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.”

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