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.