Quatermass and the Pit – Episode Six – Hob

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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.

Quatermass and the Pit – Episode Five – The Wild Hunt

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Quatermass returns to the Museum and tells Roney about the meeting he’s just had at the War Office.  Needless to say, he’s not best pleased and concedes that the Minster is “scared stiff.  Scared of the press, scared of being blamed for something, scared of his colleagues.  All he wants are easy answers.”  As we saw in the last episode, the Minister is happy with Breen’s theory that the object is a German propaganda weapon and that the insects are fakes (Quatermass ironically says that if you look closely enough, you’ll be able to see little swastikas on them!)

There’s no time to brood though, as Barbara Judd arrives and tells them both about the strange experience in the pit.  Shortly after this, Quatermass and Barbara set off for the vicarage where Sladden has ended up.  The conflict between religion and science is a familiar one in science fiction and it’s played out in this episode.  The Vicar (Noel Howlett) is convinced that Sladden has been in contact with spiritual evil (later he comes to the pit with an exorcism kit – “bell, book and candle” as Fullalove says) but although Quatermass agrees that they are dealing with evil, he simply disagrees about the nature of it.  For the Professor, there’s a rational, scientific explanation.  The Vicar also has an explanation – but for him, it’s a matter of faith.

The scene in the vicarage is nicely lit (with a flickering fire) and Cartier’s use of close-ups on the agitated Sladden really help to focus the audience’s attention on his plight.  In a rather incoherent fashion he’s able to explain what happened.  “I remember.  It started and then … then I couldn’t see anything but them!  Like you took out of the hull!  With eyes and horns!  They were alive!  Hopping and running.  Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds!”

Quatermass is convinced that Sladden had a vision of life on Mars – five million years ago (a race memory that may lay dormant in all of us).  He plans to record these visions via an invention of Roney’s (the optic encephalograph).  It was mentioned in passing a few episodes ago and now we can see that it wasn’t a throwaway moment – as it’ll have a fairly important role in this episode.  When attached to a user, it can record visual impressions in the brain and Quatermass uses it (via Barbara Judd) to record a “wild hunt”.  The Doctor Who story The Ark in Space would later use a very similar device to establish how the insect-like Wirrn came to be aboard the Ark.

Quatermas later arranges for the film to be shown at the War Office, in front of Colonel Breen, the Minster and various other interested parties.  He tells them that “you’re going to see a race purge, a cleansing of the hives.”  The short sequence (a nightmarish series of shots of the insects) is very effectively done (and is as good, if not better, than the similar sequence mounted for the Hammer film a decade later).

The Minister receives it with mild interest (“most curious”) but once more he’s able to rationalise it away.  Miss Judd has been in a nervous and excited state and therefore he considers the pictures to be nothing but hallucinations.  So again Quatermass is unable to make him understand just how dangerous the situation is.  The aliens may have died millions of years ago but there’s still a lingering power remaining – which is able to unleash primal forces.

It’s all to no avail though and that evening the press, radio and television are invited down to the pit.  We switch to film once more for the final few minutes of the episode (so we can guess that another set-piece sequence is about to begin).  This scene is also of interest as we see a typical BBC outside broadcast vehicle and camera (which does demonstrate just how bulky and cumbersome the cameras of this era were).  It’s also nice to see John Scott Martin (who would spend the best part of twenty five years playing many Doctor Who monsters, including the Daleks) as the tv technician.

There’s a cracking confrontation between Quatermass and Breen.  “Is Colonel Breen an imbecile or a coward?  Is Colonel Breen afraid of something, so afraid that he resorts to the thinnest rationalisations?”  Sadly, there’s no time for the argument to heat up any more as there’s been a death inside the capsule.  The last shot is rather oblique – “something” seems to be growing inside the capsule.  But we’ll have to wait until the next and final episode to find out what.

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.

Quatermass and the Pit – Episode Three – Imps and Demons

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The unfortunate Private West (John Walker) has seen something strange inside the capsule.  His collapse agitates Breen considerably – it’s another inexplicable happening and therefore something that the Colonel hasn’t been trained to deal with.  But it is interesting to see that later in the episode he does calm down and his relationship with Quatermass, whilst still a little spiky, is more settled.

