Quatermass and the Pit

Quatermass and the Pit

Infobox Television
show_name = Quatermass and the Pit

caption = The opening titles of "Quatermass and the Pit".
format = Science fiction thriller
camera = Multi-camera
picture_format = 405-line black-and-white
runtime = Approx. 35 mins per episode
creator = Nigel Kneale
developer =
executive_producer =
starring = André Morell Cec Linder Anthony Bushell John Stratton Christine Finn
narrated =
opentheme = "Mutations" composed by Trevor Duncan
endtheme =
country = UK
network = BBC
first_aired = 22 December 1958
last_aired = 26 January 1959
num_episodes = 6
preceded_by = "Quatermass II"
followed_by = "Quatermass"
website =
imdb_id = 0051305
tv_com_id = 6966

"Quatermass and the Pit" is a British television science-fiction serial, originally transmitted by BBC Television in December and January 1958–59. It was the third and last of the BBC's "Quatermass" serials, although the character would reappear in a 1979 ITV production simply entitled "Quatermass". Like its predecessors, "Quatermass and the Pit" was written by Nigel Kneale.

The series continues the loose chronology of the Quatermass adventures, and begins with Professor Bernard Quatermass being forced out of his role at the British Experimental Rocket Group, with the organisation being passed into military control by the British Government. Quatermass and his new colleague Colonel Breen become involved in the discovery of a bizarre object at an archaeological dig in Knightsbridge, London. As the serial progresses, Quatermass and his associates find that the contents of the object have a horrific influence over many of those who come into contact with it. As this influence increases, affecting Quatermass himself, darker implications are revealed about the entire nature and origins of mankind.

The serial has been cited as an influence on the writer Stephen Kingcite news|title=Space horror; Review of 'The Tommy Knockers' by Stephen King|first=Tom|last=Hutchinson|publisher=The Times|date=1988-03-17] and the film director John Carpenter.cite news|url=http://news.independent.co.uk/people/obituaries/article1948184.ece|title=Nigel Kneale|publisher=The Independent|first=Jack|last=Adrian|date=2006-11-02|accessdate=2007-01-26] It featured in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes compiled by the British Film Institute in 2000, where it was described as "completely gripping",cite web|url=http://www.bfi.org.uk/features/tv/100/list/prog.php?id=75|title=75: Quatermass and the Pit|first=Mark|last=Duguid|publisher=British Film Institute|year=2000|accessdate=2007-01-29] and in 2005 the BBC's own website declared it "simply the first finest thing the BBC ever made. It justifies licence fees to this day."cite web|url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/news/cult/2005/03/31/18177.shtml|title=Quatermass DVD|publisher=bbc.co.uk|date=2005-03-31|accessdate=2007-01-29]


"The Quatermass Experiment" (1953) and "Quatermass II" (1955) had been critical and popular successes for the BBC,cite web|url=http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/471469/index.html|title=Quatermass Experiment, The (1953)|first=Gavin|last=Collinson|publisher=Screenonline|accessdate=2007-01-31] cite web|url=http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/441212/index.html|title=Quatermass II (1955)|first=Mark|last=Duguid|publisher=Screenonline|accessdate=2007-01-31] and in early 1957 the corporation decided that they would like a third serial.cite book|title=The Quatermass Collection — Viewing Notes|last=Pixley|first=Andrew|year=2005|location=London|publisher=BBC Worldwide|id= BBCDVD1478] Nigel Kneale had left the staff of the BBC towards the end of 1956, but on 2 May 1957 was contracted to write the new scripts on a freelance basis. The director was Rudolph Cartier, with whom Kneale particularly enjoyed working;cite video|people=Nigel Kneale|year=2005|title=Cartier & Kneale in Conversation|format=Documentary using archive interview material. Extra feature on "The Quatermass Collection" set|accessdate=2007-02-02|medium=DVD|publisher=BBC Worldwide] the pair had collaborated on both of the previous "Quatermass" serials, as well as the literary adaptations "Wuthering Heights" (1953) and "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (1954).cite web|url=http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/1181098/index.html|title=Cartier, Rudolph (1904-94)|first=Oliver|last=Wake|publisher=Screenonline|accessdate=2007-01-31] "Quatermass and the Pit" had a larger budget than the previous "Quatermass" productions, with £17,500 being allocated to the serial.cite news|url=http://www.timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-45-1478807,00.html|title=Jack Kine|publisher=The Times|date=2005-02-11|accessdate=2007-01-31] Kneale was keen to write a story that would work as an allegory for the racial tensions that had recently been seen in the United Kingdom, which eventually culminated with the Notting Hill race riots of August and September 1958.Kneale, Nigel in cite episode|title=The Kneale Tapes|series=Timsehift|credits=Producer - Tom Ware; Executive Producer - Michael Poole|network=BBC Four|airdate=2003-10-15]

