say, this speech (delivered to mostly military types) is treated with stony indifference.  So it’s maybe something of a relief when Roney turns up with a problem.  The excavation has been halted – due to the discovery of what looks like an unexploded bomb.  Roney isn’t happy with the officer in charge, Captain Potter (John Stratton), and wonders if Quatermass can do anything to help.  Quatermass rather neatly manages to persuade Breen to take a look, so the three of them head out to the site.

Stratton would be a familiar television face for decades (much later he would turn in a ripe performance as Shockeye in the Doctor Who story The Two Doctors).  He’s much straighter here (and barely recognisable) as the young officer.  There’s also some familiar faces in his squad, such as Harold Goodwin as Corporal Gibson and Hammer Films stalwart Michael Ripper as the Sergeant.

By the time we reach the end of the episode, many of the blocks of the story are in place, but there’s plenty of facts that are still unclear.  What’s interesting is how the pieces of the puzzle are slowly assembled – basically Quatermass and the Pit is a detective story and we’ll see Quatermass and the others uncovering information in the later episodes by various means (via books, talking to people, experiments, etc).  This is far removed from the thriller-like Quatermass II which operated in a much more straightforward way.

What appeared at first to be an unexploded bomb now looks increasingly odd.  It’s far too large, for one thing.  And the other important fact that Quatermass alone seems to have grasped is that it was below where the skull was found.  And if the skull had lain undetected for five million years, how long has the “bomb” been there?

Quatermass II – Episode Six – The Destroyers

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The Destroyers is something of an epilogue to the main story.  Quatermass II would have worked equally well as a five-parter and the conclusion of the previous episode (which saw the destruction of the creature at the plant) could have served very well as the end of the serial.  Instead, in episode six we see Quatermass and Pugh head out in their rocket to rendezvous with the asteroid.  The plan is to jettison the rocket’s nuclear motor and therefore destroy the alien menace once and for all.

The main problem was that by now the budget had virtually all been spent.  The first five episodes had cost around £7,000 (small change today, but quite a substantial sum for television drama sixty years ago).  This meant that The Destroyers had to be realised with just £600 – and there are times when the lack of money is rather obvious ….

But there are good points – the modelwork is, at times, quite effective (although some of the other shots are less impressive).  But the main problem with the episode is that the bulk of it takes place on the rocket with Quatermass and Pugh.  So far, we’ve seen that John Robinson tended to work best when he had actors of character to bounce off.

There’s no doubt that Hugh Griffith was a very good actor indeed, but as Pugh had been taken over by the aliens at the end of the fifth episode he doesn’t contribute a great deal until the climax – meaning that Robinson has to shoulder the majority of the dialogue and action up until then.  And since Robinson wasn’t the most charismatic or involving of actors, this tends to make the scenes drag a little.

Before this though, he fares a better when attempting to appeal to the humanity buried deep within the controlled Dillon.  He spells out what will happen if they can’t destroy the incoming aliens.  “There’s a possibility, no more than that, to reach the parent body from which these creatures come. If I’m not able to make this attempt, they’ll come again in their thousands and their millions. New colonies are being made ready for them elsewhere in the world. There they can develop, expand, breed, protected by their victims! Men like you Dillon! Guarding and feeding them until they spread all over the Earth!”

Quatermass and Pugh set off, although it’s hard to believe that Quatermass didn’t realise much earlier that something was wrong with Pugh.  True, he didn’t develop the very bad acting that affected most the controlled humans, but there was clearly something off-key about him.  By the time Quatermass does twig, it’s far too late and the pair of them have crash-landed on the asteroid.

Pugh attempts to shoot Quatermass, but the recoil from the rifle (and how would bullets react in zero-gravity anyway?) causes him to drift off into space.  The sight of a slowly spining Pugh, getting smaller and smaller, is a nice shot – it may be fairly simple effect, but to be inlaid onto a live production was clearly a challenge.  The end of the story is rather perfunctory though.  Quatermass fires the chemical motor, wipes out the aliens and this seems to instantly break their hold over the affected humans (if Dillon is anything to go by).

Whilst the last episode does have its problems, overall this is a serial that’s aged remarkably well.  You have to make allowances for the nature of live broadcasting, some of the effects are crude (and others are non-existent) but it’s certainly much more than simply a historical curio.  For most of the time it’s a very decent piece of drama with some good performances.

As previously mentioned, John Robinson is a something of a weak-link. Robinson’s Quatermass is a cold and remote man with whom it’s difficult to emphasise with.  Monica Grey is a little hard to take as well, and the reason for making her Quatermass’ daughter is never really developed – there’s very few displays of familial devotion from the pair of them.

