Quatermass and The Pit part 4
15 February 2014 at 17:32 #25326Craig @craigEmperor
Episode 4. “Knightsbridge Apemen – Now Monster Insects”
The creatures from the ship are carefully removed and Quatermass and Roney speculate on their origin. Are they Martians? Quatermass wonders if they have a role in the history of human evolution.
Breen: Are you trying to make out there can be any connection between those apes and your insects?
Quatermass: Your insects. I think you saw them first.
Not that I was even alive in 1959, but the last few minutes of this episode seem light years ahead of what I imagine TV was like then. They still take my breath away.15 February 2014 at 21:18 #25330Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip
Episode 4: ‘The Enchanted’.
They’ve switched one of the live cameras around for the spaceship interior; it’s now shooting from the ‘control room’, the actors framed by the dead monsters.
Roney is enthralled by the science; he’s a paleontologist – this is as thrilling as discovering a prehistoric body beautifully preserved by a bog. And probably as smelly – everyone else is busy trying not to throw up.
Quatermass helpfully explains the principle behind the preservation. No bacteria, no decomposition. The decomposition only started when our bacteria-laden air got in.
Quatermass and Fullerlove have met before, btw, though in fact both are being played by different actors. Breen, however, makes a terrible mistake. Quatermass knows Fullerlove well enough to keep on his good side; Breen kicks him out.
The horned demons – is this why the horned demon/horned deity appears across human cultures? Did these ‘Martians’ visit Earth in the past, to be remembered by all our ancient cultures?
You can see from John Stratton’s (Captain Potter) acting that he’s increasingly worried about Colonel Breen. That’s the only way we have of knowing that Breen’s acting out of character. Very out of character; he’s a professional soldier and it’s strongly implied (“I know the smell of death and how long it lasts”) that he’s seen front-line active service. But he’s terrified. So terrified that he goes for an obviously false ‘common sense’ explanation.
Quatermass, meanwhile, is following the evidence where it leads. Creatures from another planet, hominids that don’t fit the evolutionary pattern. Were they altered by the Martians? Has our evolution been adapted to suit Martian goals?
The Minister is so upset, he lets slip that Breen was supposed to take over the British Rocket Group. He certainly doesn’t like Quatermass’s ideas about their biological manipulation of our human ancestors. The Hobb’s Lane spaceship is only one of a fleet; one which crashed and killed all on board.
The Minister prefers a plausible common-sense explanation to consulting experts; let’s get things back to normal instead of panicking people with 5 million year old alien invasions. ‘A false alarm’ is a much safer story.
Just to contrast with the ‘hoax’, the squaddies remind us that the spacecraft is a) giving them frostbite and b) the stories predate German bombs. Meanwhile Barbara Judd needs to get some notes: just as Sladden is left alone to clear up his equipment.
As @craig says, the final minutes of this episode (the part that had me wishing for a sofa and a teddy-bear last week) are light-years ahead of 1950’s television. You suddenly realise why the BBC had decided to warn people in the 6pm trailer that Quatermass might not be suitable for those of a nervous disposition.
If you haven’t watched the episode – go watch it now. Unless, of course, you’re of ‘a nervous disposition.’ 🙂
Okay. So how the hell did they manage all this in 1959?
Firstly, the final scenes are all filmed, not ‘live’. It wouldn’t have been possible to do this level of special effects live. This was groundbreaking TV. The spanner effect was achieved by magnets, hidden underneath the planking. The cables are being moved by compressed air jets. The planks are being manipulated using an old stage technique, though – very fine fishing line.
The coffee stall is also partly very fine fishing line, and partly people off-camera (including Nigel Kneale) chucking crockery at Richard Shaw (Sladden). [This is an effect still seen in Doctor Who today – Silence in the Library used the ‘technicians off-camera throwing the books’ method].