Pre-production work began in September 1958, while Cartier was still working on productions of "A Tale of Two Cities" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" for the BBC. As the two previous "Quatermass" serials had been scheduled in half-hour slots but, performed live, had often overrun, Cartier requested thirty-five minute slots for the six episodes of "Quatermass and the Pit". This was agreed to by the BBC drama department management in November 1958, just prior to the start of production proper on 24 November. The six episodes — "The Halfmen", "The Ghosts", "Imps and Demons", "The Enchanted", "The Wild Hunt" and "Hob" — were broadcast on Monday nights at 8pm from 22 December 1958 to 26 January 1959.

Each episode of "Quatermass and the Pit" was predominantly performed live from Studio 1 of the BBC's Riverside Studios complex in Hammersmith, London. The episodes were rehearsed from Tuesday to Saturday before broadcast, usually at the Mary Wood Settlement in Tavistock Place, London, with camera rehearsals taking place in studio on the morning and afternoon of transmission. Not every scene was live — a significant amount of material was pre-filmed on 35 mm film and broadcast during the performance as required. Most of the pre-filming involved either scenes set on location or those that were too technically complex or expansive to achieve live. The latter were shot at Ealing Studios, which had been acquired by the BBC in 1955,cite web|url=http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/456030/index.html|title=Ealing Studios|first=Lou|last=Alexander|publisher=Screenonline|accessdate=2007-01-31] with Cartier working alongside the experienced cinematographer A. A. Englander.cite news|url=http://film.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1143109,00.html|title=AA Englander|first=Philip|last=Purser|publisher=The Guardian|date=2004-02-07|accessdate=2007-01-31] Pre-filming was also used to show the passage of time in the second episode, with the archaeological dig set at Ealing shown to have dug deeper into the ground than the equivalent set at Riverside, enabling a sense of timescale that would not have been possible in an all-live production.

Special effects requirements were handled by the BBC Visual Effects Department, which had been formed by Bernard Wilkie and Jack Kine in 1954.cite news|url=http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/engineering/story/0,,726966,00.html|title=Bernard Wilkie|first=Toby|last=Hadoke|authorlink=Toby Hadoke|publisher=The Guardian|date=2002-06-03|accessdate=2007-01-31] Usually either Kine or Wilkie individually would oversee effects work on a production; due to the number of effects required, both worked on "Quatermass and the Pit".cite book|title=The Largest Theatre in the World|first=Shaun|last=Sutton|authorlink=Shaun Sutton|year=1982|location=London|publisher=BBC Books|pages=p. 86|id=ISBN 0-563-20011-1] The pair pre-filmed most of their effects for insertion into the live broadcasts. They also oversaw practical effects for the Ealing filming and Riverside broadcasts, and constructed the bodies of the Martian creatures.cite video|people=Jack Kine and Bernard Wilkie|year=2005|title=Making Demons|format=Documentary using archive interview material. Extra feature on "The Quatermass Collection" set|accessdate=2007-02-02|medium=DVD|publisher=BBC Worldwide]

The music for the serial was credited to "Trevor Duncan" a pseudonym used by composer Leonard Treblico, whose music was obtained from stock discs. "Quatermass and the Pit" also made extensive use of sound effects and electronic music to create an eerie, disturbing atmosphere.cite news|url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,,1974877,00.html|title=Desmond Briscoe|first=Louis|last=Niebur|publisher=The Guardian|date=2006-12-19|accessdate=2007-01-31] These tracks were created especially for the serial by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, overseen by Desmond Briscoe; their work on "Quatermass and the Pit" was one of the productions for which Briscoe and the Workshop became most renowned.cite news|url=http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,60-2547429,00.html|title=Desmond Briscoe|publisher=The Times|date=2007-01-15|accessdate=2007-01-31] cite web|url=http://www.thestage.co.uk/features/obituaries/feature.php/15663/desmond-briscoe|title=Desmond Briscoe|first=Nick|last=Smurthwaite|publisher=The Stage|date=2007-01-19|accessdate=2007-01-31] It was the first time that electronic music had been used in a science-fiction television production.

