Episode 3: The Food
At the end of Part 2, one of the men on the Winnerden Flats synthetic food project committee was revealed to have been marked by exposure to the so-called “meteorites” that have been falling in the vicinity of the top-secret factory. It’s assumed by Quatermass and the viewer that the other committee members are also under the influence of whatever’s inside those objects, even though the marks on them aren’t in such obviously visible places.
Member of Parliament Vincent Broadhead, who’s called this committee meeting, mentions the objects and calls them “missiles.” He’s afraid that these things are an attempt to sabotage the delicate food cultures at the plant by some means of infection.
Quatermass takes the plastic model of a “meteorite” out of his briefcase and shows it to them. The reaction is dead silence. He shoves it toward the man with a mark on his face and asks him if he’s ever seen anything like it before.
The marked man seems to struggle with himself and tries to answer. “If I could tell you–” he begins, but he’s shouted down by one of the others, who insists there is no infection and the project will go forward. These questions must not continue.
Quatermass is asked to leave the room.
He returns to Fowler’s office, where he declares that he felt real menace from the men around that table in the last few minutes he was there.
Fowler finds this incredible. “Menace? In the Ministry?” About 20 minutes have passed since Quatermass left the meeting, and he and Fowler return to the conference room to see what’s going on.
The room is now empty, except for Broadhead, who sits slumped over in his seat at the end of the table. There is a faint, lingering smell of ammonia in the air.
Broadhead is at first woozy and disoriented, but as he recovers he tells them, “Inquiry’s over. Nothing to find out. Everything’s in order.” He also has the beginning of a double-circle mark on the side of his neck.
A doctor arrives, and doesn’t answer Fowler’s question about who sent for him. The doctor has that same stilted speaking voice that the security guards and committee members displayed, so he’s obviously One of Them.
While the doctor tends to Broadhead, Quatermass and Fowler quietly confer on the other side of the room. Quatermass whispers that he must get inside that top-security facility and see what’s going on.
They meet up a little later in an espresso bar with a cheerfully vacuous young man named Rupert Ward. Rupert’s job is Public Relations, and one of the things he does is escort important people to see the Winnerden Flats factory. Politicians, mostly, and members of the press. He only takes them there; he assumes someone else brings them back.
For the first time, Rupert seems to think this odd. But nothing’s happened to anyone he’s taken to the plant, he assures Quatermass. “They all turned up again. You see their names in the papers.”
At this point, you might be thinking that this story is similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers–but that film didn’t come out until the following year.
Rupert still has his security pass, so he agrees to escort Quatermass and Fowler to Winnerden Flats for an official tour.
Back at the Experimental Rocket Group, Leo Pugh and Paula Quatermass have a personal conversation. Leo tells Miss Quatermass that he used to be a mathematical whiz-kid, the kind who can do complicated calculations in his head. His old schoolteacher in Wales, a Miss Williams, always gave him math problems with large numbers and was always surprised when he got the right answer in seconds. “You have the power to benefit Mankind,” Miss Williams used to tell him. And now he punches numbers into a computer for it to do the calculations.
Paula in return tells him about her worst childhood fear–being lost in the dark on the wrong side if the world somewhere in outer space, in the one place where her father couldn’t send a rocket to find and rescue her.
This provides Leo with a Eureka moment regarding the location of the satellite that’s sending out those fake meteorites. It’s in a hidden spot on the dark side of the Earth where it can remain in an invisible orbit.
They start a radar search for it, working on that assumption.
Meanwhile, a completely clueless family has gone out to spend the day picnicking on the beach at Winnerden Flats. Like the homeless man in the previous episode, they’re surprised to see that the little village is bulldozed away to rubble, but that doesn’t stop Mum and Dad from setting out a blanket and picnic basket on the beach while their son puts on his scuba mask and flippers and goes for a swim.