The serial really comes alive with the supporting actors – and there’s plenty of familiar faces who liven up proceedings (such as Wilfred Brambell, Rupert Davies, Roger Delgado and – in the last episode – Cyril Shaps).  It’s a very pulpy sort of story and although the script does sometimes make impossible demands on the limited resources available, they manage to get away with it.

Apart from the slightly damp-squib of an ending, this is a piece of drama that firmly deserves its iconic status.

Quatermass II – Episode Five – The Frenzy

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One of the impressive things about Quatermass II is that there isn’t an episode where the action sags.  Normally, with a six part serial you’d expect it to tread water during the middle, but we’ve reached episode five and it’s still ticking along nicely.  This is probably due to the variety of supporting actors that we’ve seen.  As I’ve previously touched upon, any ally of Quatermass tends to have a fairly limited life expectancy – therefore most only feature for an episode or two.

The plus side of this is that there’s a constant influx of new characters to keep the narrative moving.  And in The Frenzy, the likes of Paddy (Michael Golden), Mac (John Rae) and Ernie (Ian Wilson) take centre-stage.  In the decades to come, television drama would be taped out of sequence (which would mean that an actor could appear throughout a serial like this but record all their scenes in a few days).  But back in days of live television this obviously wasn’t possible – hence actors pop up in a few episodes and then aren’t seen again.

Paddy, Mac, Ernie and a number of others make their way down to the plant to demand answers.  The zombie-like guards aren’t able to reassure them, so a fight breaks out.  Although the film sequences for this episode are quite murky (and somewhat murkier than the other episodes) it seems pretty clear that Paddy initiates things.  He grabs a rifle from one of the guards and begins firing.  What’s particularly interesting is that when Quatermass meets up with the men later (they’ve barricaded themselves into one of the rooms in the plant) Paddy insists that the guards fired the first shot.  Quatermass agrees with him, but does he believe Paddy or is he simply happy to agree in order to keep the men on his side?  There’s several different ways the line could have been spoken, but Robinson’s delivery is rather rushed and flat – a pity, since there’s seems to be a little bit of subtext here which was never developed.

Quatermass and the others are able to cut off the gas supply to the dome.  This begins to have an effect, as witnessed by the messages relayed to them via the tannoy.  The voice offers various inducements if they come out, such as promising that nobody will be harmed and that the injured will be taken care of.  “Music while you work” is also pumped through (a sequence that Kneale remained fond of).  Whilst Quatermass is desperately attempting to find a solution, it’s a nice counterpoint to have the scene scored with the sort of easy listening music that would be played during their normal shift patterns.

Eventually, the voice makes an offer that Mac finds irrestiable.  It offers to show them any part of the plant – Mac wishes to look at the main dome.  Quatermass tries to tell him that he’s going to his death, but he doesn’t believe him.  Along with a few others, he leaves the room and shortly after it’s clear that there’s a blockage in the pipeline.  It becomes horrifyingly obvious that Mac and the other men have been shoved down the pipeline (and turned into a pulp) in order to try and stop Quatermass’ sabotage.  After this, events lose a little coherency – as Quatermass is able to escape quite easily (and he finds Dr Pugh outside, waiting for him).  They return to the rocket and debate their next move.

Throughout the later part of The Frenzy there’s a very sharp sense that the world is tightening around Quatermass and his small group of friends.  It’s difficult to trust anybody now (and Dr Pugh is acting a little oddly at the end, which implies that he’ll be the next to go rogue).  Although the plant at Winnerden Flats has been largely destroyed, there’s still several more in other parts of the world, so the danger is far from over.  The rocket appears to be their only hope – but the return of John Dillon seems to scupper that.

Dillon, under alien control, has taken possession of the rocket.  Given what I said earlier about the number of actors who only appear in an episode or two, his re-appearance here does come as something of a surprise (he hasn’t been seen since the opening moments of episode two).  With the rocket now in alien hands, everything seems lost – which sets us up nicely for the sixth and concluding episode.

Quatermass II – Episode Four – The Coming

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The opening few minutes of The Coming sees Quatermass speculate about the form, nature and intention of the aliens.  He surmises that each meteorite contains some form of life, which expires seconds after it’s been exposed to the Earth’s atmosphere.  But within that short period of time it’s able to latch onto a human host and essentially take command of them.  He further speculates that it’s probably a colonial organism.  “Imagine a group mind. A thousand billion individuals, if you like, with a single consciousnesses.”  This was yet another element cribbed by Robert Holmes for the Doctor Who story Spearhead from Space (the Nestene Consciousness existed in a similar way).