The final scene, with the ground moving under Sladden, was achieved by nailing half-round pieces of timber onto webbing, putting a tarpaulin over that, then evenly scattering gravel over that. Pull timber as required. Simple, but unbelievably effective.
Sweet dreams. 😀16 February 2014 at 13:34 #25355ScaryB @scaryb
Absolute belter – even viewing it from a 21st century perspective where the ideas of sentient/organic spacecraft and human genetic manipulation by aliens are well established.
Thanks @bluesqueakpip for the technical background. It’s interesting that the current DW team say they also prefer to use real-time effects to CGI whenever possible.
The direction and lighting are great, with imaginative use of angles. But it’s the acting (and the script) that really sells it. Breen has been rattled since last week, since the noise when they first tried drilling. The changing power balance between him and Quatermass is subtle and interesting. And I really like Roney now. He and Quatermass recognise a mutual shared excitement about the potential of the discovery. They’re not afraid of a brave new universe where humans are not the only lifeforms.
I really like the scene with the minister – the way the establishment latches on to the possibility of a Nazi hoax, because the alternative is too challenging to their world-view even to contemplate, is very convincing. (The equivalent of sticking fingers in their ears and shouting “lalala”). It would be all too easy to “sell” that to the press and the wider public, especially without the benefit of mobile phones and internet blogs.
btw would be interested to know if @jimthefish has changed his opinion re the depiction of the “menials” as this has developed. Personally I think eg the squaddies are interesting and fairly rounded for supporting characters17 February 2014 at 11:21 #25385Anonymous @
@scaryb — I’m afraid I’ve not been keeping up of late. I’ll have to make time to sit down and catch up on 3 and 4 before carrying on with my Dave Spart-esque class rantings… 🙂18 February 2014 at 02:46 #25402Thujone @thujone
All in all, another fine episode. I much prefer Brian Worth’s performance as Fullalove to Paul Whitsun-Jones’s (slightly too stagey) portrayal in the original Quatermass serial.
Robert Perceval’s performance as the Minister is a joy to watch, though my reading of the character, pace ScaryB, is not so much that he is sticking his fingers in his ears and shouting “Lalala!” (which is what Breen is effectively doing), as that he is utterly unaware there’s anything to ignore: he is concerned simply and exclusively to protect his own political position, and cannot see beyond it. I don’t think he “lets slip” the line about Breen taking over the Rocket Group because he’s upset, as Bluesqueakpip says: rather, it’s an entirely deliberate reminder to Quatermass of where the power lies, a little flick of the whip because the Professor is being troublesome.
Richard Shaw’s astonishing hunched posture and lurching, uneven gait (one might almost say “tripudiation”) as he comes up out of the pit is also worthy of mention. I like the little touch that, despite the fact that something is obviously very wrong with the enchanted Sladden, the coffee-stall man still automatically moves to get a cup for him before all Hell breaks loose.
Meanwhile, though the episode closes on Sladden and his pursuing cloud of special effects, we shouldn’t forget Miss Judd, whom we left unconscious in the arms of Captain Potter. Their romance has so far been possibly the most understated in the history of television (there’s nothing at all overt about it; it’s simply in the way they instinctively turn to each other – keep an eye out for it next time you watch the whole serial through). What will happen now?18 February 2014 at 17:58 #25433Arbutus @arbutus
I wonder what general knowledge of biology was like in the fifties. It was obvious to me why the bodies wouldn’t have decomposed until the sealed chamber was opened, and I’m not especially science-minded. It surprised me a bit that the colonel needed this explained.
@bluesqueakpip Even without the captain’s hint, Colonel Breem’s extreme reaction seemed out of place. My first thought during that scene was that he was that he had really gone over the edge! This was also pointed up in the contrast between his reaction to events and that of the minister. The minister listened to the alien theory calmly enough that I began to think he might buy it, then just as calmly expressed satisfaction when presented with a more convenient “explanation”. Breem, on the other hand, was much more emotional in both his rejection of one and presentation of the other.
