Episode 5: The Frenzy
Professor Quatermass stands stunned by the ammonia-breathing alien he saw at the very end of Part 4, when one of the guards finally notices him and demands to know why he opened the “investigation window.” When he doesn’t answer immediately, other guards with guns drawn converge upon him… but before they surround the professor and shoot him down on the spot, they are abruptly called away. There’s an emergency situation at the entrance gate.
Remember the men from the pub in the pre-fab village, who were at last convinced that they’d been duped into assisting the aliens? Well, they’re out there now.
They don’t have pitchforks, and the only torches they carry are the kind that Americans would call flashlights, but they’re angry and determined. They want some answers about what’s really going on at the plant. The union shop steward, the elderly man who was celebrating his 25th anniversary, wants to see the manager. The others want to know what the projectiles they call “overshots” actually are and if the things are dangerous.
When the guards try to clear the gate and force them back, a fight ensues. Men on both sides are killed, but the workmen get hold of a couple of guns and make their way into the central control room for the plant.
One of the things I like about all three original Quatermass series is that the memory of World War II, just 10-15 years before, hangs over the events and social circumstances in which the stories are set: the old lady who thought the Blitz was starting up again in The Quatermass Experiment; the unexploded bomb scare that starts things off in Quatermass and The Pit. Here, it’s the way this group of workmen work together to take out the guards, reach an objective, and secure their position. Without any backstory about what they did during the war, it’s suggested that these men were all in combat and have done this sort of thing before.
Once they’ve taken the control room, the one man who’s become the leader of the group shows the best sense of strategy. He makes sure that everybody has a gun, determines that the entrances and windows are covered, and has the area searched for other weapons or objects that they can use to defend their position.
They find a bazooka! Oh, and Professor Quatermass, who almost gets shot again since he’s still in disguise. But once they see his face, the men recognize him as the stranger who got them started on this in the first place.
Quatermass confirms what his reporter friend Conrad said about the alien invasion, and adds that he has since seen the aliens for himself–tiny things that grow into huge creatures in their hospitable ammonia/methane atmosphere. He also shows them the double-circle mark on a dead guard lying on the floor, to prove that this man was under the aliens’ influence and had no will of his own anymore.
“How much of this do we believe?” the shop steward asks the others.
The others are entirely ready to believe, but some of them wonder why they weren’t taken over too. Quatermass thinks it’s because they were doing what was wanted and it wasn’t necessary.
So, what do they do next?
Quatermass asks some questions about the process these men have helped to build, and decides that the best way to kill the growing aliens is to shut off the supply of gasses currently going in to the domes and pump in oxygen instead. This will be toxic to the creatures. The men know just what to do, and start working on the control panels and huge pipes around them.
While they’re working, an announcement comes over the loudspeaker and a flat, zombified voice tells the men to stop what they’re doing and go home. They have been lied to. The man called Quatermass is a known troublemaker. “Cease resistance now. Abandon your weapons now.” If they surrender, they won’t be shot.
They ignore this and keep working.
Back at the Experimental Rocket Group, Paula Quatermass is growing anxious. She’s in the office alone, and keeps getting strange phone calls from different people asking her if she knows where her father is. She has the feeling that the callers do know and want to find out if she does as well. Then one of them asks where she is. Spooked, Paula phones Leo Pugh, who is working on the prototype rocket to make it ready to fire at the asteroid, and tells him she’s coming to join him there.
After she tells Leo about the creepy phone calls, he says that he’ll drive to Winnerden Flats to see if Quatermass is there and leaves Paula in charge of the rocket. Before he goes, she tells him that she feels as if the world is changing already.
At the plant, the aliens are now trying the truly bizarre tactic of playing some light jazz over the loudspeaker. Quatermass is baffled, until one of the men explains that this music is usually played during the nightshift. The aliens want to convince them that this is an ordinary working night, in spite of the fighting and shooting, and dead men still lying around. To make it more surreal, there are also announcements that the canteen is open for business as usual, so why don’t the men who’ve taken over the control room come on out and have snack? “Go now. Go. Hurry. Hurry.”
The men are not tempted by the promise of soup and sandwiches, and ignore this too.
Once this ploy fails, the flat announcer’s voice over the loudspeaker next tells them that they are destroying the food process they’ve worked so hard to build. The entire factory is open for their inspection if they will come out. All questions will be answered.
Most of the group is dubious, but the shop steward is willing to go out and talk. He phones out and makes arrangements to be met outside the nearest dome. A couple of the other men go out with him.
The men remaining in the control room watch through the big window on the upper level as the trio meets with a pair of unarmed guards and all of them walk away out of sight.
A minute later, one of the men standing near the huge pipe thinks he’s heard voices yelling far away, up at the dome end of the pipe. Quatermass, still up at the big window, thinks he’s glimpsed a man running away from the dome.
Suddenly, the control panels register that pressure is building up inside the pipe. It’s been blocked… and everyone immediately has a horrible suspicion about what’s been used to stop the oxygen flow to the domes.
They open up the big pipe up and have a look inside. The audience doesn’t get to see what’s blocking the pipe, but the men’s reactions convey the gruesomeness of it as clearly as 1950s television is able to. One reaches into the pipe and draws back a hand stained with blood. Their three friends and the two guards have been shoved in there–the aliens considered them all expendable.
This is too much for the leader of the group. While he’s shown a good head for strategy up until this point, he’s too upset and furious to care anymore.
Grabbing that bazooka shown earlier, he fires it through the big window at the nearest dome. This effectively destroys the aliens within, but it also releases a huge amount of toxic gasses over the entire factory.
We can assume that everybody who doesn’t naturally breathe ammonia and methane has been killed by this outpouring of deadly gasses, except for Quatermass, who has the little gas mask that came with the uniform he stole. Wearing this, he makes his way through the mist-swathed factory until he reaches the gate–and finds his friend Leo parked on the road just outside, just sitting in the car.
Leo is coughing a little from the ammonia gas, but he had the windows rowed up and says he’s all right. A helicopter passes overhead, and Quatermass declares that they must return to the Rocket Group right away.
There are more sounds of aircraft overhead when they reach the group. Paula tells her father that Fowler phoned, repeating the names of countries over and over as long as he was able to before his mind was completely taken over. But the names are enough for Quatermass to understand; only one alien plant has been destroyed tonight, and there are so many others still functioning. Presumably these have their collections of ammonia-breathing creatures growing in enormous domes too.
The group quickly prepares to launch the prototype rocket. To reach the asteroid when it’s nearest to Earth, the rocket will have to take off in one hour and 23 minutes, just after 8 am. Since there are no astronauts at hand, Quatermass and Leo are going to fly the thing themselves–and since they intend to use the rocket to create an atomic explosion, this may be a one-way trip.
Paula calls the rocket base before they head over to it, and is astonished at the voice of the man who answers the phone. It’s her fiance, Capt. John Dillon, whom we haven’t seen since the guards took him away at the beginning of Part 2. He now has a prominent double-circle mark on his temple and he speaks in that flat, harsh tone as he informs her that the rocket base under his control now.
To be continued…