If these points are fairly reasonable deductions, others seem to have been plucked out of the air somewhat – such as his reasoning that in its own atmosphere the alien could change in size, mass and shape.  And his suggestion that they come from one of the moons of Saturn is another surmise that seems to have no particular evidence to back it up.  Since the theme music for the serial is Holst’s Mars – The Bringer of War, it seemed a missed opportunity not to have them originate from Mars.  Even odder is that when the Martians feature in Quatermass and the Pit, it doesn’t use Holst’s theme!

This opening scene is a little bit of a nightmare for Robinson, who stumbles on several lines.  But the nature of live television is that you simply have to keep ploughing on, which he does and eventually things get back onto a more even keel.  We then see the Quatermass II rocket for the first time since episode one.  The prototype Quatermass II rocket exploded in Australia, but there’s a second one – currently being worked upon in the UK.

Quatermass tells Dr Pugh to make it ready.  Pugh, remembering the explosion in Australia, is naturally incredibly reluctant.  He tells Quatermass that it could very well turn into an atomic bomb, but maybe that’s what Quatermass wants.  Is he planning to use it as a weapon?  Quatermass is remarkably angry during this scene, barking out “I’m not listening to reason!” to Pugh and generally acting in a pretty foul manner (he’s also very abrupt to Paula).

He only perks up when he receives a call from a journalist called Hugh Conrad.  Quatermass believes that Conrad can help him to break the story, so he arranges to meet him at Winnerden Flats. Conrad was played by Roger Caesar Marius Bernard de Delgado Torres Castillo Roberto, better known as Roger Delgado.  Delgado was, of course, best known for playing the Master in Doctor Who between 1971 and 1973 and prior to that had enjoyed a successful career, again mostly playing villains.  So his appearance in QII, as a good guy, is a nice change.  Anybody who’s interested in more detail on his career should check out the documentary on the DVD of the Doctor Who story Frontier in Space.  There’s a wealth of clips from his many BBC appearances, of which far too many, sadly, are not yet available on DVD.

A new ally, like Conrad, is obviously what Quatermass needs, since his old ones have been dropping like ninepins.  The latest to succumb is Fowler, who finds himself gassed by an alien booby trap once he’s back at the ministry.  It’s a slightly sloppily directed scene (but as previously mentioned, it’s live television – so cutaways and effects shots were simply not possible).  We see the device and we see Fowler react – but we never see anything emerge from the device, so we have to use our imagination and assume that something did.

Quatermass shows Conrad the plant and afterwards the two of them visit the pub on the outskirts of the prefab town.  The prefab town houses the plant workers and both Quaternass and Conrad hope to pump them for information.  They share a drink with Paddy (Michael Golden) and Mr and Mrs McLeod (John Rae and Elsie Arnold).  Mr and Mrs McLeod are celebrating the eve of their silver wedding anniversary and Quatermass congratulates them, buys them a drink and tells them that a silver wedding was something he never had the fortune to reach.  This is the first time his wife’s been mentioned, but whether she’s dead or if they were divorced isn’t clear – although it’s interesting that Mrs McLeod says he has a sad face.

The regulars view the questions of Quatermass and Conrad with suspicion, although when a meteorite falls through the pub roof it does give them pause for thought.  Security guards enter, take it away and Quatermass and Conrad follow them.  This is a slightly odd part of the episode, as somehow Conrad’s been infected – although it’s difficult to see when this happened.  Even odder is that whilst he’s clearly not the same man he was, he’s not completely taken over and later he’s able to phone his paper in London and provide them with a succinct summary.  “Subjugation to the intention of the thing is widespread. It’s given rise to the production of a protected colony at a place called Winnerden Flats. It’s not synthetic food! It’s the re-creation of a world 800 million miles away!”  Did Conrad glean the last piece of information from Quatermass earlier or is this something he’s learnt from his association with the group mind?

Quatermass has re-entered the plant.  The last few minutes of the episode, shot on film, are very effective  – there’s no dialogue, just an ominous toiling sound as Quatermass ventures deeper and deeper into the plant.  Eventually he opens an inspection hatch and is greeted by the sight of a strange creature.  True, it’s obviously only a few pieces of plastic slowly moving about – but thanks to the music and Cartier’s shot selection, it’s still a rather eerie sight and a good cliff-hanger.

