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aka: Quatermass And The Pit

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Professor Bernard Quatermass is a heroic scientist character featured in four television serials — The Quatermass Experiment (BBC, 1953), Quatermass II (BBC, 1955), Quatermass and the Pit (BBC, 1958), and Quatermass (ITV, 1979) — and a radio serial — The Quatermass Memoirs (BBC, 1996) — all written by Nigel Kneale.

  • The Quatermass Experiment: The British Rocket Group, led by Professor Bernard Quatermass (Reginald Tate), successfully launches the first manned mission into space. When it returns, it's carrying an alien lifeform with the potential to bring about the end of life on Earth.
  • Quatermass II: Professor Quatermass (John Robinson) is asked to investigate a series of strange meteor showers, and discovers that they're part of a subtle alien invasion.
  • Quatermass and the Pit: Professor Quatermass (André Morell) is called in when building excavations uncover a mysterious object that turns out to be an alien spacecraft that has lain undisturbed for five million years.
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  • Quatermass: Professor Quatermass (John Mills) comes out of secluded retirement when his granddaughter disappears. He finds that she has joined a New Age group called the Planet People, who believe that benevolent aliens will come and take them to a better life on another planet. This being science fiction, there really are aliens, and they really are taking Planet People, but Quatermass has grave doubts about their benevolence.
  • The Quatermass Memoirs: Really a retrospective documentary about the series, but includes a fictional strand, set before Quatermass, in which the retired Professor (Andrew Keir) is interviewed about his career.

The Quatermass serials were very successful, and broke the ground for original science fiction on television (previous TV SF had either been children's telefantasy or adapted from literature). As one instance of the series' influence, 1970s Doctor Who owes a huge debt to Kneale and Quatermass, both in the types of stories being told and in the willingness of BBC executives to let the series tell them. (Kneale himself was reportedly unimpressed by this, feeling that Doctor Who was stealing his ideas.)


The first three serials were successfully remade as films by Hammer, two of which were scripted by Kneale himself. The fourth was re-edited directly into a film-length version, titled The Quatermass Conclusion, and given a limited theatrical release.

The Quatermass Experiment was remade for television by the BBC in 2005 as a single feature-length drama, with the spy subplot and some comic material edited out to save time. For added conformity to the original, this version was broadcast live (the first live drama broadcast on the BBC for many years, with the exception of filmed stage plays) with no special effects that would have been unavailable for TV in 1953. Notable amongst the cast is David Tennant, who'd been cast in Who just before the broadcast.

The serials provide examples of:

