Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit is arguably the point at which TV became capable of doing science-fiction well. Kneale had, of course, transformed British TV with first his adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 and then given us two previous, genre-defining Quatermass serials – Kneale established the “we go to them” genre with The Quatermass Experiment and “they come to us” with Quatermass II. However, let’s just say the technology wasn’t quite there yet and maybe directors were a little too theatrical still.
But Quatermass and the Pit, TV’s first “they were always here”, arrived in 1958, at a time when film was really starting to influence TV and productions no longer needed to be performed completely live. Instead, parts of it could be pre-recorded, opening up location filming and the chance to do more complicated special effects. There were also well established BBC departments for creating special effects and sound, as well as greater budgets available to make things that didn’t look like tatty gloves instead of aliens.
Nevertheless, most TV was still performed live and recorded on 405-line videotape, if at all. But as the previous Quatermass serials had had such an impact, The Powers That Be decided that while Quatermass and the Pit would mostly be performed live, albeit with copious filmed inserts, it would be preserved for posterity by being ‘telerecorded’ on 35mm – that is, a film camera was aimed a TV monitor.
That means something rather exciting: despite being shot for British TV in 1958, large parts of Quatermass and the Pit were HD-ready, provided someone took the time to clean them up. Which is what the BBC has done. Out this month is an actual, honest to goodness, Blu-Ray release of Quatermass and the Pit.
Wondering what it looks like and whether it really is HD? Wonder no more.
I should also point out that you can watch the entire thing on the BBC iPlayer in SD for the next seven months, if you so desire. But really, get the Blu-Ray.