Mythical mysteries and "Quatermass And The Pit"

leading from

André Morrell as rocket scientist Professor Quatermass
and Cec Linder as paleontologist Dr Matthew Roney 

a) Summary plot of Quatermass And The Pit
Nigel Kneale had written Quatermass and the Pit as a TV series for the BBC that aired at the end of 1958. It starred André Morrell as rocket scientist Professor Quatermass, Cec Linder (well known in the role of Felix in the Bond movie Goldfinger) as paleontologist Dr Matthew Roney and Christine Finn (later the voice of Tin-Tin Kyrano in Thunderbirds) as Roney's assistant Barbara Judd.

Builders digging the foundations for a building in Knightsbridge uncover a fossil of a humanoid skull that dates back five million years. Dr Roney in his archeological dig at a building site uncover something that they imagine to be a world war II bomb, but the truth reveals itself that it was the remains of an ancient spacecraft that delivered the genetically altered ape men to Earth and has sunk in the marshlands.
  1. Starburst: How did Quatermass start?
    Nigel Kneale:It was really an accident. They had a gap in their schedule and somebody said "Oh, you must write something!" So I wrote it as far as I could and it was being transmitted before I'd actually written the end of it. It wasn't a rave success. I dug up old notices recently and they're quite funny because they say "This dreary programme started last night - it's scientifically incorrect...." and so on. Now , of course, it's been transmuted into having been a great success. (Starburst interview, p15)
  2. TVZone:What is interesting about the second serial was your decision to use the number 2 after the title. Now every major picture carries a 2 whether it's Jaws, Superman or Airplane
     
    Nigel Kneale: I called it Quatermass 2 because I couldn't think of a better title. The real reason i suppose, behind the use of a number 2 was the sketchy connection to the second rocket that Old Quatermass built, for the new story. You remember that the first rocket crashed to Earth in The Quatermass Experiment. I imagine that's a good enough excuse.
  3. TVZone:Where did the idea for Quatermass 2 come from?
    Nigel Kneale: Well I think the idea was contemporary to the fifties. During that time Government bodies were building early warning radar bases, germ warfare factories, mysterious isolated laboratories, all of which were hidden from the public in wild inaccessable places. Some of these fantastic institutions didn't even exist outside of the fertile imaginations of the journalists who wrote about them. But I've always found top secret establishments most intriguing from a story point of view. It was easy therefore to see a public awareness of such places, so I based my ideas around that. 

    TVZone: The oil refinery is a perfect setting for the invasion of Earth. Did you use the same location in the film version?

    Nigel Kneale:Yes, it was the Shell oil refinery in those days and a strange sight to most of the public. They were certainly eerie places, you never saw a soul and of course it was perfect for doubling as the moon project, the plans of which the brainwashed government stole from Quatermass. The huge domes housing the aliens were of course miniatures added later.
  4. Nigel Kneale: There's one scene where the astronaut played by Duncan Lamont, the only survivor of a three-man spacecraft which has crashed on Earth, begins to speak in a German accent. The tension mounts when we discover that one of the other members of the missing crew was fluent in foreign languages. It was a psychological thing rather than a gory effect, but it was very chilling. My wife is, in fact, German and assisted with the sequence
  5.  Starburst: Quatermass 2 was about the evil of science.

    Nigel Kneale: No- not science. I'm not a bit anti-science, only occasionally some scientists. After all, old Quatermass himself is one: perhaps a bit more sensitive to his responsibilities than some. And in the new serial, his main ally (Dr Joseph Kapp) is also a research scientist. Even Kapp's wife is a qualified archaeologist. The whole of the fourth Quatermass is about a last ditch use of logic and dwindling technological resources, pitted against suicidal mysticism

    Quatermass 2 was about the evil of secrecy. It was a time when mysterious establishments were popping up: great radar establishments and nuclear establishments like Harwell and Pprton Down germ warfare. All the Quatermass things have been very mich tied to their times. Quatermass and the Pit was written at a time when there was a lot of building going on. So I thought, well you dig down to an enormous depth and find a space ship (Starburst interview, p16)
  6.  Starburst: Another project which folded, of course, was Quatermass IV

    Nigel Kneale: The previous Quatermasses had always rather been attached to their tome. So the one in 1973 was to be an impending social disaster, because there were signs of it. The the oil crisis hit and it would have had even great relevance. But it didn't get made for a variety of reasons (Starburst interview, p17)
  7.  Nigel Kneale: (regarding Quatermass/The Quatermass Conclusion) In the story the survivors were a Jewish family headed up by Simon MacCorkindale. I do know about Jews having been married to one for 50 years, and I love them. I thought these would be the probable survivors because that is their history. They would find a way of surviving and would keep their knowledge and apply it. In the story the father has made himself a pair of huge radio telescopes and is searching the heavens. He is a scientist with great value to the world, but his value doesn’t really exist because the Earth is being attacked from a totally unknown force in space that turned the human population inside out.

    The humans are vaporised by whatever the forces are that simply wants to use them as fodder. We never see what these things are because they are several million miles away and our skills don’t extend to finding that. Even the man with the clever radio telescope can only try to guess where these forces are.