After "Quatermass and the Pit", Kneale felt that it was time to rest the character. "I didn't want to go on repeating because Professor Quatermass had already saved the world from ultimate destruction three times, and that seemed to me to be quite enough," he told an interviewer in 1986.cite web|url=http://www.geocities.com/TelevisionCity/8504/kneal.htm|title=Nigel Kneale — Behind the Dark Door|publisher=The Quatermass Home Page|first=Andrew|last=Pixley|coauthors=Nigel Kneale|year=1986|accessdate=2007-01-31] By the early 1970s however, Kneale decided there were some new avenues to explore with the character, and the BBC announced plans to produce a fourth "Quatermass" serial in 1972.cite news|title=Quatermass and Quixote in BBC drama plans|first=Chris|last=Dunkley|publisher=The Times|date=1972-11-15|page=19] This was not in the event made by the BBC, but Kneale's scripts did eventually see production in 1979, as a four-part serial for Thames Television called "Quatermass".cite web|url=http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/442672/index.html|title=Quatermass (1979)|first=Mark|last=Duguid|publisher=Screenonline|accessdate=2007-01-31]

Made just prior to the introduction of professional videotape machines into general use at the BBC, all six episodes of "Quatermass and the Pit" were preserved for a possible repeat by being telerecorded onto 35 mm film. Although this effectively worked by pointing a film camera at a video monitor and filming the output, the process had been refined throughout the 1950s and the recordings made of "Quatermass and the Pit" were of a high technical quality.cite web|url=http://www.purpleville.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/rtwebsite/quatermass-article.htm|title=Quatermass|publisher=Doctor Who Restoration Team|first=Steve|last=Roberts|month=January | year=2005|accessdate=2007-01-31] The serial was repeated in edited form as two 90-minute episodes — titled "5 Million Years Old" and "Hob" — on 26 December 1959 and 2 January 1960. The third episode, "Imps and Demons", was re-shown on BBC Two on 7 November 1986 as part of the "TV50" season, celebrating fifty years of BBC television.


A pre-human skull is discovered while building works are taking place in the fictional Hobbs Lane — formerly Hob's Lane, from an old name for the Devil. Dr Matthew Roney, a palaeontologist, examines the recovered remains, which are many thousands of years old, and reconstructs a dwarf-like humanoid with an unusually large brain volume, which he believes to be a form of primitive man. As further excavation is done on the site, something that looks like a missile is unearthed; further work by Roney's group is halted as the military believe it to be an unexploded bomb left over from World War II.

Roney calls in his old friend Professor Bernard Quatermass of the British Experimental Rocket Group, an expert on matters of unusual scientific background, to stop the military from disturbing what he believes to be an archaeological find. Quatermass and Colonel Breen, who has been placed in charge of the Rocket Group over Quatermass's objections, become intrigued by the site. More and more of the artefact is uncovered, and additional fossils are found inside which Roney dates to five million years in age — suggesting that the object is at least that old as well. The interior is empty, but a symbol consisting of five intersecting circles, which Roney identifies as the occult pentagram, is found etched on an interior wall which appears to hide an inner chamber.

The shell of the object is so hard that even a borozon drill makes no impression, and when the attempt is made, strange vibrations cause severe distress in the people around the object. Quatermass interviews the local residents and discovers that sightings of ghosts and other poltergeist activity have been common in the area for decades. Meanwhile, a soldier is carried out of the object in hysterics — he claims to have seen a dwarf-like apparition walk through the wall of the artefact, a description which matches a 1927 newspaper account of a ghost sighting.

Following the drilling attempt, a hole has somehow opened up in the wall which allows Quatermass and the others access to the interior chamber. There they find the remains of insect-like aliens resembling giant three-legged locusts, with stubby antennae on their heads giving the impression of horns. As Quatermass and Roney examine the remains, they theorise that the aliens might have come from a nearby planet which was habitable five million years ago — Mars.

Meanwhile, the borozon drill operator clearing his equipment from the craft triggers off more poltergeist activity. The operator is forced to run through the streets in a dazed panic until he finds sanctuary inside a local church. Quatermass and Roney find him there, and he describes visions of the insect aliens killing each other. As Quatermass investigates deeper into the history of the area, he finds accounts dating back to medieval times about devils and ghosts, all tending to be centred on incidents where the ground was disturbed. He suspects that somehow a psychic projection of these beings has remained behind on the alien ship and is being seen by certain people who come in contact with it.

Quatermass plans to use an invention of Roney's, an "optic-encephalogram", to see these visions. The device will record impressions from the optical centres of the brain, in effect showing whatever the subject is seeing, hallucinatory or not. He wears the device and goes into the craft, but it is Roney's assistant, Barbara Judd, who is affected most. Placing the device on her, they record what she "sees" — a violent, bloody purge of the Martian hive, to root out unwanted mutations.

Quatermass begins to have a working theory as to what is going on. He believes that in its most primitive phase mankind was visited by this race. Some humans were taken away and genetically altered to have special abilities such as telepathy, telekinesis and other psychic powers. They were then brought back to Earth — the buried artefact was one of the return ships that had crashed. The idea was that, with their home world dying, the aliens had tried to change humanity's ancestors to have minds and abilities like theirs, created in their own mental image, but with a bodily form adapted to Earth. In effect, humanity are the Martians.

