Quatermass and the Pit (TV Mini-Series 1958)

TV Mini-Series   |    |  Drama, Sci-Fi, Horror


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Quatermass and the Pit (1958) Poster

A team of scientists search for the origin and purpose of a mysterious capsule found on a building site.


8/10
784

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11 November 2004 | Theo Robertson
The Greatest Sci-Fi Production In The History Of Television
The Hammer version of this BBC teleplay used to scare the sh*t out of me as a child . The BBC broadcast episode 3 as part of a 50th celebration for the corporation in November 1986 and I was very impressed but also rather sad that the rest of the series wasn't shown . Jump forward to May 1988 and I was flicking through The Radio Times ( the BBC's TV guide ) and there was a page advertising the latest video releases from the BBC with the teleplay of QUATERMASS AND THE PIT being one of them . This astounded me because I thought the beeb would have released it in a blaze of publicity , we are talking about a television legend that used to empty the streets when broadcast in the 1950s so what was it doing being released along with a bunch of anonymous series on video ? I sent off for the video and bit my fingernails waiting for it to arrive . You know when you're a child you look forward to Xmas ? Well that was me as a 21 year old adult in the spring of 1988 ( The most bitter sweet year of my life but that's another story ) I only hoped I wasn't going to be disappointed with this television masterpiece

After seeing it I wasn't disappointed at all , it was every bit as good as I possibly expected and more . Nigel Kneale has written the most thought provoking science fiction drama in the history of television . Unlike his previous teleplay QUATERMASS 2 there's no episodic quality to the serial , there's no over ambitious set pieces . He has written a beautifully paced script with a mind blowing subtext on human nature . Look at the scene in the middle of the first episode where a radio broadcast tells of violence around the world and this is forgotten about until it ties in with the final scene where Quatermass addresses the nation on the original sin of humanity . It's amazing that Kneale included this because no one watching QUATERMASS AND THE PIT at home in 1958 could have remembered this apparently throwaway line but it's important to the subtext of the story . Mr Kneale you are a genius

I said this was a science fiction drama but maybe I should state that it's a drama first and foremost . Like all of the Quatermass serials there's little in the way of pitched battles between soldiers and bulletproof aliens all so common in 1950 sci-fi movies . There's little action but watching the character interaction between Quatermass and Roney on one side and Col Breen and the war office on the other is a joy to watch . Nigel Kneale has a reputation for writing good dialogue in all of his teleplays and he exceeds himself here . Some classic lines include:

" And then , and then you can't see this world anymore "

" A blind man with a dog "

And my own personal favourite line: " Mister Fullalove , a day or two ago you were enquiring into the activities of ghosts and demons . Did you get their opinion too ? "

That last line was spoken by Col Breen my all time favourite character from the QUATERMASS serials and his character interaction with Quatermass seems to have been resurrected in an inverted manner in early 70s DOCTOR WHO . It should be remembered that because of the war and national service much of the audience would have been able to relate to the character far more than today's audience ever could

Some people watching this for the first time might possibly be disappointed by it especially if they've seen the Hammer version . Yes I do concede that the original is less spectacular but once again it's not intended as a Hollywood blockbuster and the film version is inferior over all . The acting and characterisation is superior here with Captain Potter being a major figure unlike in the film with James Fullalove being absent in the cinema version and Col Breen is certainly more memorable here . I did notice that Anthony Bushell ( Who always forever cast as army officers - Check out his resume ) goes OTT in one scene namely when he reads the newspaper headline but he is superb as a narrow minded Breen . It can be argued that Cec Linder might have been taking too much coffee when playing Doctor Roney but perhaps his character is supposed to be slightly hyperactive and for me Andre Morrell is the definitive Bernard Quatermass . The only performance in the movie that surpasses that of their TV counter part character is probably Barbara Shelley as Miss Judd

This is a masterwork from both Rudolph Cartier and Nigel Kneale . As soon as Quatermass finishes his television broadcast he walks off camera , the stirring music ends and so ends the greatest drama under the banner of telefantasy . Other sci-fi dramas have tried to emulate the dramatic realism of this , the very best of the QUATERMASS saga but only a few like DOOMWATCH and the very best stories of DOCTOR WHO have come close . None have surpassed it

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