Quatermass and The Pit part 6
1 March 2014 at 12:51 #25922Craig @craigEmperor
The final part. “Hob”
Following the death of the electrician and another vision by Miss Judd, Quatermass believes they are all in grave danger and wants everyone to leave. Breen demands they carry on with the TV broadcast as planned.
All Hell, quite literally, breaks loose, leaving Quatermass and Roney to try and end it.
An amazing climax to an incredible programme, full of groundbreaking moments. And there’s a moral to the story too.1 March 2014 at 19:33 #25953Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip
The final episode.
Ah, the 1950’s. There’s just been a fatal accident in the Pit. Oh, well, never mind. Somebody get an ambulance while we switch the generators back on… it’s times like this that you feel really grateful for the Health & Safety at Work Act. 😉
In this final episode, you start to wonder. Is Breen entirely ‘himself’ when he sets things up so that the hull has the maximum amount of electrical energy and is surrounded by people? Is it stupidity; or a compulsion he doesn’t understand?
Whichever it is, preparations for the press conference (later to be homaged by the Third Doctor story The Daemons) go on. The breakdown of the conference as the hull awakens is shown entirely on television. My guess is that the ‘TV’ is being used as an output monitor for a fixed camera on the live ‘Pit’ set. That way they can get the impression of absolute chaos with just a few extras running frantically past the camera.
If you look at the TV output, it’s one camera on a tiny corner of set. When we cut from the pub to the pre-filmed Pit there’s a much wider set and much more fluid camera work with several cameras.
So from Sladden and Barbara Judd apparently being the only ones affected, we’re starting to see a sliding scale. Breen is badly affected, hypnotised by the hull. Quatermass is able to concentrate on rescuing people at first, but struggles. Potter is barely affected (he later says he feels a bit sick) and Fullalove doesn’t seem to notice any effect at all.
The budget for the filmed inserts is used to good effect here; it allows something very rare for 1950’s TV – screaming crowds and a near riot. Careful positioning of vehicles means that it looks like they have far more extras than they do – the extras are generally fighting their way through a bottleneck, except for the final street scene.
The pre-filmed scenes are then carefully combined with the interior scenes that could be done live. So we see the effect of the events outside by their impact on the pub-goers. As the terrifying compulsion reaches them they rush out into the pre-filmed insert.
Meanwhile, we find that another person is unaffected. Roney. I remember when we first mooted this rewatch, @blenkinsopthebrave mentioned that he thought Cec Linder’s portrayal of Roney was out of place, somehow. And I had to button my lip very firmly – because Roney is a bit out of place. He’s supposed to be out of place. Like Potter (the officer with the regional accent) and the Vicar, Rev. Gilpin, he’s supposed to be not-one-of-us. He’s not a ‘Martian’. And because he’s not a ‘Martian’, he’s able to rescue Quatermass.
Quatermass, in this final episode, is playing us. We all (except for a few rare souls) have racist impulses; we all should try to fight them. We don’t have to take part in the race riots.
Talking about Quatermass, you can see why everyone remembers Andre Morell as Quatermass. He’s pitch perfect in this scene, his ‘were they people?’ genuinely terrifying. You know he doesn’t know if they were. If he still is.
You can see the terror in his eyes.
The scene with the Newspaper editor always feels to me as if they needed more time than the filmed insert gave them to set up the next ‘live’ scene. Admittedly it reminds us of Fullalove, but it still seems a bit ‘yup, they’re still rioting out there’. Perhaps, rather than needing the actors to run to the next set, they needed the techies to run between the special effects.
The derelict house next to the ‘Pit’? Another Chekhov’s gun, as Potter and Barbara Judd use it to hide in. We also see, now, how effective the compulsion is. Barbara Judd and Captain Potter have been having a quiet, understated romance. The sort that suggests Miss Judd will shortly become Mrs Potter (it’s the Fifties!). But here, she’s trying to kill him. Again, nice acting by Christine Finn – you can see she can no longer see ‘who’ he is. Just that he’s not-a-Martian.
However, one of the disadvantages of live TV is that when the fight goes wrong, you just have to go with it. I have no idea how a blow to the back (I imagine it was meant to be the neck) will knock someone out, but let’s just imagine it was Venusian Akido. 😀
We’ve seen Quatermass struggle to recognise Roney, we’ve seen Barbara try to kill Captain Potter – now we see the death of one of our regular characters. Fullalove isn’t affected; but in this case that’s a problem. Because he isn’t affected he has no idea he’s in danger from Colonel Breen and the two other men left in the Pit. He keeps taking photos, still doing his job – at the moment when the compulsion changes to ‘kill’.