However, the plan was a partial failure: the aliens died out before completing their work, and as the human race bred and further evolved, only a percentage of it retained these abilities, with even these only surfacing sporadically. For centuries the buried ship itself had been occasionally triggering these dormant abilities. This explained the reports of poltergeists, people were unknowingly using their own telekinesis to move objects around them, the ghost sightings being traces of a race memory. It also explained the history of witchcraft and why people attributed it to a being they identified as the devil; the pentagram would have been the symbol for this alien race.

The government authorities, and Breen in particular, find this explanation preposterous despite being shown the recording of Barbara's vision. They believe that the craft is actually a Nazi propaganda weapon and the alien bodies fakes designed to create exactly the impressions that Quatermass has come to. They attribute the vision to an overactive imagination, and intend to hold a media event to halt the rumours that are already flitting through the population. However, Quatermass realises that if these implanted psychic powers survive in the human race, there could also still be ingrained in us a compulsion to enact the "Wild Hunt" of a race purge. Quatermass is concerned that the memories encoded inside the ship, which have already been picked up by sensitive people near it, will trigger that impulse and that those affected will begin to slaughter their own.

Despite his warnings, the media event occurs, and the power cables that string into the craft fully activate it for the first time. Glowing and humming like a living thing, it starts drawing upon this energy source and awakening the ancient racial programming. Those people of London in whom the alien admixture remains strong fall under the ship's influence; they merge into a group mind and begin a telekinetic mass murder of those without the alien genes, an "ethnic cleansing" of those that the alien race mind considers impure and weak.

Breen stands transfixed and is eventually consumed by the energies from the craft as it slowly melts away and a holographic image of a Martian "devil" floats in the sky above London. Fires and riots spread, and even a passing aircraft is affected and crashes into the city. Quatermass himself almost succumbs to the mass psychosis, attempting to kill Roney, who does not have the alien gene and is immune to the influence. Roney manages to shake Quatermass out of his trance, and together they realise that the floating image is the source of the mass psychosis. Even without the craft and electricity, it is now draining the combined psychic energy of London.

Remembering the legends of demons and their aversion to iron and water, Roney deduces that a sufficient mass of iron connected to wet earth may be enough to short the apparition out. Quatermass gets a length of iron chain and tries to reach the "devil" but succumbs to the psychic pressure. It is Roney who manages to hurl the chain into the fiery image and end the madness, but both he and the craft are reduced to ashes.

Some time later Quatermass holds a television broadcast, in which he praises Roney's sacrifice, saying that they now are armed with knowledge that will allow them to deal with any more Martian artefacts. He also warns that now that we are aware of the dark urges implanted within us all, we have to be careful about wars, witch-hunts and other communal violence — lest we Martians turn the Earth into a second dead planet.

Cast and crew

For the third time in as many serials the title role was played by a different actor, with André Morell being cast. The part had initially been offered to Alec Clunes, who declined the role.Murray, p. 67.] Morell had a reputation for playing authority figures, such as Colonel Green in "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957),cite web|url=http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/438573/index.html|title=Quatermass and the Pit (1958–59)|first=Mark|last=Duguid|publisher=Screenonline|accessdate=2007-01-30] and had previously worked with Kneale and Cartier when he appeared as O'Brien in their BBC television adaptation of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (1954).cite web|url=http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/438460/index.html|title=Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954)|first=Mark|last-Duguid|publisher=Screenonline|accessdate=2007-01-30] He had also been the first actor ever offered the part of Quatermass, for the original serial "The Quatermass Experiment" in 1953, but on that occasion he had turned the part down.Murray, p. 28.] Morell's portrayal of Quatermass has been described as the definitive interpretation of the character.cite book|title=TV Heaven|first=Jim|last=Sangster|coauthors=Paul Condon|year=2005|publisher=HarperCollins|location=London|chapter=The Quatermass series|pages=pp. 596–601|id=ISBN 0007190999] The actor found that it became the role for which he was best remembered by the public in later years.

