Episode 6: The Destroyers
At the end of Part 5, Captain John Dillon, missing since the second episode, returned under the aliens’ influence. He and a group of zombified soldiers have taken over Quatermass’s rocket base to stop the rocket from being launched.
Quatermass wants his daughter to leave the Rocket Group offices right away, but Paula refuses to go and abandon him.
They’re too late in any case, since Dillon comes up from the base just then. He shows them his written orders to take over–“from the very top,” which shows how high the alien influence has reached up into the British government at this point.
Leo notes that these orders were issued before the explosion at the plant and tells John to send the soldiers with him away. And John does.
Quatermass and Paula try to reach the man they knew before the aliens got to him. Quatermass brandishes a fragment of that first meteorite at Captain Dillon, reminding him of how this all began only four days ago. He explains what happened to Dillon… and what will happen to the rest of humanity if the ammonia-breathing aliens succeed in taking over their world: submission first, then suffocation as Earth’s atmosphere becomes more noxious to accommodate the invaders.
As he appeals to Dillon to find whatever’s left of the individual human being, the scene recalls the lost ending of the original BBS version of The Quatermass Experiment, in which the professor talked to the monster Victor Carroon had become and brought him back to his humanity.
It does seem as if John Dillon struggles with his identity as Paula and her father plead with him, but it isn’t until Leo Pugh tells him bluntly “The rocket must go” that Dillon is really influenced. After a moment of confusion, he agrees to speak to his men down at the base and tell them there’s been “A change in plans. Withdraw all troops. Stand down.” However, he hasn’t shrugged off the aliens’ control over him.
Astute viewers may have noticed that Leo’s been a bit odd since Quatermass found him sitting outside the destroyed factory, but Quatermass himself won’t notice for awhile.
The Rocket Group has just an hour to prepare for the launch. Quatermass and Leo are quickly examined by a doctor, who says that neither of them is really fit and they wouldn’t be passed for space flight under normal circumstances. The doctor wonders why Quatermass has chosen Leo to come with him; Quatermass explains that they may need to do some onboard calculations to make adjustments. The two men suit up.
They review their plans for the last time. To succeed, the rocket will have to land on the asteroid. Quatermass will eject what’s left of the fuel and activate the nuclear motor. Using the disaster that occurred with the first prototype’s test fire as a guideline, that should give him 2 minutes and 42 seconds before things blow up.
“Time to try and get clear,” Paula says hopefully.
“Under certain circumstances,” her father agrees, but isn’t as hopeful about their chances.
The Quatermasses hug goodbye, clumsily because of the bulky spacesuit he’s wearing, and the professor leaves his daughter in charge at the control center. She and the rest of the team monitor the situation anxiously as the rocket takes off. They’re afraid there’s going to be a nuclear explosion too soon, but the rocket gets up into space without mishap.
During their flight, we’re treated to some classic 1950s-style space-drama special effects: miniature models, background photographs of starfields, papier-mâché rocks. It’s about the usual level of effects you’d see in films about rocket travel made during this era, nothing spectacularly awful and perhaps a little more impressive in that this work was done for a half-hour television show and not a film with a bigger budget.
Although the helmets for the spacesuits are kind of goofy-looking.
A meteorite shower passes close by them–ordinary meteorites, and not more projectiles from the asteroid. There’s also an allusion to zero gravity, but we don’t get to see any objects floating around the crew cabin on barely visible strings.
Quatermass notices that Leo has brought a rifle with them. “Something you overlooked,” Leo explains tersely.
The professor is irked about it because the weight of the rocket and everything aboard has to be so carefully calculated.
“Exact!” Leo snaps in response to this concern.
It’ll take them 10 hours to reach the asteroid. The two men remove their goofy headgear and Quatermass makes a speech about the pathetic irony of a pair of middle-aged duffers like himself and Leo Pugh acting as astronauts. It should be “fit young men bursting through the frontiers of space” on the QII, and not “two old men on a kamikaze flight.”