Quatermass is intrigued by the composition of the capsule.  “Ceramic material of some kind, resistant to heat to over three thousand degrees, harder than diamond.  It’s what every rocket engineer has been searching for.  A heatproof casing to get through the earth’s atmosphere.”  Although the inference is plain that this is some kind of spaceship, it’s not overtly spelled out at this time – as with six episodes to play with, there’s no need to rush.  Quatermass is also able to mock Breen’s faint hope that it may be a German device.  “You think the Germans made it in 1940 and then lost the secret?  Ask them.  Ask von Braun.”

Observing the activity around the capsule, Corporal Gibson (Harold Goodwin) wonders if Quatermass knows what he’s doing and decides that “he doesn’t.  None of ’em do this time.”  This is quite true as Quatermass is as much in the dark as everybody else.  By the time we reach the end of the story we’ll be able to consider just what the cost of Quatermass’ scientific curiosity was.  He wants to see inside the sealed chamber (as does Breen) and it’s this desire which causes all the problems from hereon in.  But, of course, had he not then the story would have been a good deal shorter!

Quatermass and Breen agree that a borazon drill might have a chance of making an impression on the door.  It would mean hiring a civilian contractor, but it’s judged to be worth the risk.  Sladden (Richard Shaw) turns up and prepares to set to work.  He’s a cheerful chap, although subsequent events wipe the smile off his face somewhat, especially in the next episode.  Sladden’s initial drilling certainly generates a reaction – creating an unearthly sound which affects everybody – especially Sladden, Quatermass and Breen.  Quatermass grabs Roney and leaves the pit area in a hurry, urging Potter to tell Breen not to continue with the drilling until he returns.

Whilst this is going on, the press (in the shape of James Fullalove) begin to take more of an interest.  The character of Fullalove had featured in The Quatermass Experiment and it had been hoped that Paul Whitson-Jones would reprise the role, but as he was unavailable Brian Worth took over.  Fullalove attaches himself to Quatermass and Roney and the three of them set off to do some research.  In the previous episode, we saw how Hobbs Lane had featured in the newspapers (back in 1927) when the story of the ghost surfaced.  Imps and Demons delves even further back into the past as it becomes clear that mysterious sightings and disturbances have been recorded for centuries, dating back to medieval times.

Returning to the pit, Quatermass finds that a hole has been made in the capsule, but not by Sladden – it just simply appeared.  Breen is still attempting to find a logical explanation for this strange occurrence.  “I suppose the vibrations of the drill must have affected all this material in some way.”  But even he can’t explain what he sees within the chamber.  He allows Quatermass to look and the Professor is equally surprised and shocked – there’s a telling moment between the two of them (for once, we see no bluster from Breen – he simply has to accept the evidence of his own eyes).

When the door is finally opened, the occupants of the capsule are exposed for the first time in five million years.  Quatermass reassures Breen.  “It’s all right.  They’re dead.  They’ve been dead for a long time.”  It’s another striking cliff-hanger which only adds another layer of mystery to the story.  If the strange inhabitants are dead, where do the centuries worth of disturbances emanate from?

Quatermass and the Pit – Episode Two – The Ghosts

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Quatermass and the Pit is as much a ghost story as it is a science fiction one.  This is a theme that Kneale would re-use in the years to come (The Stone Tape) and it’s easy to see why – the clash between science and superstition is a very potent one.  Doctor Who would also draw heavily from this Kneale template over the following decades (The Daemons is a prime example and Image of the Fendahl is probably the Doctor Who story most indebted to QATP).

Whilst the work to uncover the mysterious object continues, Quatermass is intrigued by the derelict house at the nearby Hobbs Lane.  This disrepair wasn’t caused by bomb damage (as it’s clear that only a handful of incendiary devices fell in this area during WW2.  Which also makes Breen’s claim that the object is a previously unknown German weapon rather unlikely).

The discovery that the object is emitting radioactivity (although at a very low level) is enough to ensure that operations are suspended whilst tests are carried out to verify whether it’s safe to continue.  At something of a loose end, Quatermass heads over to the abandoned house to have a look around.  He’s joined by P.C. Ellis (Victor Platt) who knows the history of the place and confirms that it’s been empty since 1927 due to a ghost scare.  Although Ellis was only a child back then, he still remembers the stories and whilst he tells Quatermass that it’s clearly all nonsense, he displays a palpable sense of unease as he moves through the house with Quatermass.  Victor Platt is terribly good in this scene, it’s mostly just exposition (laying the groundwork for the tale of the haunted house which Mrs Chilcott will explain in more depth later) but Platt is able to give Ellis a real sense of character.  Good performances from the minor players are one of the main strengths of this serial.