They’ve ignored all the keep-out signs, and when they hear the alarms at the plant going off, they assume it’s something innocuous like the workers’ tea-time. And when the guards arrive, point guns at them, and order them to leave, they stand around arguing.
Fortunately for Quatermass et al., this incident provides a distraction so they can drive right past the guards and are not stopped or challenged before their car reaches the factory gates. Rupert produces his pass and the party is admitted.
The place seems strangely empty. There are no workers in sight as they drive around and underneath the towering structures (From the end credits, I note that this place was actually an oil refinery), but there are plenty of armed guards on duty.
Their first stop is at the plant’s infirmary; there is a doctor present, but no one else. When Quatermass asks about Dillon, the doctor answers in that harsh, atonal voice we’re used to hearing from the Pod People by now that Dillon wasn’t very ill and he went “away.”
Next, the three men take their token tour of the plant. They are shown around one of the production rooms, where the supposed synthetic food is being created. At Quatermass’s request, a technician opens a hatch on one of the huge pieces of equipment so they see inside. A bright light within indicates that a lot of energy is used at the beginning of the process.
Quatermass asks the technician about the rest of the process, but answers most of the questions himself. The gloopy stuff that’s created here is channeled into the enormous domes, where it cooks in a high-pressure, low-temperature environment under certain gasses: Ammonia? Methane? Hydrogen? As he pointedly mentions each gas, the technician flinches.
It’s here that Quatermass finally mentions that the dome structures are very much like the ones in the plans for his Moonbase. They’re just the sort of thing one needs to survive in the incompatible and hostile atmosphere of an alien planet.
He asks the technician how the project is getting on, and is told that it’s “on schedule.”
Rupert Ward had left the processing area some time earlier, but Quatermass and Fowler only now notice that he’s gone. They hear the sound of gunshots, but Quatermass says that these were too far away, outside the facility and Rupert couldn’t have gone that far.
They drive around the plant searching for him, and finally spot him staggering down the ladder on the side of one of the domes. He’s obviously in pain and is covered in gunk, which he smears along the outer wall of the dome as he descends.
They reach him by the time he stumbles and falls at the bottom of the stairs.
Rupert is barely able to talk, but he says he peeked inside the airlock. He was wearing a gas mask, which is now dangling around his neck, but it doesn’t seem to have done him any good.
What was inside? “Slime!”
He hands some small object to Quatermass, and dies. The guards are coming, so the two men are forced to leave him behind as they run back to the car and drive quickly away. But Quatermass has managed to get hold of Rupert’s shirt collar and tie, covered with the gunk. He’s wearing gloves so he hasn’t touched the stuff directly.
On their way out, they pass by a truck coming in through the gate, towing the little car that belonged to the family on the beach. A bare arm–the boy’s, I think–is dangling out of one window.
We cut to the smashed remains of the picnic basket, still on the beach, along with the broken mask and flippers belonging to the boy.
Back at the Rocket Group’s lab, the gunk is analyzed and its chemical composition is determined to be “not of this Earth,” at least, not in that concentration. It’s too toxic to be used as food for humans. Quatermass, however, believes it could be food for something else–but food for What?
He posits that they are dealing with creatures that can’t breath Earth’s atmosphere, so they’ve sent out those little projectile packets containing the gasses they can breath; once the packet breaks open, the entity within has only a few seconds to find and latch onto a host it can control. The host person joins a sort of hive mind.
Leo Pugh is still working at his calculations and watching the radar, and he’s found something: an asteroid, about 15 miles across in an elliptical order that reaches it closest point to the Earth every 48 hours. Which is when it presumably launches its “meteorites”. And it’s heading back toward Earth right now.
Fowler and the Quatermasses, father and daughter, gather around the screen to look at the radar blip.
Paula asks, “Could it be the same as before–the first rocket?” Referring to the space-floating alien entity that took over Victor Caroon and turned him into a giant, life-absorbing cactus/octopus thing.
Her father thinks that it isn’t. They’re faced with a new and different alien invasion.
To be continued…