@scaryb, I too enjoyed the pure delight shown by Roney and Quatermass as they drew their conclusions. And the squaddies are definitely smarter than their “betters” in this case!18 February 2014 at 20:21 #25440Anonymous @
Finally caught up and this is great stuff. I remember seeing the reveal of the insects as a 10-year-old — which I think must have been the Hammer movie version and it’s really stayed with me ever since. This is really smart TV and as @craig says must really have had an impact on audiences back in the 50s. The shifting ground at the end of episode four is a really chilling moment.
The portrayal of the journos is just awful though. I know times have changed but I don’t think stories have ever been shaped by three blokes in an isolated office. Certainly they wouldn’t be deciding on headlines and the use of pics like that. However, I’m assuming that they just didn’t want to fork out for the expense of a newsroom set. (I’d recommend the 1963 pic The Day The Earth Caught Fire for a much better portrayal of this angle btw. And a cracking little Brit SF thriller to boot.)
You can also see with every passing episode the fingerprints that it has had on Who over the years — lots of stuff reminiscent of the Daemons, Image of the Fendahl, Web of Fear, perhaps even Planet of Evil here, as well as the more obvious ones of boffins vs politicians vs military.
On which note, just the briefest of clarifications on earlier grumblings about portrayal of proles. I wasn’t arguing so much that the working class characters are badly portrayed as much as the show demonstrates the still class-bound mores of the time. Despite whatever grumblings or resentment they might quietly express, the ‘menials’, including the soldiers and policemen still knuckle down and do what their told at the mere presence of a public school-educated accent.
But as @bluesqueakpip says, we’re dealing with an audience for whom WWII is still a recent memory, who were still dealing with the reality of UXBs, National Service and an ingrained class structure. But a few years down the line we’ll have That Was the Week That Was and “I know my place”. If this serial had been made 10 years later the tone would have been much different. (And indeed take a look at the 1979 Quatermass with John Mills, where he is portrayed very much as a man out of his time.)
And we can see just how it changes things slightly by watching UNIT Who. Politicians are always fools (as they are here) but commanding officers (i.e. The Brig) is constantly undermined and defied, often to his face, the distinction between ‘officer’ class (Yates) and the ‘ranks’ (Benton) is blurred by seeing them socialise with each other — they’re shown to be mates much more than superior and subordinate. And of course Yates ends up being shown to be a wrong ‘un in the end.
We can also see this in the Web of Fear too. Look at the outright bolshiness of Evans or how the power in the Bunker seems to reside much more with Sgt Arnold (or before Episode Six anyway) rather than Captain Knight or Lethbridge Stewart. Authority or automatic respect for authority is just not the same given as it is in The Pit. But I could be projecting a bit here. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been told I have a problem with authority figures.
And all this isn’t a criticism of the writing. Not in any way. Just an observation of how Britain has changed since the show was made. As I’ve said before, the serial is as much fascinating social document as it is a cracking bit of SF and telly history.
(And where on earth is @phaseshift? This rewatch was meant to be ‘his baby’ and he’s been decidedly conspicuous by his absence.)19 February 2014 at 11:39 #25454Nick @nick
Hi there. Great analysis. One thing which struck me reading this though was this comment:
And we can see just how it changes things slightly by watching UNIT Who….We can also see this in the Web of Fear too. Look at the outright bolshiness of Evans or how the power in the Bunker seems to reside much more with Sgt Arnold.
My limited recollection of 1950’s TV/Film repeats from the 1970s was that the idea that the Army in the Field was actually run by the SM/RSM was quite prevalent in the 1950s already ? From what I recall, Carry of Sergeant (1958) has a comedy SM/RSM (played by William Hartnell) in much the same vein. I recall (but I doubt its based on an actually watching the show) that William played much the same role in The Army Game (1957 to 1961) and I guess is has much earlier roots still. I rather expect this idea actually goes back into WW2 and the immediate post war and is based on actual experience. They’re not called non-commissioned officers for nothing !