Two residents, Mr and Mrs Chilcott (Howell Davies and Hilda Barry) have been evacuated nearby, so Quatermass pops in to speak to them.  Barry had previously appeared in Quatermass II (as Mrs Large) and she gives another nice cameo performance here.  It’s obvious that she’s the dominant partner in the marriage, particularly since Mr Chilcott seems to be rather poorly.  “I couldn’t find his long woolies, you know, his clean ones. He may have to wear two pair at once. It’s cold.”  As the majority of the story is set amongst the military, her appearance does lighten the mood a little.

The Chilcotts are staying with Miss Groome (Madge Brindley).  When Quatermass enters, Miss Groome is telling Mrs Chilcott’s fortune with tea leaves.  This tells us that Miss Groome is a believer in the supernatural and is therefore somebody who holds diametrically opposed views from the rational Quatermass.  So his interest in the haunted house does surprise her.  “I thought all you scientists were sceptics” she says.  “We’re open-minded, most of us, or we try to be” he replies.  Mrs Chilcott’s story – mysterious noises, objects moving by themselves, a ghostly figure – is fairly typical, but what’s the explanation?  Miss Groome would no doubt be adamant they were manifestations from the other side, but the obvious inference being drawn is that it may have something to do with the mysterious object – which has apparently lain undisturbed for five million years.

The discovery of another ape skull – this one actually in the object – gives Colonel Breen even more pause for thought.  Anthony Bushell is very solid as the blinkered solider.  He likes things to be logical and rational and as the evidence begins to pile up to the contrary, he begins to lose his grip.  It’s only expressed in a subtle way during this episode, but it becomes more pronounced as the story progresses.  His reluctance to believe the evidence in front of him is highlighted by a report that confirms the radiation dates from five million years ago.  Since he finds this impossible to believe, he’s quite happy to dismiss it – anything that’s outside of his understanding he ignores.  If Quatermass and the Pit is something of a puzzle, then Breen is the sort of man that will desperately try and make the pieces fit – even if it’s clear they don’t.

Quatermass later tells Roney exactly what he feels about his new colleague.  “I told you my Rocket Group’s been taken over.  Well, he’s the official receiver.  He’s a career militarist of the worst type.  Cold, efficient, just biding his time.  That’s my colleague.”  Breen elects to use excavators to quickly unearth the object and its eventual reveal is an impressive moment.  It’s a wonderful piece of design work from Clifford Hatts – it looks substantial and solid.

Whilst some people may feel that this episode hasn’t advanced the plot very far, I’d disagree.  It’s been more about character and atmosphere – and both have been delivered in spades.  The cliff-hanger is also very striking and provides a strong hook into the next episode.  One of the soldiers, upon entering the object, reacts in terror at the sight of a mysterious figure who walked through the wall.  Instantly this recalls to us the stories of the haunted house in Hobbs Lane and the connection helps to tie the various story threads a little tighter together.

Quatermass and the Pit – Episode One – The Halfmen

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For many people, including myself, Quatermass and the Pit is the pick of the Quatermass serials.  Partly this may be due to familiarity (an edited compilation was released on VHS in 1988) but it’s undeniably a quality production.  It’s certainly the best-looking of the original trilogy, thanks to advances in the late 1950’s with the telerecording process as well as the existence of the original film sequences.

Quatermass II was telerecorded with a suppressed-field recorder, whilst Quatermass and the Pit used a stored-field film recorder. The upshot is that the picture quality of this third serial is much more detailed and smoother (plus the original video look was restored for the DVD release).  The film sequences, as per usual for the time, were shot on 35mm film and the majority of them have scrubbed up very well.  Comparing the pristine film inserts here to the blurry ones from Quatermass II is pretty much a night and day scenario.

So it looks very good, but what about the story?  It’s a very different beast from Quatermass II.  QII hopped from location to location and had a fairly large cast.  Whilst various characters come and go in QATP, the action centres on just three individuals – Professor Quatermass, Dr Matthew Roney and Colonel Breen.