Colonel Breen was played by Anthony Bushell, who was known for various similar military roles — including, ironically, a bomb disposal officer in "The Small Back Room" — and preferred to be addressed as "Major Bushell", the rank he held during World War II.cite news|title=Major performance: Obituary of Anthony Bushell|first=Philip|last=Purser|publisher=The Guardian|date=1997-04-10|page=19] He had also worked as Laurence Olivier's manager and as a television producer. Before "Quatermass and the Pit" he had most recently been seen as Arthur Rostron in the film version of "A Night to Remember" (1958).cite web|url=http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0124236/|title=Anthony Bushell|publisher=Internet Movie Database|accessdate=2007-01-31]

Roney was played by Canadian actor Cec Linder. Linder had appeared in various American television series, such as "Studio One", and later appeared in "Lolita" (1962) and the James Bond film "Goldfinger" (1964).cite web|url=http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0511695/|title=Cec Linder|publisher=Internet Movie Database|accessdate=2007-01-31] John Stratton played Captain Potter; he went on to become a regular guest actor in a range of British television series.cite web|url=http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0833652/|title=John Stratton|publisher=Internet Movie Database|accessdate=2007-01-31] Christine Finn played the other main character, Barbara Judd; she later voiced various characters in the popular 1960s children's television series "Thunderbirds".cite web|url=http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0278097/|title=Christine Finn|publisher=Internet Movie Database|accessdate=2007-01-31]

For the first time, Kneale used a character from a previous serial other than Quatermass himself. He brought back the journalist James Fullalove from "The Quatermass Experiment", and the production team had hoped that actor Paul Whitsun-Jones would be able to reprise the part. Whitsun-Jones was unavailable to appear, so Brian Worth was cast instead. Appearing as an army sergeant was Michael Ripper; Ripper had been in Hammer Film Productions' adaptation of the second "Quatermass" serial, "Quatermass 2", the previous year.cite news|title=Obituary: Michael Ripper|first=Tom|last=Vallance|publisher=The Independent|date=2000-07-07|page=6] He went on to have the distinction of appearing in more Hammer films than any other actor.cite news|title=Obituary: Michael Ripper: Actor with a flair for horror and humour|first=Ronald|last=Bergan|publisher=The Guardian|date=2000-07-10|page=18]

Nigel Kneale continued his successful career writing for film and television after "Quatermass and the Pit". He wrote feature film screenplays for "The Entertainer" (1960), "H.M.S. Defiant" (1962) and "The First Men in the Moon" (1964).cite web|url=http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/458926/index.html|title=Kneale, Nigel (1922-2006)|first=Sergio|last=Angelini|publisher=Screenonline|accessdate=2007-01-31] He returned to the Quatermass character for a final time with "Quatermass" (1979), a serial for the ITV network.cite web|url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078129/|title=Quatermass (1979)|publisher=Internet Movie Database|accessdate=2007-01-31] He continued writing for television until the 1990s,cite web|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/6105578.stm|title=Quatermass creator dies, aged 84|publisher=BBC News Online|date=2006-11-01|accessdate=2007-01-31] and "Quatermass and the Pit" was often cited as the most successful work of his long career.cite news|url=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/11/03/db0302.xml|title=Nigel Kneale|publisher=The Daily Telegraph|date=2006-11-03|accessdate=2007-01-26]

"Quatermass and the Pit" was the last original production upon which Kneale collaborated with Rudolph Cartier, although Cartier did direct a new version of Kneale's 1953 adaptation of "Wuthering Heights" for the BBC in 1962.cite web|url=http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/1203222/index.html|title=Wuthering Heights (1962)|first=Oliver|last=Wake|publisher=Screenonline|accessdate=2007-01-31] Other later successes for Cartier were "Anna Karenina" (1961) and "Lee Oswald: Assassin" (1966).cite news|title=Rudolph Cartier; Obituary|publisher=The Times|date=1994-06-10|pages=21]

Reception and influence

According to the BBC's research figures, "Quatermass and the Pit" gained an audience of 7.6 million people for its opening episode, jumping to 9.1 million for the second and increasing sequentially each week, with the exception of episode four, until it concluded with a viewing figure of 11 million for episode six, just under 30% of the potential audience. The overall average figure for the serial was 9.75 million; this was the best figure the BBC had obtained since the programme "Opportunity Murder" in 1956, the corporation not having managed to beat the rival ITV network in the ratings since the other channel had launched in 1955. However, the trade paper "Variety" reported that according to the Nielsen Company's ratings data, the final episode of "Quatermass and the Pit" had lost out to the quiz show "Keep it in the Family" on ITV, being viewed in 2,560,000 households as opposed to 2,996,000 for the commercial channel's programme, and failing to feature in the week's top ten shows. The same paper did also state that on the night of episode six's broadcast, British cinemas reported their worst evening's takings in "a long, long time.""Variety", quoted in cite book|title=Telefantasy|first=Catherine|last=Johnson|year=2005|location=London|publisher=British Film Institute|pages=p. 21|id=ISBN 1-84457-076-2]

