I generally hate the BBC. If I ever come to power as the front man for a military coup, my first act would be to revoke the BBC Charter, and to kick all the staff, without redundancy payments and pensions, into the street. But there was a time when the Beeb produced decent programmes, and there are still times when it republishes these in impressive quality. Quatermass and the Pit is one such time.
This was made and shown just before I was born, and I don’t recall seeing it repeated when I was a boy. But I have always loved the Hammer film version. The story is a perfect blend of science fiction and the supernatural. The film, indeed, may be the very best of its kind. I was interested to see the television original. I wasn’t disappointed. It reminds me of Doctor Who before it was revived and ruined. Some reviewers have complained that the series is slow and stagey. It is, but I see nothing wrong with that. The purpose is to begin with two stories – about an archaeological find in the course of rebuilding works in London, and about a science project hijacked by Cold War hawks – that are entirely credible, and then to bring them together with rising disquiet. The series wholly achieves this purpose. The writing is crisp and unpatronising to the viewers’ intelligence. The acting has full conviction. Anyone who wants Hollywood special effects really shouldn’t be considering a television series made in 1959.
But I turn to the quality of restoration. I’m no expert on broadcasting standards, but my understanding is that television recording before about 1970 was inherently of low quality. This never mattered when I was a boy, as we never had a very good television and we learned to look past endless retuning for a fuzzy picture on a small screen. Nowadays, large screens and soundbars show up every original defect. You don’t see this in the present restoration. The black and white picture is not absolutely sharp, but is more than acceptable. The sound is excellent. I suspect what is given on the disc would have astonished the producers watching the series on their own equipment before it was compressed for broadcasting.
So I say through gritted teeth: Well done Beeb. Television wasn’t always sub-literate psychological warfare. Quatermass and the Pit is a prime example of what television used to be, and of what it might be again.