I’m not sure that something like this “commanding officers (i.e. The Brig) is constantly undermined and defied, often to his face” would ever have tolerated at any time in the Military, although I think some individuals can get away with behavior which wouldn’t be tolerated for the majority. Your underlying point about the break down of social/class barriers and the end of automatic deference from the 1930’s to 1970’s is spot on though (IMO although I also think there is reversal currently happening).
Nick19 February 2014 at 12:41 #25459Anonymous @
Yeah, I think the trope of the capable NCO essentially doing the job of the senior officers does have a long pedigree — perhaps even going back to WWI but I think pre-1960 it was a lot less blatant. Your point about Carry On Sergeant and The Army Game I think kind of illustrates it and they were two of the shows (well, essentially they were the same thing really) that helped contribute to the shift in attitudes.
I’m not sure that something like this “commanding officers (i.e. The Brig) is constantly undermined and defied, often to his face” would ever have tolerated at any time in the Military
I’m pretty sure there are several instances of the Brig being openly corrected or argued with by the people under his command. Certainly it happens in The Three Doctors which I rewatched recently as part of anniversary reminisces. But let’s face it UNIT probably counts as one of the most unrealistic portrayals of the British Army ever put on screen. Unlike the Quatermass serial, which I think is probably a lot more accurate.
IMO although I also think there is reversal currently happening
I think there are those who would like to see a reversal happen but I doubt that it ever really will. That horse has well and truly bolted.19 February 2014 at 14:05 #25461Nick @nick
Sorry if I wasn’t clear, I meant that I didn’t think the UNIT example was necessarily that valid to illustrate your point in the 1970’s. I would imagine that military planning meetings are a relatively open exchange of ideas regardless of rank present, but when the decision has been made delivery is rather hierarchical, which is what makes it more effective (at getting things done) than a civilian organization (Of course this is also a weakness which is why civilian organisations don’t adopt military style discipline).
I think social mobility and social class structures are becoming somewhat ossified at the moment, as money/privilege has become more effective in maintaining economic privilege than it was when I went to school/university in the 1970s/1980s. Going back to the thrust of your comments on part 4 and before (and @bluesqueakpip‘s observations) post war, I think (I’m making a sweeping generalization here) in the 1950s to 1970s it was much more prevalent to see senior authority figure roles being presented as ex-Grammar school or ex senior military from WW2 (ability not birth being the route to advancement). These days there seems to be more of a public school/Oxbridge background portrayed for today’s authority figures.
I agree with you that automatic deference to authority has gone and doesn’t look like coming back anytime soon, but we do seem to be moving (back) to a more Victorian like have/have not’s society with the many of the social/economic gains made in the 20th century being eroded at the moment.
Nick19 February 2014 at 14:46 #25466Anonymous @
it was much more prevalent to see senior authority figure roles being presented as ex-Grammar school or ex senior military from WW2 (ability not birth being the route to advancement). These days there seems to be more of a public school/Oxbridge background portrayed for today’s authority figures.
@nick — yep, totally agree with you and with your points about the military in general.
we do seem to be moving (back) to a more Victorian like have/have not’s society with the many of the social/economic gains made in the 20th century being eroded at the moment
Agree with this too. But the optimist in me is hoping that we’re looking at a temporary reversal caused by the current political trends and that the wheel will turn again, so to speak. I’d hate to think that all the hard work and sacrifices of the past 100-odd years into creating a fairer society that affords opportunity based on ability rather than birth isn’t going to be lost forever…19 February 2014 at 16:38 #25470Monochrome Dimension @monochromedimension
Okay I’m up to speed with everyone else now. That ending sequence was amazing, especially for its time. Very atmospheric filming, and also paired with the radiophonics makes it all very creepy. Many theories being flung about at the moment as to what is actually going on, and quite a few disagreements too. I wonder what Quatermass will think of the strange goings on in those last few minutes of the episode?
