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 – hence 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 does tend to make the scenes drag a little.

Before this though, he does fare 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 that something was wrong with Pugh.  True, he didn’t develop the very bad acting that most the controlled humans displayed, 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 Pugh to drift off into space.  The sight of a slowly spining Pugh, getting smaller and smaller, is a nice shot – it’s a 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 and this wipes out the aliens and seems to instantly break the 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.  Yes, you have to make allowances for the nature of live broadcasting and 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 I’ve previously mentioned, John Robinson is a something of a weak-link.  He never seemed to be at ease as an actor and this was carried over into his performance.  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 – as there’s very few displays of familial devotional 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.

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