After the wooden performance of John Robinson, it’s clear within a few minutes that we’re in very safe hands with André Morell.  Morell’s Quatermass has many traits that Robinson’s take on the character sorely lacked – a wry sense of humour and personal charm, for example – whilst he still exhibits the same steely determination. As we’ll see in this episode, this is an older, more embittered Quatermass. The rocket group that he founded is still active, and establishing bases on the moon is still the intention, but the military now have the upper hand and Quatermass faces being reduced to a mere bystander.

Dr Matthew Roney (Cec Linder) is, like Quatermass, an expert and enthusiast in his field. The opening scene shows us the discovery of a strangely-shaped skull, unearthed during the redevelopment of a site in Knightsbridge. There’s a nice piece of visual shorthand used after this – as the camera tracks across a series of newspapers, each displaying related headlines (“Apemen at Knightsbridge”, “Further discoveries at Knightsbridge”, “Knightsbridge Apemen – More Finds” and “Three More Bodies Says Scientist”) which significantly advances the plot in a matter of seconds.

Roney, together with his devoted assistant Miss Judd (Christine Finn), calls a press conference to try and drum up some publicity for his finds – he’s also trying to force the contractors to give him extra time to continue the excavations. Roney unveils an impression of what he considers the apeman (who he believes has lain undisturbed for at least five million years) could have looked like.  Later he receives some good-natured ribbing from his friends and colleagues about this.  “You know, a lot of people may think it’s a trifle improper to publicise wild guesses”.  Roney agrees, but it was a gimmick that sparked press interest – and publicity is what he needs.  Afterwards, he runs into Quatermass.  Quatermass is off to the War Office and tells him that “for all your troubles you’ve got one thing to be thankful for.  There’s no military value in fossil apes.”

Colonel Breen (Anthony Bushell) has just been seconded to Quatermass’ rocket group as deputy controller.  Breen is the personification of everything that Quatermass despises, so it’s pretty clear that their partnership will be an uneasy one.  In this episode, Breen appears to be a straightforward, capable officer.  As the serial develops, we’ll see how he reacts when faced with events that are outside his strict frame of reference ….

The meeting at the War Office therefore couldn’t have gone worse for Quatermass.  He’s essentially lost control of the rocket group (the Minister makes it clear that whilst there’s no call for his immediate resignation, it’s something that will probably happen in the not too distant future).  Quatermass created the rocket group for peaceful, scientific research and he’s horrified to find it appropriated by the military for their own ends.  “From the very start we’ll be going into space with one thought – war!  We’re on the verge of a new dimension of discovery.  It’s the great chance to leave our vices behind us, war, first of all.  Not to go out there dragging our hatreds and our frontiers with us.”

Needless to say, this speech (delivered to mostly military types) is treated with stony indifference.  So it’s maybe something of a relief when Roney turns up with a problem.  The excavation has been halted – due to the discovery of what looks like an unexploded bomb.  Roney isn’t happy with the officer in charge, Captain Potter (John Stratton), and wonders if Quatermass can do anything to help.  Quatermass rather neatly manages to persuade Breen to take a look, so the three of them head out to the site.

Stratton would be a familiar television face for decades (much later he would turn in a ripe performance as Shockeye in the Doctor Who story The Two Doctors).  He’s much straighter here (and barely recognisable) as the young officer.  There’s also some familiar faces in his squad, such as Harold Goodwin as Corporal Gibson and Hammer Films stalwart Michael Ripper as the Sergeant.

By the time we reach the end of the episode, many of the blocks of the story are in place, but there’s plenty of facts that are still unclear.  What’s interesting is how the pieces of the puzzle are slowly assembled – basically Quatermass and the Pit is a detective story and we’ll see Quatermass and the others uncovering information in the later episodes by various means (via books, talking to people, experiments, etc).  This is far removed from the thriller-like Quatermass II which operated in a much more straightforward way.

What appeared at first to be an unexploded bomb now looks increasingly odd.  It’s far too large, for one thing.  And the other important fact that Quatermass alone seems to have grasped is that it was below where the skull was found.  And if the skull had lain undetected for five million years, how long has the “bomb” been there?

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.