The U.K.’s famous London Underground serves commuters travelling throughout Greater London, as well as select parts of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, and Essex. It can also claim the title of the world’s oldest underground system of its type, given that it opened up for business on January 10, 1863. Today, nearly 250 years after its initial construction, the London Underground has no less than 268 stations and approximately 250 miles of track, making it the longest – as well as certainly the oldest – sub-surface railway system on the planet. Moreover, in 2007, one million people were recorded as having used the Underground since 1863. There is something else that is notable – and, in terms of this book, relevant – to the history of the London Underground: in fictional settings it appears in a number of television shows and movies of a cryptid ape and wild man type nature.
Nineteen-Sixty-seven saw the release of a movie from Britain’s Hammer Film Productions called Quatermass and the Pit. In the United States, it was re-titled as Five Million Years to Earth. Based on a 1950s BBC serial also called Quatermass and the Pit, the movie tells the story of a Martian spacecraft that crashed to earth millions of years earlier, and which is only found because its final resting place is deep below what is now the city of London. It’s when new digging begins on the London Underground that the unearthly vehicle is found. It’s initially believed, by the British military, to have been some kind of advanced Nazi craft, left over since the Second World War. It soon becomes apparent it’s nothing of the sort.
Professor Bernard Quatermass (played by Andrew Keir) and a paleontologist named Barbara (actress Barbara Shelley) learn that, for centuries, the particular area of London has been plagued by sightings of strange, ape-like creatures, and hideous dwarfs. To their horror, Quartermass, Barbara, and her boss, Dr. Matthew Roney, deduce that millions of years ago, the visiting Martians – who, we learn, resemble giant-sized grasshoppers – genetically manipulated early primates into something more superior, something which ultimately became us, the Human Race. But there’s more: a residual Martian energy remains in the old tunnels of the Underground, one which is filled with the memories of the long dead Martians. They are memories that worm their way into the minds of those that stray too close to the alien spacecraft and provoke hallucinations of the creepy, diminutive ape-men. As more and more people become infected by the ancient memories and become more and more savage themselves, London begins to descend into overwhelming anarchy. It’s up to Quatermass, Barbara, and Roney to try and save the day. They do. Only one year later, however, London is again overrun by ape-men – in a totally different piece of on-screen entertainment.
Dr. Who is the world’s longest running science fiction series: the BBC began broadcasting it in 1963. In 1968, when the doctor was in his second incarnation – played by actor Patrick Troughton – a still much loved adventure was broadcast: The Web of Fear, a 6-part story that ran from February 3 to March 9, 1968. It followed on from a previous adventure: The Abominable Snowman, which was aired in late 1967. In the first story, the doctor and his comrades, Jamie and Victoria, materialize in the doctor’s TARDIS time-machine in Tibet – and right in the heart of Abominable Snowman territory.
Unfortunately for the doctor, he become the prime suspect in the death of a man who was actually killed by a huge, hairy Yeti. While the doctor is imprisoned, Victoria and Jamie discover huge footprints around the TARDIS and go on a quest to locate the legendary beasts. What follows is a strange story of real flesh and blood Yetis and robot versions that are under the control of the evil Padmasambhava, who has tapped into what is termed the Great Intelligence, a formless, non-physical alien entity that is intent on dominating the Earth. No one will be surprised to learn that the doctor and his friends save the day, and the real Yetis, from the wrath of the Great Intelligence and its robotic snowmen. Such was the success of The Abominable Snowman, it prompted the BBC to work on a sequel, the aforementioned The Web of Fear.
In the new story, the Himalayas have been replaced by London, where the Great Intelligence is hard at work to – yet again – try and make the Earth its own. It’s clear from the outset that something menacing is afoot: the city is shrouded in a strange, ominous fog and the London Underground has become infested by a strange fungus that spreads rapidly along the old tunnels. There’s something else in the shadowy, coiling tunnels too: an army of robotic Yetis, once again doing the bidding of their ethereal master, the Great Intelligence. Cue a battle between, on one side, the doctor and the military, and on the other, the alien invader and his mechanical man-monsters. No prizes for guessing who wins the day.
Then there is Death Line (Raw Meat in the States), a 1972 movie that starred horror-film regulars, Christopher Lee and Donald Pleasance. In the latter part of the 19th century there is a disastrous collapse while work is taking place to build a new station on the London Underground, specifically at Russell Square, which happens to be a real station. Dozens of workers are assumed to be dead. The company that was hired to do the work goes bankrupt. And, as a result, there is no one around who can dig out the bodies of the dead. It turns out, however, that the victims are not dead, after all. They are trapped, unable to get out.
You can probably see where this is all going: the survivors remain underground, devolving dramatically over the course of several generations – and to the point where, in the early 1970s, when the movie is set, they have become full-blown cannibals, filthy, and dressed in rags. They know their way around the Underground very well, surfacing late at night, when the tunnels are at their absolute quietest, and plucking unfortunate travelers and workers who have the misfortune to cross their paths. A story of a secret underworld, wild men and women almost of the kind described in many of the 19th century newspaper reports cited in the pages of this book, police and government cover-ups, and a largely unaware general public, Death Line is an oddly unsettling, and often overlooked, saga of how quickly man can become beast, and in just about the worst way possible.
While other productions have focused on the presence of terrible monsters on the London Underground, such as 1981’s self-explanatory An American Werewolf in London, and 2002’s Reign of Fire (a movie in which fire-breathing dragons decimate the Human Race) it was from 1967 to 1972 that anomalous apes and savage, devolved humans in the tunnels of old London really caught the public’s imagination and attention.