So the ‘Martians’ kill him by telekinesis, stoning him to death. Remember that this was the second Quatermass story for the character of Fullalove; it must have been completely shocking to the audience. Regularly recurring characters don’t die – except that here, they do.
Having just killed off a recurring character, Quatermass tries to kill Roney. Given that the audience were probably just completely off-kilter through Fullalove’s death, there must have been a real moment of ‘they’re not going to … he’s not going to … they wouldn’t have Quatermass kill someone? Would they?’
Fortunately that’s not the moral. As I said, Quatermass is us. If he kills Roney, Kneale is saying that our violent impulses, our hatred of the other, are something uncontrollable. But that’s not what he wants to say; instead Quatermass fights back, with the help of his friend. He concentrates on his human memories, his memory that this man is a man, is his good friend.
And now we’ve seen it in person, the ‘off-stage’ effects become utterly terrifying. We know that these scenes are being repeated across London as people start to destroy anything ‘UnMartian’, even down to harmless pets.
Another ‘set move’ scene as Roney and Quatermass gallop over to the derelict house set. But the newsreader and airplane scene serve another purpose; they set up the imaginative use of genuine Blitz footage of London from the air and on the ground, a London burning and destroyed. When this was broadcast, that would have been a living memory to most of the audience.
The hull is giving off so much energy it’s nearly melted (a wax model) and a glowing image of a Martian (the horned devil) is now hovering over London. Captain Potter is busy opening a hole between the derelict house and the Pit. Quite what his plan is, we don’t know – but Roney’s knowledge of myths and legends comes into play. The enemy of the devil is iron and water.
The harmless pets; the blind man, our friends, the people we love. People and creatures that we ought to protect, being murdered by the mob. It’s never answered – but you wonder what happened to Mr Chilcott, the old man with dementia, whom we saw in Episodes 1 and 2. His wife loved him – but did she end up killing him? I always hope not; that perhaps they’d decided, what with all the problems, to stay with relatives in the country for a bit.
Quatermass is willing to try throwing the iron into the fireball. The final part of the action in the Pit switches to a pre-filmed insert. This allows them to open out the action again into a much larger set, climbing over the hut roof, struggling in the mud. It also gives the ‘live’ cast time to change costumes for the final scene.
Quatermass, watched by Roney and Potter gets as close to the ‘demon’ as he can – not far enough. It’s true that he can get close undetected because he’s one of those affected. But that also means that the closer he gets, the more he comes under the compulsion that – we see – has now absorbed all the living energy from Breen and the other two men. So Roney comes down, quickly takes the chain, and throws it into the apparition.
If Cec Linder looks like he’s staggering wildly towards the apparition and seems very keen to keep his arm over his eyes, that’s because he is. The amount of ‘flash’ needed (about a pound, or half a kilo) to create the effect meant that they needed him between the camera and the explosion – or the camera would burn out.
On the other hand, that amount of ‘flash’ also meant that if he looked straight at it, he would damage his eyes, possibly to the extent of being permanently blinded. Nowadays this would be handed over to a professional stunt man. Then, he did the stunt himself. He’s been given a fireproof coat, had his hair doused in water, and has padding to cover his eyes. But that means he has to head towards a rather large amount of explosive while, basically, completely blind.
They then shot him from the front with no explosion and his eyes open so that they could intercut the two shots; the one with the effect, the one with him acting.
Again, lovely acting from Andre Morell. The first two shouts of ‘Roney’ when he expects to find him. The last two when he knows that he won’t.
In the final scene, when Quatermass gives a speech that Kneale really had to fight to keep in, we see the survivors. Sladden, Rev. Gilpin, Captain Potter, Barbara Judd. The Police Inspector. The affected and the unaffected.
Last week we saw that the Vicar was also either able to fight this thing off, or is one of those not affected. As @craig said last week, the portrayal of science vs religion in Quatermass isn’t black and white. Rev. Gilpin has no part to play in this week’s story; but the religious worldview of evil forces and demonic attack does. So he’s there, in a position that implies that he kept Sladden safe when the ‘Wild Hunt’ raged. ‘Religion’, in the Fifties, was seen as one of the defences against evil. Within the story, it can be seen that the Vicar’s worldview would both allow him to easily conceptualise the compulsion as ‘evil’ and give him the tools to hand to fight it.