Leo continues to behave oddly. He murmurs to himself, repeating the things his old schoolteacher in Wales used to say to him in childhood, complex mathematical equations, “Multiply, divide! Multiply, divide!” and almost tragically, “You’re a mathematical genius, Leo Pugh. With your brain, you have the power to benefit mankind.”
The control room back at the base has remained in contact with the rocket at intervals during the flight, and Paula speaks to her father in a low voice. John Dillon is in the room with her, still under the aliens’ influence, and he keeps saying, “They must reach it.”
Quatermass tells her this probably means nothing, but it finally awakens his own suspicions about his companion. What did happen to Leo when he sat waiting in the car outside the factory? And what about the way Dillon followed Leo’s orders regarding the rocket launch?
At first, he voices his suspicions indirectly, suggesting that because of the mathematician’s highly complex brain, some sort of merger is going on instead of the usual alien takeover. Then, as Leo denies it all, Quatermass becomes more confrontational, even grabbing and shaking him.
The rocket lands on a craggy little landscape made up of those papier-mâché rocks I mentioned earlier (There are actually two versions, one for the miniature rocket and another full-sized set for the actors.) Quatermass ejects the fuel according to plan, but before he engages the nuclear engine, he notices that Leo has gone out onto the asteroid’s surface. He goes out after him.
When he catches up with Leo, there’s a brief struggle for that gun Leo brought along. The mathematician has turned completely to the dark side. Pointing the gun at Quatermass, he explains why the aliens on the asteroid wanted the rocket to reach them. They intend to use it to fly back to Earth themselves.
“You’re not going back!” Leo tells Quatermass triumphantly. “Instead of you, there will be others!”
The professor begs him not to shoot, and not just because he values his own life.
Well, Leo does fire the gun. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to predict the result.
Quatermass, who is in fact a rocket scientist, explains it via their in-spacesuit radios after Leo shoots at him and misses: the recoil from a weapon fired in a low-gravity environment will send the shooter flying off into space.
Still speaking over the in-suit radio, Quatermass tries to get Leo to twist around and fire the gun again in the opposite direction, which should send him back toward the asteroid, but Leo is too panicky to do anything but shout and flail his arms around. Quatermass then promises his old friend that he’ll try to rescue him, and returns to the rocket.
The aliens thwart this plan, however, by sending up tendrils from wherever they are within the asteroid to wrap around the rocket and trap it. This effect is actually kind of neat–I think it must be wax melting away and filmed in reverse.
Inside the rocket, Quatermass contacts his team back at the control center and reports about his situation. He tells them that the critical phase has started and he intends to separate the crew module at the rocket’s nose from the trapped section.
Horrifyingly, or hilariously–take your pick–all during this scene, Leo can still be heard over his own radio shouting “Help! … Help!” But there’s nothing Quatermass can do.
Aside from Leo’s doom, which he brought upon himself by ignoring basic physics, everything else turns out all right. Quatermass initiates the nuclear reaction, then uses what remains of the chemical fuel to get away in the crew section in time before the rest of the rocket abandoned on the asteroid behind him goes Boom! Thus the ammonia-breathing aliens are destroyed.
A final message from Paula informs him that John Dillon is himself again and that mark on his face is gone. We can assume that everyone else who’s been taken over the aliens is also okay.
The story ends with Quatermass heading homeward. Presumably he got there safely, since we see him back on Earth a couple of years later.
The thing I keep in mind while watching this is that these events occurred before those of Quatermass and the Pit.
Now, the whole thing with the QI rocket and Victor Carroon turning into a life-absorbing cactus-monster might’ve been kept out of the eye of the general British public, but could something as widespread and affecting as many prominent people as this remain secret? Not to mention that Bernard Quatermass has saved the Earth from alien invasion. The man is undoubtedly a hero. It makes the way he’s treated by the military in the next series truly strange and dismissive.
The aliens here also make the giant grasshoppers from Mars seem quite neighborly by comparison. Their motives are at least understandable to humans since we are, after all, sort of related to them. And they never subjected us to light jazz in the middle of a working night.