QUATERMASS AND THE PIT
OTHER QUATERMASS SHOWS
The Quatermass Experiment (1953)
The Quatermass Experiment (2005)
Something is found in a London excavation that is first taken to be an unexploded bomb, but which soon turns into a mystery. Apparently five million years old, it is more advanced than any human rocket and might be responsible somehow for the stories of ghostly disturbances in the area. What it contains will bring science and the supernatural together in a way never imagined possible.
QUATERMASS AND THE PIT is the third and probably the most ambitious of the original Quatermass trilogy and it is also the most successful. The clever story brings together science and the ghost stories in a fascinating, brilliant and altogether convincing fashion.
It is amazing that the plot can bring together martians, ghosts, genetic experiments, race memory, telekinesis and the magic-fighting properties of iron and water into a single narrative and yet remain coherent and utterly compelling. That this was done in 1958 just compounds the acheivement.
Yes, some of the effects are ropey by today's standards, as are some of the performances, but none of that dims the quality of the writing, the brilliance of the ideas or the wonderful viewing experience.Top
A building development in Hobbs Lane, Knightsbridge unearths ancient bones that might prove mankind's origins date back 5 million years. Professor Quatermass, whilst fighting the militarisation of his rocket group, catches up with old friend and head of the archaeological dig, Roney. Then an unexploded bomb is discovered.
Nigel Kneale's third Quatermass tale starts off in a much less conventional manner than the other two. For one thing, Quatermass barely appears, the focus being on Roney and the archaeological dig. The debate over the militarisation of space is very talky, but absolutely fascinating. It does not, however appear to have anything to do with the main story.
That main story, though, is fascinating in its own right. The script is excellent, allowing the cast to come up with strong, naturalistic performances.
It's an opening set up that gives little away, but promises much.Top
Work continues on excavating what looks increasingly less like a bomb. The presence of one of the ancient skulls inside the device suggests that it has bern there for millions of years. Stories of ghosts in a neighbouring house bother Quatermass especially when a pentangle is located in side the device and one of the bomb disposal team sees a figure walk through a wall.
This episode takes place in the pit and the set there is very impressive. The device there is interestingly alien in design and certainly sets the tone of the show's quality in terms of the design. In terms of the script, the delving around into the ghost stories of Hobbs Lane is intriguing, though it does seem a little far removed from what is going on in the pit itself.
Of course that is only the case until the last shot when a ghost is seen inside the device itself. The way in which the human skulls in the device's indentations suggest that the thing itself is over 5 million years old brings up all kinds of interesting ideas.Top
Imps And Demons
Following the appearance of the ghostly figure, Quatermass brings in an advanced drill that makes no impact on the hatchway inside the object. Later, as Quatermass and Roney research into the stories of ghosts in Hobb's Lane, a hole appears in the hatch, allowing it to be opened.
Some of the performances in this episode, specifically the terrified soldier, aren't very convincing. That aside, though, the story continues to be enthralling even if not that much seems to be happening.The soldier tells what he's seen, the drill does nothing, but then a hole appears on its own. The research that Quatermass and Roney track down only confirms what is already known. Just how a journalist ends up wandering around the site that is supposed to be secure is not explained.
Writer Kneale, though, knows the value of a good reveal and closes the episode with a compelling image of dead alien insects.Top
The decaying insect bodies are taken to a laboratory for study as the news of their existence breaks in the press. Breen and Quatermass are summoned to the War Office where Quatermass so frightens the bureaucrats with his theory of what it all means that they accept Breen's explanation of a nazi hoax. That is before a worker on site becomes his own personal hurricane.
If there's one thing that Nigel Kneale and his Quatermass serials have not been short of it's ideas, but the ones expounded here are perhaps the most daring ones yet. Proposing that the dying martian race altered humanity's ancestors millions of years previously in a unique form of invasion is remarkable stuff, making it easy to understand why the powers that be would be afraid of it.
Whether Breen's irrational anger is born out of his own fear or some influence of the alien cylinder is not clear, but the sudden appearance of the strange power that seems to regress the workman and then chase him through the streets is heady stuff.
QUATERMASS AND THE PIT has gone off in such clever directions that the final two episodes are exciting prospects.Top
The Wild Hunt
The worker possessed by some power emanating from the device is found and explains a vision of Mars 5 million years previously. Using Roney's equipment, Quatermass runs an experiment that allows him to record disturbing images of the martians killing each other. Consideringhow the ship affected to workman, Quatermass advises against allowing visitors into the pit. He is overruled.
The mixing of the supernatural and the scientific that has featured in the show to date reaches new heights as themes of ghosts and demonic possession are twisted into knots around telekinesis, race memory and mental image capture. It's highly imaginative stuff woven together with skill and invention.
There are some impressive performances as Slattern is questioned and the film of the aliens killing each other is quite startling, though not quite believable.
And Kneale leaves us with a tantalisingly uncertain final shot.Top
The visitors to the excavation site bring with them enough energy to reactivate it, causing humans with the martian influence still in their genes to turn on those that don't. As the energy mounts, the device creates an image in the sky of the alien beings and starts to alter the fabric of London itself.
There no more mysteries left to be uncovered - just the aftermath to be dealt with. Nigel Kneale's vision of a London torn apart by civil war being carried out with bare hands mostly happens off screen, but still manages to have enough power to chill. It is a masterstroke to make Quatermass himself one of those controlled by the alien influence.
The image of the alien in the sky is hugely powerful, even with the uncertain special effects, but doesn't really seem to have a point other than to provide the means of saving the day and that caps off the wonderful fusion of myth and science that the show has created.
It's a fitting finale to a brilliant show.Top
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