I’ll wait to watch the next part until its posted here, at least I’ve finally watched the four already posted.19 February 2014 at 18:01 #25473Craig @craigEmperor
I started to experience it myself in the 90s when working in the film industry. If you didn’t have a posh accent and couldn’t afford to work for free it was hard to get ahead. You see it more and more in the media industries like PR, in politics, and even in music.
I blame the current bland state of music not on me getting older (although that may be the real reason) but on the number of bands made up of posh boys getting record contracts as it’s now seen as a valid career.
That’s why I like that Moffat is a bloke from Paisley who’s made good (even if he had a few leg-ups on the way).19 February 2014 at 22:07 #25487Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip
@nick and JimTheFish
the idea that the Army in the Field was actually run by the SM/RSM was quite prevalent in the 1950s already
It was quite prevalent in Victorian times. Or Georgian times. Probably in Roman times…
The sergeant is the detail person. The officer will either (depending on their branch) be the person with the technical education or the person trained to take a tactical approach.
So in Quatermass, Colonel Breen and Captain Potter will both probably be pretty good at maths, physics and chemistry. In the 1950’s they most likely wouldn’t be graduates like Quatermass – they would have had specialist training in the army. Captain Potter’s job is to stop the bomb exploding; the Sergeant’s job is to organise the squad to do all the technical work required. It gets confusing because most of the time, he won’t really need Captain Potter to get the job done. He needs Captain Potter when there’s a UXB that doesn’t follow the standard pattern.
I think that – by the time you got to UNIT – you still had people who’d done National Service. Thing was, most of the National Service officers would’ve never got beyond 2nd Lieutenant. And part of a sergeant’s job is training the 2nd Lieutenant…
UNIT was supposed to be a very specialist organisation indeed, so it’s probably not surprising that the command structure got a little informal. 😉 Military discipline is designed to create a habit of instant obedience, in situations where the various possible tactics are known in advance but any hesitation once the right tactic is decided on is likely to get people killed.
UNIT, otoh, was invariably in situations where they hadn’t got a clue what was going on, what would work, or what that lunatic in the cape was doing. 🙂 In those circumstances it’s not uncommon for the specialist team to dump normal discipline in favour of everyone throwing in ideas.
@craig – don’t get me onto the ‘intern-isation’ of the arts. 😈27 February 2014 at 14:31 #25823PhaseShift @phaseshiftTime Lord
That was an excellent summary of the special effects techniques by @bluesqueakpip, and aren’t they effective? The rippling ground effect in particular is very unsettling.
Absolute belter – even viewing it from a 21st century perspective where the ideas of sentient/organic spacecraft and human genetic manipulation by aliens are well established.
I think that’s an important part of the charm for me in looking at older sci-fi, where you recognise something that is taken for granted these days being introduced into the public perception – the ideas creeping in, perhaps without the recognisable terminology we take for granted. Potter is speculating that perhaps the hull did the “thinking”. These days we’d just say that the ship housed an AI. Quatermass postulates the insects had access to “Biological techniques”. It was only a decade since DNA had been advanced as the “Transforming Principle” for hereditary and in the same decade the Double Helix was postulated, He uses terms like selective breeding, the idea of deliberate and direct genetic engineering at a molecular level being perhaps a little fanciful for him. Interesting to note that the other great populiser of genetic alteration, Day of the Triffids, was written at the start of this decade in 1951.
The vision of these Martians having three legs was a deliberate production nod to the most famous representation of Martians at the time – the Tripod war machines in “War of the worlds”.
I agree Potters concern for Breen is important. He’s out of sorts and frankly, clutching at straws with his German conspiracy. The papers sensationalising and the Government Minister spinning a story he can believe. Or perhaps a story that he thinks “the public” will accept. My – how times change. 🙂27 February 2014 at 14:34 #25824
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