  • Alien Invasion: Quatermass II
  • Ancient Astronauts: Quatermass and the Pit and Quatermass.
  • Anyone Can Die: The rather casual death of Fullalove, who had survived The Quatermass Experiment, in Quatermass and the Pit.
  • Arc Words: The nursery rhyme from Quatermass.
    Huffity, puffity, Ringstone Round,
    If you lose your hat it will never be found...
  • Astral Projection: In the climax of The Pit, a Martian (whether real or just a manifestation of the spaceship) appears in this way.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Judith's parting words to Victor, before he set off in the rocket from The Quatermass Experiment, were a request that he bring her back something from space. Turns out he does bring something back, but....
  • Big Red Button: The nuke detonator in Quatermass has one.
    "Just thump it."
  • Body Horror: The Quatermass Experiment, and to a lesser extent the second two serials.
  • Broadcast Live:
    • The three 1950s serials, as was usual in those days because the video recorder hadn't been invented yet.note  The second and third serials did include some scenes that were filmed in advance, with the film being played back and fed into the live broadcast feed at the appropriate point. note 
    • The 2005 remake of The Quatermass Experiment was also done live, as a gimmick, although it backfired slightly because the live footage was treated to look like film.
  • Circle of Standing Stones: In the fourth serial (also released in re-edited form as a movie, and variously called The Quatermass Conclusion or just Quatermass), young people are drawn to stone circles and apparently ascended to a higher plane. But all is not as it seems. It is eventually revealed that standing stones and other ancient sites are warning markers at places where an alien device killed people in the past — and is doing so again.
  • Cold Iron - proves the Martian "devil's" undoing in Quatermass and the Pit.
  • Compilation Movie: Quatermass was edited down into a feature film called The Quatermass Conclusion for release in other countries, like the US.
  • Content Warnings: Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit were both preceded by content warnings for those "of a nervous disposition", possibly the first ever British examples.
  • Cool Guns: Kickalong prominently uses a Sterling in several scenes in Quatermass.
  • Creepy Children Singing:
    Huffety puffety Ringstone Round.
    If you lose your hat it will never be found,
    So pull up your britches right up to your chin,
    And fasten your cloak with a bright new pin,
    And when you are ready, then we can begin,
    Huffity, puffity puff!
  • Death of a Child: In Quatermass, Joe Kapp's wife and children are killed off-screen in an alien bombardment.
  • Decoy Protagonist: In Quatermass and the Pit, Roney actually achieves a lot more when it comes to understanding and neutralising the alien menace than Quatermass.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Ringstone Round, the Stonehenge Expy in Quatermass.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Yeah, Quatermass II aliens, it's a great idea to liquidise your rebellious minions' representatives For the Evulz when the minions have rocket-launchers.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: To infiltrate the higher security domes in Winnerden Flats, Quatermass nabs a dead plant worker's uniform in Quatermass II.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Twice in Quatermass:
    • Annie gets either knocked out or killed in a sudden head-on crash with a Land Rover driven by possessed soldiers, and then gets incinerated by an alien energy bolt
    • Joe Kapp gets ready to heroically sacrifice himself as a backup to Quatermass to ensure the nuke is detonated, but is casually shot dead by Kickalong when the Planet People invade the observatory grounds.
  • Dying Race: The alien Ancient Astronauts in Quatermass and the Pit.
  • Enemy Within: Any human who still has the Martian race memory left intact in Quatermass and the Pit.
  • Gas Mask Mooks: The plant workers in Quatermass II.
  • The Generation Gap: In Quatermass it turns out that the Generation Gap is caused by the malign influence of aliens.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Dr. Roney in Quatermass and the Pit.
    • In Quatermass, Quatermass himself and possibly his granddaughter (it doesn't seem that she actually knew what that big red button was for, although the novelization claims "she knew because he knew". Plus, the fact that her photo was propped up against it might have given her a clue).
  • Hidden Depths: James Fullalove is a reporter for an evening newspaper who is fluent in Medieval Latin.
  • Hostile Terraforming via Atmosphere Abuse: Part of the aliens' plan in Quatermass II. An alien vanguard takes over selected humans so they can build a chemical plant to make an atmosphere that will support their kind of life, and kill off all terrestrial life.
  • Huge Holographic Head: The Martian spectre in Quatermass and the Pit.
  • Human Resources: Quatermass speculates that this is the alien's motivation in Quatermass, although we never find out for sure.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Show up at some point in all of the BBC shows: Quatermass with the three astronaut personalities still inside the monster in The Quatermass Experiment, Quatermass and the possessed Dillon in Quatermass II, and reversing the usual roles, Roney talking Quatermass down when he falls under the Martian ship's influence in Quatermass and the Pit.
  • Improbable Infant Survival:
    • In The Quatermass Experiment a young girl encounters the infected astronaut and comes away unharmed.
    • But definitely averted in Quatermass.
  • Intrepid Reporter: James Fullalove in The Quatermass Experiment and Quatermass and the Pit, and Hugh Conrad in Quatermass II.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: "Ringstone Round" from Quatermass.
  • Jerkass: Kickalong in Quatermass is a seething cauldron of hate. In one scene he pretends to beg for food from a man cowering in a boarded up house, and when the man passes out a can of beans Kickalong machine-guns him.
  • Justified Title: Quatermass II features the Professor's experimental rocket, known as the Quatermass II. Kneale later confessed that he only wrote in that connection because he couldn't think of a better title for the second serial than "Quatermass II", and he had to justify it to himself.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Army's plan to kill the creature in Westminster Abbey at the end of The Quatermass Experiment.
  • Made of Indestructium: The craft from Quatermass and the Pit.
  • Mental Picture Projector: Roney's "optic encephalographic" in Quatermass and the Pit.
  • Mind-Control Music: Implied. While the Planet People are gathering, ethereal music plays on the sountrack, apparently symbolising the alien influence that's drawing them to their deaths like a deadly version of the Pied Piper. The final closing credits make it clear that it has the same tune as the Ringstone Round nursery rhyme.
  • Nuke 'em: When the chips are down, Quatermass has few qualms about the applied use of nuclear weaponry. Attempts by the superpowers in Quatermass to employ this trope are less successful.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat:
    • Colonel Breen and the Minister in Quatermass and the Pit.
    • Subverted however in Quatermass II, where's he's hampered by them, but also helped by Fowler, a senior civil servant who is experienced enough in the way the system works to realise there's something distinctly wrong going on.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Professor Quatermass develops into one of these over the course of the three fifties serials, although in the first he pointedly notes that he's "only an engineer" during one scene. Justified, since when you keep running into hostile aliens, you eventually learn to be prepared.
  • Path of Inspiration: The Planet People in Quatermass are a sect influenced by aliens to voluntarily submit themselves for consumption.
  • Pillar of Light: In the fourth, self-titled serial the Planet People are a sect who believe they are being transported to a wonderful new planet by beams of light that descend to the Earth. Professor Quatermass discovers that the beams have a much deadlier purpose.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: The alien invaders in Quatermass II.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Lomax in The Quatermass Experiment, Fowler in Quatermass II, and Annie Morgan in Quatermass. Quatermass himself probably counts as well.
  • Science Hero: Bernard Quatermass.
  • Spontaneous Human Combustion: In Quatermass, the sole survivor of an alien attack suddenly explodes into ash a couple of days later. (Quatermass had previously wondered why Annie hadn't noticed the corpses he saw at Ringstone Round a few days earlier. They'd obviously gone the same way.)
  • Starfish Aliens: The aliens in The Quatermass Experiment and Quatermass II are weird to almost Eldritch Abomination levels. Put another way, the least bizarre aliens Quatermass encounters are three-legged telepathic insects from Mars.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Quatermass may be the title and main character of Quatermass and the Pit, but it's Dr. Roney who first investigates the pit, is one of the only characters unaffected by the Martian Devil, and ultimately performs a Heroic Sacrifice to defeat the Martians.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Happens at the end of The Quatermass Experiment.
  • Television Serial
  • The Wild Hunt: The episode "The Wild Hunt" of Quatermass and the Pit involves the alien race holding a periodic Wild Hunt to weed out the unfit. Quatermass theorises that this urge has been genetically passed down through the human race, leading to wars and racial conflict.
  • Writer on Board: The fourth, self-titled serial: "Hippie teenagers are terrifying, lawless punks with no respect for anything and when the chips are down only a scientific team made up entirely of old people ignored by the world are capable of saving it."