"The Times" newspaper reported the day after the final episode that members of Hereford City Council had "rejected last night a proposal that they should suspend standing orders to adjourn so that members could watch the final instalment of "Quatermass and the Pit", the BBC television serial."cite news|title=No Natural Break|publisher=The Times|date=1959-01-27|page=5] BBC radio and television journalist John Humphrys recalled being frightened by the serial as a child in a feature on television memories published by "The Guardian" in 2006.cite news|url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv_and_radio/story/0,,1977385,00.html|title=Morecambe and spies|first=Noam|last=Friedlander|authorlink=Noam Friedlander|publisher=The Guardian|date=2006-12-22|accessdate=2007-01-29] Recalling the frightening qualities of the "Quatermass" serials in 1981, journalist Geoffrey Wansell wrote that "when the third series, "Quatermass and the Pit" was shown, three of my school friends insisted on leaving the room whenever it started."cite news|first=Geoffrey|last=Wansell|title=After Quatermass... terror and style|publisher=The Times|page=XII|date=1981-09-04]

"The Times"'s television reviewer praised the opening episode the day after its transmission. Pointing out that "Professor Bernard Quatermass... like all science fiction heroes, has to keep running hard if he is not to be overtaken by the world of fact,"cite news|title=Quatermass and the Pit — Echoes of Horrors to Come|publisher=The Times|date=1958-12-23|page=3] the anonymous reviewer went on to state how much he had enjoyed the episode.

"This expository episode was an excellent example of Mr. Kneale's ability to hold an audience with promises alone; smooth, leisurely, and without any sensational incident, it was imbued in Mr. Rudolph Cartier's production with unearthly echoes of horrors to come. Sharing them for the next six weeks with Mr. Andre Morell and Mr. Cec Linder is an unnerving prospect."

Criticism of the serial was also expressed. Although Kneale would go on to use the Martian "Wild Hunt" as a deliberate allegory for the recent Notting Hill race riots,cite news|url=http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,60-2432768.html|title=Nigel Kneale|publisher=The Times|date=2006-11-02|accessdate=2007-01-26] "I try to give those stories some relevance to what is round about us today. The last one ["Quatermass and the Pit"] , for instance, was a race-hate fable." cite journal|last=Kneale|first=Nigel|authorlink=Nigel Kneale|date=Spring 1959|title=Not Quite So Intimate|journal=Sight & Sound|volume=28|issue=2|pages=p. 86 Quoted in cite book|title=The Intimate Screen: Early British Television Drama|first=Jason|last=Jacobs|location=Oxford|publisher=Oxford University Press|year=2000|pages=p. 137|id=ISBN 0-19-874233-9] some Black British leaders were upset with the depiction of racial tensions in the first episode. "Leaders of coloured minorities here to-day criticized the BBC for allowing a report that 'race riots are continuing in Birmingham,' to be included in a fictional news bulletin during the first instalment of the new Quatermass television play last night," reported "The Times"'s Birmingham correspondent.cite news|title=Coloured Leaders Criticize BBC|publisher=The Times|date=1958-12-24|page=4] The report quoted Dr. W. C. Pilgrim of the city's West Indian community as saying that "I do not agree with this sort of thing, fiction or not. No trouble of this kind has happened in Birmingham, where our problems do not find expression in violence." The BBC replied to the criticisms with the assurance that:

"This was a completely imaginary news bulletin in a fictional programme set in the indeterminate future that contained such items as a rocket landing on the moon. It was all Jules Verne sort of stuff. No slur on Birmingham was implied and no reference to past events nor prophecy of the future was intended."

These themes and subtexts were highlighted by the British Film Institute's review of the serial, when it was included in their "TV 100" list in 2000, in 75th position — 20th out of the dramas featured. "In a story which mined mythology and folklore... under the guise of genre it tackled serious themes of man's hostile nature and the military's perversion of science for its own ends." The theme of military takeover of peaceful scientific research was also praised and compared to the contemporary outlook by Patrick Stoddart, writing for "The Sunday Times" in 1988.

"Last week I watched a BBC drama in which a scientist fought against smirking government ministers and power-crazed army officers to stop his peaceful rocket research group being turned into a Star Wars vehicle to put missiles on the moon. They won. If you are wondering how you missed the ritual complaints which now follow every programme like this from offstage right, it is because the play was "Quatermass and the Pit", which the BBC has just released on video. It was made in 1957, when the Macmillan government presumably believed that defence policy was a reasonable thing for the BBC to debate, even in drama. You seriously wonder how much internal angst would be generated if the BBC was offered the same plot now."cite news|title=Duty, in the ire of the beholder; TV Review|first=Patrick|last=Stoddart|publisher=The Sunday Times|date=1988-06-12]