It’s no one ‘type’. The engineer, the scientist, the reporter, the priest. All of them were the people who’d outgrown the Martian compulsion to kill anyone different. All of them tried to protect the people who hadn’t – more than protect them, stop them. One of them died trying.
Every war-crisis, witch-hunt, race riot, purge, is a reminder and a warning. We are the Martians. If we cannot control the inheritance within us this will be their second dead planet.1 March 2014 at 23:04 #25983PhaseShift @phaseshiftTime Lord
…and how is anyone supposed to follow that post, @bluesqueakpip? 🙂 Excellent stuff.
I think anyone who hasn’t seen this before should take the opportunity. The final episode effectively pulls the strands that have been worked out in the previous episodes into a terrifying whole.
The vision of “Hob” looming above while chaos ensues is an iconic one for me, but as @bluesqueakpip notes, it’s the fact that these are normal people who are killing, joining the mob against the defenceless that is the troubling part. This is their genetic inheritance.
Putting aside the Martian aspect, this has a large element of truth within it. For a gregarious species we certainly base our group dynamics on identifying the weak. To seek out difference fairly ruthlessly on occasion. And we start at an early age, as any bullied child will tell you.
I once had the good fortune to be at a Q&A with Nigel Kneale (for a showing of Year of the Sex Olympics). It covered a lot of his work, but Quatermass featured heavily in the questions. When asked about the direct inspiration (was is race, was it the Nazis) he simply said “look around you” Before going on to say that, in truth it was all those. It was McCarthism (he’d seen some people he knew persecuted), and even time good people seemed willing to join a mob because it seemed a more immediately attractive idea that being outside it. It’s about human nature, and how we should strive to control its worst aspects. I still think he’s one of the most important TV writers we’ve produced.
I was about 11 when I purchased a second hand copy of the Script book for Quatermass and the Pit (it was the third edition, which was unusual for a script book – Arrow bought the rights after the immense success of the Penguin run). He kindly signed it for me later on but, if you are interested, here is what he wrote about the serial in his introduction a decade and a half after transmission.
“Suppose a building contractor was excavating a site for a big office block and going really deep,” I remember saying, “and suddenly came across what looked like a space ship -“
“Let’s do it!” said Rudolph Cartier.
It was 1959, when a lot of reconstruction was going on, the final rebuilding of the blitzed areas. There were hoardings up everywhere with peep-holes cut in them for passers-by to inspect progress.
The idea made a third Quatermass story possible without dropping too obviously into repetition. It had to be about alien visitation, of course, and the professor instrumental in coping – those elements were inescapable. But whereas the first serial dealt with a contact in real time and the second one with an invasion already established for a year, this would be long after the event. The intrusion would have come 5 million years in the past, when no resistance was possible, so that it succeeded wholly and built certain undesirable characteristics into Earth’s future population. Quatermass would be fighting his own hereditary. A new pattern.
The first two serials had by now re-appeared in shortened cinema-film shape. The American actor Brian Donlevy, once an excellent comic heavy but gone quite to pieces, bawled his way through them in what was meant to be the role of poor Quatermass (For the record, the third and best of those films starred Andrew Kier as Quatermass).
Our new TV professor would be Andre Morell, a civilised and debonair figure. He would be the man in the middle, one of an almost symbiotic trio. On one side of him would be the primitive Breen, played by Anthony Bushell with his special brand of ice-cold menace, and on the other side the only too human vulnerable figure of Dr. Roney. Here the Canadian actor Cec Linder put in a memorably warm performance.
These three were to typify human variants, afflicted to different degrees by the alien tampering and driven by the implanted instincts into displays of superstitious fear and racial rigidity when the capsule in the pit warmed up.
The excavation became the main element of the story. To simulate it for the pre-filmed sequences, tons of mud were spilled into the BBC’s newly acquired studios at Ealing. The designer, Clifford Hatts, made it appear to get deeper and deeper by the simple device of raising its sides, so that a contractor’s hut first seen at ground level finished up thirty feet above the bottom of the hole.
The Kine-and-Wilkie special effects team, now rich with experience, turned in brilliantly effective devices. People still talk about their poltergeisted coffee-stall, the ground that moved beneath a man’s body, the space ship that became organically alive. They made excellent Martian monsters, too, both dead and alive.