The Hammer films provide examples of:

  • The Aesthetics of Technology: The Retro Rocket-style design for the alien spacecraft in the tv serial of Quatermass and the Pit is replaced in the film with a more exotic design that gave it a more weirdly "alien" look.note 
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Invoked by Sladden in Quatermass and the Pit after the lights go out in the Underground station and he mutters to himself:
    Where was Moses when the lights when out?
    In the flippin' dark.
  • Captain Ersatz: After the success of The Quatermass Xperiment Hammer immediately wanted to make a sequel. They couldn't get the rights however, so they made X the Unknown a movie with an extremely similar plot-structure and atmosphere to the first with a highly Quatermass-like hero named Doctor Adam Royston.
  • Compilation Movie: The Quatermass Conclusion is an odd example, since the original serial was deliberately written and shot so that it could be edited down into a much shorter movie (the section with the old people in the scrapyard was specifically written to be cuttable without affecting the plot too much). An interesting idea, and it almost worked.
  • Head-in-the-Sand Management: The Minister of Defence in Quatermass and the Pit.
  • Insufferable Genius: Quatermass comes across as one in The Quatermass Xperiment, refusing to listen to criticism from anyone.
  • Kaiju: The large alien creatures that emerge from the domes and destroy the plant in Quatermass 2.
  • A Mythology Is True: Quatermass and the Pit reveals that the insectoid Martians and their telekinesis and spectral projections, are the origins of the beliefs in poltergeists, ghosts, and horned demons.
  • Sinister Subway: Quatermass and the Pit replaces the ordinary building site of the TV show with a London Underground station being reconstructed for an extension, making the scenes even creepier.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: The climax of The Quatermass Xperiment, replacing the "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight denouement of the original. Kneale was not impressed.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: The first film was actually titled The Quatermass Xperiment, to draw attention to its X ratingnote  (for motives as described in Avoid the Dreaded G Rating, except that this film came by its rating honestly).

Alternative Title(s): The Quatermass Experiment, Quatermass II, Quatermass And The Pit, The Quatermass Xperiment, Quatermass 2, The Quatermass Conclusion