The serial has also been an influence on other television science-fiction productions. Mark Gatiss wrote in "The Guardian" in 2006 that "What sci-fi piece of the past 50 years doesn't owe Kneale a huge debt? ... The "ancient invasion" of "Quatermass and the Pit" cast a huge shadow... its brilliant blending of superstition, witchcraft and ghosts into the story of a five-million-year-old Martian invasion is copper-bottomed genius."cite news|url=http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,,1937220,00.html|title=The man who saw tomorrow|first=Mark|last=Gatiss|authorlink=Mark Gatiss|publisher=The Guardian|date=2006-11-02|accessdate=2007-01-26] Gatiss was a scriptwriter for "Doctor Who", a programme that had been particularly strongly influenced by the "Quatermass" serials throughout its history.cite book|title=AHistory — An Unauthorised History of the Doctor Who Universe|first=Lance|last=Parkin|authorlink=Lance Parkin|coauthors=Lars Pearson|location=Des Moines|year=2006|publisher=Mad Norwegian Press|pages=p. 93|id=ISBN 0-9725959-9-6] cite web|url=http://www.thestage.co.uk/features/obituaries/feature.php/15538/nigel-kneale|title=Nigel Kneale|first=Patrick|last=Newley|publisher=The Stage|date=2007-01-05|accessdate=2007-01-30] Derrick Sherwin, the producer of "Doctor Who" in 1969, acknowledged "Quatermass and the Pit" as an influence on changing the format of the programme.

"What the producers had been trying to do—and what ultimately they achieved in "Quatermass and the Pit"—was to get some reality into it. So I said that this was the solution: that what we had to do with "Doctor Who" was to forget wobbly jellies in outer space and create some reason for bringing the stories down to Earth."cite book |last=Howe |first=David J. |authorlink=David J. Howe |coauthors=Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker|title=Doctor Who: The Sixties |year=1992 |publisher=Virgin Publishing |edition=paperback |location=London |pages=p. 156 |id= ISBN 0-86369-707-0 ]

More specifically, the 1977 "Doctor Who" serial "Image of the Fendahl" contains many very similar elements and themes to "Quatermass and the Pit".cite journal|title=The Fact of Fiction: Image of the Fendahl|first=Alan|last=Barnes|authorlink=Alan Barnes (writer)|journal=Doctor Who Magazine|issue=379|pages=pp. 42–50|date=2007-02-28 - cover date] After the destruction of its homeworld, the Fendahl of the title came to Earth and influenced the evolution of humans to possess psychic powers. When its "skull", marked with a pentagram, is discovered in an archaeological dig, it proceeds to take over the descendants of the engineered humans in an effort to colonise the Earth.

The writer and critic Kim Newman, speaking about Kneale's career in a 2003 television documentary, cited "Quatermass and the Pit" as perfecting "the notion of the science-fictional detective story."Newman, Kim in cite episode|title=The Kneale Tapes|series=Timsehift|credits=Producer - Tom Ware; Executive Producer - Michael Poole|network=BBC Four|airdate=2003-10-15] Newman also discussed the programme as an influence on the horror fiction writer Stephen King, claiming that King had "more or less rewritten "Quatermass and the Pit" in "The Tommyknockers"."

Other media

As with the previous two Quatermass serials, the rights to adapt "Quatermass and the Pit" for the cinema were purchased by Hammer Film Productions. Their adaptation of the serial was released with the same title as the original in 1967, directed by Roy Ward Baker and scripted by Kneale.cite web|url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062168/|title=Quatermass and the Pit (1967)|publisher=Internet Movie Database|accessdate=2007-02-01] Scottish actor Andrew Keir starred as Quatermass, becoming the role for which he was best remembered, being regarded particularly highly in comparison to the previous film Quatermass, Brian Donlevy."Keir's best film role was as Professor Quatermass in the screen version of the classic television serial "Quatermass and the Pit"." cite news|title=Obituary: Andrew Keir|first=John|last=Ruscoe|publisher=The Independent|date=1997-10-07|page=22] "Keir also made many films... most gratifyingly, perhaps, the movie version of "Quatermass and the Pit" (1967), when he finally replaced the absurdly miscast Brian Donlevy." cite news|title=Obituary: Formidable regular on the small screen: Andrew Keir|first=Philip|last=Purser|publisher=The Guardian|date=1997-10-07|page=14] "Andrew Keir remains, perhaps, most clearly in the mind for his rendering of Professor Quatermass." cite news|title=Andrew Keir; Obituary|publisher=The Times|date=1997-10-08|page=21] The film, made in colour, is regarded by many commentators as a classic of the genre."Shot for about sixpence, but the intelligent script and fine performances make it a Hammer horror to savour." cite news|title=The Guide Friday: Watch This|first=Paul|last=Howlett|publisher=The Guardian|date=2000-08-11|page=19] "Probably the most effective blending of the supernatural with science-fiction themes, Kneale brilliantly explains the roots of magic and superstition via an ancient Martian invasion of Earth." cite news|url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4280001,00.html|title=British gothic — a celebration|first=Mark|last=Gatiss|authorlink=Mark Gatiss|publisher=The Guardian|date=2001-10-19|page=12] In the United States the film was retitled "Five Million Years to Earth".