Quatermass II – Episode Three – The Food

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Quatermass finds it difficult to make any headway at the enquiry (naturally enough, since all the members are under alien control).  When he produces a replica of a meteorite that does trigger a reaction, but he leaves the room having made little progress.  There’s an interesting moment in the next scene, as Quatermass confides to Fowler that in “the last few minutes I was there, seconds really. I was afraid, Fowler. I was suddenly sharply aware of menace.”  This would imply that Kneale scripted the scene to be played much more naturally – whereas Cartier’s direction makes it obvious from the start that something’s seriously wrong (when any of the committee members speak, it’s in such an unearthly tone that the sense of danger is driven home rather unsubtly).  Had Kneale’s scripted intentions been adhered to, this scene would have played out more satisfactorily.

Whilst the early episodes of Quatermass II were attracting a sizeable audience, not everybody was happy.  Cecil McGivern, Controller of Television Programmes, conceded that the programme was “being ‘shot’ with considerable skill by Rudolph Cartier, but what he is ‘shooting’ is just not good enough.”  Kneale defended his work by explaining how it differed from the first serial.  “Instead of a normal world with one sinister element moving in it (as per The Quatermass Experiment) we have one normal protagonist moving in an increasingly abnormal world.”

This is borne out by the following scene when Quatermass and Fowler return to the committee room.  They find Broadhead alone, slumped on the desk and clearly now under the malign alien influence.  The notion that allies can be dealt with so swiftly helps to raise the stakes in the audience’s eyes – they now know that if Quatermass is going to persevere, then it’s going to be thanks to his own ingenuity and also with the help he can receive from a small group of trusted people.

Quatermass and Fowler meet with Rupert Ward (Derek Aylwad).  Ward is a public relations man who’s been to the plant on several occasions – his job was to look after selected parties of VIPs, who were shown around the installation.  This explains how the members of the establishment were brought under control, as it’s hard to imagine the alien being able to direct meteorites to each of their front doors!  For those keeping score on our Doctor Who watch, this is very similar to how the Cybermen were able to influence key people in the 1968 story The Invasion.  There, they entered the headquarters of International Electromatics and were very different when they came out ….

There’s a nice scene in this episode between Paula and Dr Pugh.  It doesn’t advance the plot very far, but it gives them both some welcome time to develop their characters.  Pugh laments the mechanical/electronic age.  “Too many machines, that’s what we’ve got. They spoil one from grasping a clear concept. I joined your father as a mathematical genius. That’s not boasting, I was once. A calculating boy.”  It’s a good moment for Hugh Griffith (a quality actor with a substantial acting career – he won an Oscar as best supporting actor in Ben Hur, for example).  Monica Grey is also allowed a little space to emerge as more of a character, although she’s still somewhat stiff and lacking in emotion (Paula’s still remarkably unconcerned about the fate of Dillon, which seems a little hard to accept).

The following scene is a very unsettling one, as we see a family (mother, father, child) settling down to enjoy a picnic, close to the installation.  Armed guards arrive and insist that they leave, but we don’t see the conclusion to the scene – as a car races past and the camera refocusses on them (the car contains Quatermass, Fowler and Ward, who are going to try and get into the installation).  It isn’t until later in the story that we hear gunfire and then see the family’s car being towed inside (with one of their arms limply visible).  As Quatermass drives back to London, he passes the shattered remains of their picnic – there’s no words spoken, but the pictures tell their own, powerful story.

This section is a good example of how ruthless Quatermass can be.  When they pass the family’s car on the way in, Fowler wonders if they should stop and try to help.  Quatermass decides not to, as the fact that some of the guards are outside could be of benefit to them when they try and gain access.  He’s right of course, but it does mean that their deaths may have been prevented if they had intervened.

Another death follows, once they gain admittance, as Ward enters one of the food domes and emerges covered in a sort of corrosive slime.  This is a nicely shot sequence, as we see the dazed figure of Ward slowly staggering down the staircase of one of the impressive location structures.  It’s just a pity that all of this scene couldn’t have been shot on film, as the cut to the studio when he reaches the bottom is a little jarring.  It’s hard to see any emotion from Quatermass as he frantically urges the dying Ward to tell him what he saw.   Was this as scripted or was it simply because Robinson wasn’t an actor capable of delivering a subtler performance?  It’s hard to imagine Reginald Tate being quite so brusque.

Back in London, Quatermass surmises that the domes may be for food after all – but not food for human consumption.  He explains to Fowler.  “Try to imagine a complete reversal. An organism for which oxygen is not a necessity of life, but a destroyer. Unable to survive in our atmosphere for more a few seconds. Safe only in a shell, a shell of stone. But with power, Fowler. Power to compel.”