    It was originally for the BBC but they lost heart in it. They said it was too gloomy. Well yes it was supposed to be gloomy. Stripping the Earth of its population is a gloomy thought. But maybe it was just not destined to be jolly.

    OTT: And of course Quatermass dies at the end.

    NIGEL KNEALE: Yes he kills himself. Whatever these things are, they regard the human population as consumable. The creatures on Earth must make a sign that they are aware of what’s going on and they do this by making this hyper hyper suicide bomb.
Martian from the Quatermass 
& the Pit TV series held 
by its maker
b) Questions about the design of the Martians
The cadavers of the extra-terrestrials were discovered in a state of perfect preservation in the cockpit, large creatures partly insect and partly crustacean.

They resembled locusts with devilish faces and had three legs each.

The body had been inspired by a painting of a lobster by Bryan Kneale brother of Nigel Kneale and then Nigel Kneale decided to go for Martians with three legs since it hadn't been done before , one might make the claim that it was the obvious thing to do in light of War of the Worlds, that featured Martians in war machines that walked around on three legs, but the other more mystifying side to this was that fact that Nigel Kneale originated from the Isle of Man and their national symbol which appears on their flag, was "the three legs of Mann" a triskelion of three legs conjoined at the thigh, a symbol of unknown origin.

Nigel Kneale when asked about it wasn't actually able to precisely say whether it was because of the triskelion or not when he was later asked about it.



c) Lobster like painting over the mantel piece?
However when Jack Kine came up with the design which, oddly enough formed in his mind after seeing a painting by Nigel Kneale's brother, the artists Bryan Kneale.

He and Bernard Wilkie were at a party at Nigel (whose real first name was Tom)  and Judith's flat in Holland Park, where over the mantelpiece, hung Bryan's abstract painting of a strange horny lobster-like creature.

It was enough to stimulate Jack's imagination and after discussing the design with Tom - who had wanted his Martians to look exactly like that anyway - he worked on a series of sketches that would become the aliens.

Made in fibre glass they were almost as famous in their day as the Daleks were to become later on.

They weren't required to walk thank heaven, because the tripod leg arrangement would have presented Jack and Bernard with enormous difficulty. 

Later in the movie version, the script was rewritten to have the ancient spacecraft discovered underground through the wall of a tube station ticket hall.

The film version that was much more available to be seen by the public inspired Dan O'Bannon when he wrote the Alien script and also Ridley Scott when he made Prometheus, and it looked as if when he was formulating his ideas earlier on he was thinking along the lines of the revelations in the film

Ridley was inspired by the idea of how they were able to film buried ancestral memories from Mars that showed the insect race culling their own population, the fact that you could only barely see these alien forms but got a general impression and so decided to have in Prometheus a recording device within the pyramid complex that would replay the Engineers last moments as a hologram.
  1. Bernard Wilkie: The alien monsters being described by Tom are just over two feet high, insectoid with tripod legs and pointed proboscises, were crucial to the plot. For the first time the public were meant to see credible monsters from another world and it was important to make them unlike the comic book Martians as possible; they would have to look menacing (although presumably dead for thousands of years) and not in the least like 'little green men'. (A peculiar effect on the BBC, by Bernard Wilkie)
  2. Bernard Wilkie: Jack came up with the design which, oddly enough formed in his mind after seeing a painting by Tom Kneale's brother, the artists Bryan Kneale. We were at a party at Tom and Judith's flat in Holland Park, where over the mantelpiece, hung Bryan's abstract painting of a strange horny lobster-like creature. It was enough to stimulate Jack's imagination and after discussing the design with Tom - who had wanted his Martians to look exactly like that anyway - he worked on a series of sketches that would become the aliens. Made in fibre glass they were almost as famous in their day as the Daleks were to become later on. They weren't required to walk thank heaven, because the tripod leg arrangement would have presented us with enormous difficulty. (A peculiar effect on the BBC, by Bernard Wilkie)




d) Three legged martian references the Henu Barque?
A curious question comes to the surface about whether the martians cadavers were somehow based on the Henu Barque/Sokar Funerary Barque from the Papyrus of Ani.

So it is as if frame holding the barque become the legs, the Onyx head is reversed and becomes the head of the creature, and so the horns become the antennae, while the fan behind the onyx head becomes the upper segmented body of the creature.

One might even decide that the curved ridges running down the front of the Martian's heads are the Onyx horns as well

Another point, the barque has three rudders at the prow and perhaps in some way that inspires the creature shop to think it appropriate to give it three upper limbs, separate from the legs

However this doesn't even come close to what Bernard Wilkie has said, but there's enough here to say that mysteriously it echoes the Henu Barque once again.

That might mean while the buried spacecraft in the story has been buried in the ground for around five million years, it becomes in a sense another "boat of a million years" as sailed, by Ra the Egyptian sun god, along the river of the sky through the heavens and the world of the night.




Depiction of the Sokar Funerary Barque from the Papyrus of Ani


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