All three of Nigel Kneale’s 1950’s Quatermass serials had ambitious final episodes. However, since no visual or audio copy of the last episode of The Quatermass Experiment exists, we can only surmise how good the climax was. Kneale’s description of how they achieved the creature’s final manifestation in Westminster Abbey does sound endearingly low-tech though! He recalls that somebody “bought a guidebook to the [abbey] and blew up one of the photographs and cut a couple of holes in it. Then I stuck my hands through, which were draped with rubber gloves and various bits and pieces, and waggled them about. It looked very good, actually, surprisingly effective.”
The last episode of Quatermass II had to be made on the cheap (since most of the budget had already been used for the previous five installments). Unfortunately this meant that some parts of the finale were rather compromised – for example the surface of the asteroid was created by covering some chairs with a tarpaulin! Once you know this, it’s difficult to watch those scenes without it being very apparent.
By the time Quatermass and the Pit went into production, lessons had obviously been learnt. Hob brings the story to a very effective conclusion – and there’s no signs of penny-pinching here. It, like the rest of the serial, had a very generous amount of film work (which really helped to give it a glossy, expensive look). It’s a pity that all of the series wasn’t made on film, as the film sequences we do have demonstrate how good a director Rudolph Cartier was.
However, an all-film production was clearly outside of the BBC’s budget at the time – although it’s slightly curious that they didn’t mount all the pit sequences in Hob on film. The majority are, but there’s the odd scene back in the studio – and the cuts between the two are rather jarring.
Notwithstanding this little niggle, Hob is a good exercise in making the limited resources you have stretch as far as possible. It’s possible that when Rudolph Cartier received the script he may have despaired – as Kneale was asking for feature-film production values (we see London in flames after the majority of the inhabitants find themselves under Martian control and forced to re-enact the “wild hunt” – a purging of anything or anybody not like themselves).
But Cartier is able to achieve this very well with only a limited number of extras, stock shots of cities in flames (presumably from WW2) and other clever story-telling devices – such as the observations of a pilot above the city. The pilot is able to describe to us what he can see, and whilst it’s an old trick (somebody telling us about something, rather than seeing it ourselves) it still works.
With London devastated, what’s happened to Quatermass and the others? The Professor had been deeply affected by the signals from the pit and it took Roney some time to bring him back to normality. Roney, like Potter and Fullalove, isn’t particularly affected – but they’re very much in the minority.
It’s somewhat disturbing to see Quatermass quite so disheveled and lost. He’s been the logical, calm centre of the story – so when he’s incapacitated it’s quite a shock. Colonel Breen is dead – he remained transfixed by the object in the pit and the last time we see him he’s been calcified. Miss Judd and Captain Potter both make it out alive and the romantic in me likes to think that their relationship blossomed afterwards (there certainly seemed to be an interest on Potter’s side – whether this was scripted or business added by John Stratton in rehearsal isn’t clear).
The crisis is brought to an end by Roney making the ultimate sacrifice. And the story ends with Quatermass broadcasting to the nation. It’s a key scene, which concludes the serial terribly well – especially after Quatermass has finished and we see him walk away (leaving the other people looking slightly nonplussed). Amongst them are Sladden and the Vicar, and it’s a nice touch that they’re both there (even though neither of them speak a word!)
Quatermass and the Pit is an amazing programme – script-wise, acting-wise and also technically. It’s hard to believe that most of it went out live, since everything ran so smoothly. Compared to the slightly more rough-and-ready Quatermass Experiment and Quatermass II it’s certainly on another level. Morell is superb and he’s supported by a quality cast.
Mark Gatiss once said that Quatermass and the Pit “with its brilliant blending of superstition, witchcraft and ghosts into the story of a five-million-year-old Martian invasion – is copper-bottomed genius.” I see no reason to disagree with this. If you’ve got it on your shelf but haven’t seen it for a while, maybe it’s time for a re-watch. If you don’t own it or have never seen it, then you’re missing out on a true television classic.