All the technically risky sequences were gathered safely on film by Cartier with the flair that had stayed with him since his UFA days. But he never ceased to push his luck, making heads shake in the luxury of the Riverside Studios, newly converted to TV, when the show came to be transmitted there. It was still largely live, and that was where the rest of the characters came in: the woman who read tea-leaves, the cop with the frightened childhood memories, the clubmen and the pensioners and the rubbernecks and the rest.
It was a time when some delicate theories where being framed about the intimate medium and the small screen and the need for social commitment. I suspect we broke most of those rules before they had a chance to harden, with what amounted in TV terms to a cast of thousands. The audience wanted, needed, enjoyed its imagination being alarmed. Soon came all those accounts of council meetings being abandoned and pubs being emptied on Quatermass night.
No, we weren’t committed. But we had some style. We were pretty good.
I think “we had some style” is definitely underselling this. 😉2 March 2014 at 04:17 #25998
Ah well yes, not really much to add to the posts above which pretty much say it all (and better than I will)!
Breen has been severely rattled since #3 (I think) when they were trying to drill thro the door – the first time he heard the noise, it got to him (more than the others). He’s been behaving like a man in denial ever since.
Fullalove comes into his own in this and his death is shocking. I wasn’t that impressed to start with, he was a pushy reporter (“I’m not a journalist I’m a reporter” (LOL) ) but like Roney he grew on me, both showing admirable (ironcially “human” ) qualities. That’s an interesting comment that they are deliberately played as outsiders. It’s a powerfully directed scene as Breen and the other 2 suddenly become aware of this “other” in their midst – just by turning their eyes (a well worn trope now, but nicely done).
And agree also that Morrell’s performance is just outstanding, not least when he calls for Roney at the end, and his despair is in the tone of voice, not the volume. And his “not just animals” line is beautifully pitched.
I thought at first the plane flying over London was going to inadvertently broadcast the noise to the USA (live TV waiting to receive a signal) and spread the madness there (shades of Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds?). The plane crash was a lucky escape.
Really gripping series, and interesting to watch it over a number of weeks, which makes more sense of the pacing. Wow! This one was tense. The moment Quatermass drops the man he was carrying, and walks away unaware, is chilling. He’s the hero, the strong mind that isn’t phased by the concept of being descended from Martians – and even he apparently can’t fight this. As @bluesqueakpip pointed out the “not us” are a wide range of people – they could be any persecuted minority who have to keep their true nature hidden from the rest of society.
Memories of WWII – of the blitz and of actual fighting would still be fresh in viewers’ minds, also the Nazi concentration camps, the pogroms, the McCarthy trials in US. Not to mention the escalating arms race and the cold war. (Not that Quatermass’s final speech seems any less relevant in 2014).
Final thought for now – I’m really glad editors/directors found more visual ways to do the “Previously on…” recaps! 😉2 March 2014 at 04:28 #26000
And yes, I hope the Chilcotts managed to avoid the mob – either having an early night with the house blocking out the effects or away with relatives in the country (ta BSP 😉 )2 March 2014 at 16:59 #26032blenkinsopthebrave @blenkinsopthebrave
Greetings all. Have been out of touch, as the result of being laid up with a broken foot, courtesy of the snowy Canadian wilderness that is rural Ontario. Well, not actually broken, but I won’t be performing the can-can anytime soon. (Good grief, what an appalling image. I should reassure you that I would never attempt to perform said dance routine, and clearly the pain is making me delirious.)
Anyway, now that the utterly, utterly brilliant Quatermass and the Pit is over, I wanted to add a feeble contribution to the excellent reflections of @bluesqueakpip, @phaseshift and @scaryb. This show must rank as one of the most important, and fabulous TV shows of all time. And what is its theme? Tolerance. I cannot think of another show intended for a popular audience that has made the point so effectively that we should always be sceptical, particularly of our own pretentions to certainty; of our own hubris.
It is a show that dealt with themes that were both universal, and very specific to a time and place. I refer to the Notting Hill race riots of 1958. Back on the board during discussion of the first episode the ever-excellent James of the piscine persuasion took offence at the representation of the Teddy Boy who was presented as a clueless twit when interviewed by the reporter. At the time, @craig rightly encouraged us to refrain from any talk that might reveal spoilers, so I bit my tongue. But in light of the themes that have become so clear by the end of the show, we should remember that the Notting Hill race riots were vivid and immediate to both the makers and the viewers of the show. And it was, in large measure, racist Teddy Boys who were responsible for the violence directed to the black inhabitants during those race riots. With knowledge of that context, the representation of the Teddy Boy was remarkably restrained, in my view. Historical context is really rather important when appreciating an historical document like Quatermass and the Pit. But no offence intended to the wonderful James of the piscine variety.
