Quatermass and the Pit – Episode Four – The Enchanted

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The discovery of three insect-like creatures sends Colonel Breen into something of a tale-spin.  His moods have fluctuated wildly so far (although at the end of the last episode he seemed more reasonable and coherent) but coming face to face with these creatures clearly does nothing for his peace of mind.

He asks Roney why, if they’ve been dead more than a few years, they haven’t decomposed.  Quatermass explains to him that the “compartment was sealed.  If the things inside were completely sterile, without bacteria of any kind, they’d be free from corruption.  They could stay in there for a year or a million years.  Remain as they are, unchanged, until our atmosphere got in.  Filthy London air.  Then they’d rot as they have done.”  Needless to say, Breen doesn’t believe him.

Another sign that he’s starting to lose his grip is demonstrated when he orders Potter to eject Fullalove from the pit area.  It’s reasonable that Breen wouldn’t be keen on the presence of the press (although it’s equally understandable that Quatermass is keen for the story to get out) but it’s the way he does it – barking the order to Potter (who looks slightly askance at him) – which is quite telling.

We then move to the museum, where Quatermass and Roney muse over the creatures.  Roney points out that their antennas look somewhat like horns, something which Quatermass finds significant.  “Yes.  The horned demons in those old prints and manuscripts.  Do you remember?  As if that image were somehow projected into men’s minds.  That face, it’s like a gargoyle.  Roney, that’s not just a simile.  Haven’t you seen it before carved on walls in a dozen countries?  Is is somewhere in the subconscious?  A race memory?”

Fullalove’s exclusive – “Monster insects found”! – causes consternation at Whitehall, so Quatermass and Breen are called to the War Office to explain.  This scene demonstrates Kneale’s jaundiced view of politics and government as both Quatermass and Breen offer explanations – and the Minster chooses to believe Breen’s version.  Actually, it’s probable that he didn’t believe it, instead it was the story he felt would be most acceptable to both his political masters and the general public at large.  As the saying goes, in war, truth is the first casualty.

In Quatermass II, the Professor also made various assumptions about the threat that faced them – though back then he didn’t preface his remarks by conceding that he might be wrong.  At least here, Quatermass is a little more honest.  “You’re demanding explanations that I can’t give or prove.  All I can give you are guesses.”  It’s another splendid scene for Morell, who paces around the desk – hands in his waistcoat pockets – as he delivers his theory.  Five million years ago, there may still have been life on Mars.  If the Martians knew their planet was doomed, what would they do in order to perpetuate their existence?

Quatermass’ theory is that, on numerous occasions, they visited the Earth and took ape specimens (which they then experimented upon) before returning them back into the wild.  In time, these augmented apes would become the dominant species, and the Martian influence would live on, but in another race and on another planet.  The Minister isn’t pleased with this – the idea that the human race owes their existence to alien interference would clearly be a hard sell, so Breen’s suggestion that the object is a German V2 weapon (complete with fake aliens to create panic) is much more palatable to him.  This allows him to announce that the panic is over, reports can be distributed to state that the object is a fake and the bomb disposal team can pack up and go home.

But with two episodes to go, we clearly haven’t got to the end yet.  The last four minutes or so of The Enchanted are shot on film and they’re a real highlight of the serial.  Rudolph Cartier’s studio direction was always hamstrung by the bulky and unresponsive television cameras (like all productions of this era, they were slow to manuouvere and couldn’t zoom in or zoom out – that had to be done manually).  But shooting on film allowed him a much greater freedom and it’s the film sequences which contain many memorable and stylish visual images.

Sladden, the last man left in the pit, has entered the capsule to retrive his equipment.  As he’s doing this, Miss Judd comes back to collect her notes from the hut.  Then, as it were, all hell breaks loose.  Objects move by themselves and Sladden is deeply affected by this – exiting the pit in terror.  He has to run in such a way that seems to have been designed to mimic the aliens’ movement (a race memory coming to the fore?).  On the one hand it looks comic, but it’s played totally straight which gives it a sense of menace.  The night-shooting is incredibly evocative and once again we can be grateful that the original film inserts were kept.  Eventually, he ends up in the grounds of a vicarage.  As the lays on the floor (looking for sanctuary?) the ground around him ripples.

It’s a striking sequence, very well performed by Richard Shaw, and once again Nigel Kneale concludes an episode with a memorable cliff-hanger that lives long in the memory.

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