I recently finished watching the second season of the Sixties television series The Invaders, which starred Roy Thinnes (The Norliss Tapes) as architect David Vincent, the only man on Earth to know that aliens are quietly infiltrating the human population in preparation for a full-fledged invasion.
It's probably one of the best pure science fiction shows that was ever produced for television, yet nobody talks about it much. Most likely because it only ran two seasons and didn't have quite enough episodes to be attractive for syndication, so it wasn't rerun much after its original network run. But it was a damned smart show, played straight and serious, with an over-arching "mythology" reminiscent of the ones we see on genre dramas today.
This wasn't camp. As conceived by independent auteur Larry Cohen (God Told Me To, Black Ceasar), The Invaders was TV's first real examination of sustained paranoia on a dramatic series. The alien invaders were indistinguishable from humans, except that they did not bleed, breathe or have a pulse. Some had oddly mutated pinky fingers that stuck out at an odd angle, but not all of them. They had infiltrated industry, the military, various police forces and institutions. They were allegedly emotionless. They were organized and ruthless. And they had cool rayguns and little discs that would give you a cerebral hemorrhage. Oh, and little crystals that could hypnotize you and make you do their will.
And the lone voice crying out to warn humanity? A handsome young architect who had the misfortune of seeing a saucer land late one night on a lonely desert road.
I've seen the series dismissed as being formulaic – Vincent uncovers an alien plot, tries to warn the authorities, is ignored, and then foils the plot himself before moving on. But that's really only the first half of the first season. As the series goes on, he manages to convince others of the extraterrestrial threat, and they become his allies. In Season 2, he actually joins a group of "believers," led and financed by a wealthy industrialist. By the end of the series, even the government is convinced, and preparing for war. I wonder what a third season would have been like?
It's a Quinn Martin production, and it feels very much like a sci-fi take on The Fugitive, Martin's popular hit of the same era. But it's influence has been huge, evident most of all in Chris Carter's The X-Files. (I suppose that's why he got Thinnes to guest star on several episodes.) It was the first ongoing, adult TV drama (as opposed to anthologies like The Outer Limits) to deal with the idea of an alien takeover, and it did so seriously, without goofy monster suits or inappropriate comic relief.
I never saw the show when it aired, nor in reruns later. I did have both the Big Little Book and Whitman juvenile novel based on the show (a very odd choice, as the show was clearly intended for adults), and I later picked up the paperback tie-in by Kieth Laumer. Some episodes were offered on VHS in the late 80's but they were priced beyond my budget at the time. Fortunately, both seasons are now available on DVD from CBS/Paramount, and they're highly recommended.
The transfers are excellent, and each episode is given an on-screen introduction by Thinnes. There are a couple of episode commentaries by Thinnes and producer William Ward, and the second season set has a full-length interview with the star. Both sets are attractively packaged.
I do wish the show was more highly regarded, and I'm glad that it's available again in an affordable, high quality format. Hopefully, this will allow others to get a fresh look at the show and re-evaluate it's place in the sci-fi TV pantheon.