The only other TV show that I can think of that comes close to this 1958 gem in dealing with these themes in a sci-fi dystopian context was the 1981 adaptation of The Day of the Triffids. I could talk about that endlessly (but won’t, I hasten to reassure you!)
OK, starting to flag, so perhaps it is time to go off-line again, and succumb to the ministrations of Mrs Blenkinsop.2 March 2014 at 18:57 #26035
Hi and commiserations on the foot – you really shouldn’t have been attempting the can-can on ice at your age! (Deny it all you want, we have our spies. And Mrs B has our sympathies – tho she seems to be keeping you up to speed with your meds. (Is “broken foot, well not actually broken” similar to “man flu”??)).
Good point about the ’58 riots, I’d forgotten about that, I was too young for it to impinge on my awareness. And the 50s teddy boys were a long way from the cuddly “Fonzie” image they acquired later.
(Agree with you re the ’81 Triffids (the one with John Duttine?) – maybe we need a separate thread for that!)3 March 2014 at 03:53 #26046Arbutus @arbutus
Well, that was a barn burner! Fullalove’s death was the moment where I had the thought, “Wow, this has gotten really dark.” But I was absolutely flattened by Roney’s death; I did not see that coming. 😥 I thought that the conversation in the pub, where Roney helped Quatermass remember himself by reminiscing about their fishing trip, was a lovely moment, really bringing the reality of their long friendship into view. Then, after Roney’s death, it took on a whole new meaning, so very sad. His friendship with Roney saved Quatermass, but he lost Roney anyway.
I found the use of the theme music fascinating. It jumped out at me when it appeared during the rioting and fleeing, as I was pretty sure that until that point, we had only heard it with the opening and closing credits. And then, the closing music this time was quite different, much more intense and doom-laden, and finally taking on an inspirational quality. Really great stuff.
The airplane scene was extremely eery, such a simple and effective way to show us the devastation that is going on. The pilot’s description of London from the air, darkened like during the Blitz, but punctuated by flames, perfectly showed us the scope of the disaster.
@bluesqueakpip wrote, about Morell’s acting: The first two shouts of ‘Roney’ when he expects to find him. The last two when he knows that he won’t. This of course, is the moment when we also know it. It was his tone more than any other evidence that showed me that Roney had really died. Brilliant.
@phaseshift Fascinating stuff from Nigel Kneale; thanks for including it (it’s a lot of typing!).
@blenkinsopthebrave Sorry to hear about your injury. You’ve can’t be too careful on those darned Canadian sidewalks in the wintertime!3 March 2014 at 10:50 #26056The Krynoid Man @thekrynoidman
@blenkinsopthebrave I too love the 1981 adaptation of Day of the Triffids. In fact I have previously suggested we watch that next.5 March 2014 at 14:35 #26129PhaseShift @phaseshiftTime Lord
Best wishes for a rapid recovery @blenkinsopthebrave. I share the love of Day of the Triffids (I’d noted your request on the earlier thread @thekrynoidman). I think we’ll feature it soon enough with a few other one-off features and series, but as we’ve just started the RTD retrospective and are about to restart the BG retrospectives with The Time Meddler, we’ll let them bed in for a few weeks before restarting another multi-part story.30 March 2014 at 10:37 #26657Nick @nick30 March 2014 at 11:07 #26658janetteB @janetteb
I have yet to catch up on Quatermass and the Pit. Watched the film years ago and plan to watch the TV series. Have the first episode but not had time to watch it but I really wanted to add my voice to those recommending the 1981 Day of the Triffids. I remember it very fondly from my youth. We watched it again recently and it lost none of its’ appeal.
Janette30 March 2014 at 11:30 #26659Nick @nick
Thanks. It could have been a lot more serious that it was (fortunately).
I bought the DVD which I watched while on R&R and I thought in many ways it was superior to the film (apart from special effects), which has always been one of my favourites. Actually I am rather fonder of the film of Quatermass 2 although I haven’t watched the TV original as yet. I bought both script books back when I was a young teenager, which re both an excellent if a bit short read.
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.