A script book of "Quatermass and the Pit" was released by Penguin Books in April 1960, with a cover by Kneale's artist brother Bryan Kneale. In 1979 this was re-released by Arrow Books to coincide with the transmission of the fourth and final Quatermass serial on ITV; this edition featured a new introduction by Kneale. The theatrical company Creation Productions staged a live adaptation of "Quatermass and the Pit" in a quarry near Nottingham in August 1997.cite web|url=http://www.geocities.com/TelevisionCity/8504/qstage.htm|title=Quatermass and the Pit on Stage|publisher=The Quatermass Home Page|accessdate=2007-02-01]

The BBC made "Quatermass and the Pit" available to buy on VHS videotape in the 1980s, edited into a two-part compilation format. This version was re-released on VHS by budget label Paradox Video in 1995,cite web|url=http://www.geocities.com/TelevisionCity/8504/qvideo.htm|title=Video Sources for Quatermass Stories|publisher=The Quatermass Home Page|accessdate=2007-02-01] and later put out again, this time by Revelation Films, on DVD. The full, unedited, episodic version of the serial was released on DVD by BBC Worldwide in 2005, as part of "The Quatermass Collection" box set. Also included were the surviving episodes of "The Quatermass Experiment", all of "Quatermass II" and various extra features.

For the box set release, "Quatermass and the Pit" was extensively restored. A process called VidFIRE was applied to all of the scenes originally broadcast live, restoring the fluid interlaced video look they would have had on transmission, but which is lost during the telerecording process. For the pre-filmed scenes, most of the high-quality original 35 mm film inserts still existed, as they had been spliced into the 1959–60 compilation repeat version in place of the lower-quality telerecorded versions of the same sequences. As this compilation also survived in the BBC archives, these film sequences were able to be digitally remastered and inserted into the newly-restored episodic version for the DVD release.


A 1959 episode of "The Goon Show", a BBC radio comedy series, parodied "Quatermass and the Pit" extensively. The episode, "The Scarlet Capsule", was written by Spike Milligan, and used the original BBC Radiophonic Workshop sound effects made for the television serial. In the episode, some workmen employed by the government's Dig Up the Roads Plan for Congesting Traffic Scheme unearth an ancient skull ("Must be a woman...the mouth's open."). Professor Ned Quartermess, a.k.a. Neddie Seagoon (Harry Secombe), sceptical of claims that the remains might be unexploded German skulls from World War II, discovers a fossilized Irish stew, and then uncovers a strange scarlet capsule containing the fossilized remains of three serge suits and the bones of a bowler hat. Willium "Mate" Cobblers hears a voice saying "Minardor". Several people are struck down by flying Irish stews, and Quartermess becomes convinced there is a poltergeist at work, and starts evacuating the local population — including Peter Sellers as a woman whose seductive voice causes the script to be heavily censored. Eventually the scheming Hercules Grytpype-Thynne (Sellers) persuades Quartermess to blow up the capsule — with his sidekick Count Jim Moriarty (Milligan), whose life he has coincidentally insured for a large sum, tied up inside. But the blast blows everyone up — at least until the next episode — and a BBC announcer (Andrew Timothy) reports that the capsule was actually a London Underground train containing three striking Tube workers that had been shunted into a siding and forgotten. "The Mystic word 'Minardor' was in fact 'Mind the doors'. Not a very good ending, but at least it's tidy, don't you think?" He is then struck down by an Irish stew.

The serial was also parodied by the BBC television comedy series "Hancock's Half Hour", in an episode entitled "The Horror Serial", transmitted the week following the final episode. In it, Tony Hancock has just finished watching the final episode of "Quatermass and the Pit", and becomes convinced that there is a crashed Martian space ship buried at the end of his garden. This episode no longer exists in the BBC's archives.



*cite book | last=Murray| first=Andy | title=Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale |format=paperback|year=2006 | location=London|publisher=Headpress|id=ISBN 1-900486-50-4|pages=192 pages

External links

* [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051305/ "Quatermass and the Pit"] at the Internet Movie Database
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/ilove/tv/quatermass/ BBC site — I Love Quatermass]
* [http://www.quatermass.org.uk Quatermass.org.uk - Nigel Kneale & Quatermass Appreciation Site]

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