Friday, March 27, 2009

The Invaders Reconsidered

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.

6 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I loved this show and even caught some of it in the original run. I'd love to see it replayed. I'd watch it start to finish. I thought it was really well done, with the focus on characters adn stories rather than special effects. Of which there was very little

jason said...

I love this show! When I was around 10 or 12 (back in the early 80s), my local low-power UHF station ran a big block of old sci-fi shows on Saturday afternoons: The Outer Limits, Battlestar Galactica, occasional movies, and The Invaders. I always found it very spooky and very believable. Glad to see some other folks appreciate its charms...

Martin Powell said...

Thanks for the review, Chris. I think I very vaguely remember seeing part of an episode of THE INVADERS on TV during its original run. I've just placed the first season on my NetFlix line-up. Now, all I have to do is find the time to watch them.

Craig Zablo said...

Glad to hear the series held up. I remember watching many episodes in the original run. I always remembered it being a cool show and I'm glad to hear you feel the same. Sometimes when we revisit "cool" things from years ago, they no longer seem so.

Ivan said...

Mr. Mills,
Nice write-up of season 2 of The Invaders; gotta queue that one, even though I’m not finished with season 1 yet.

I really dig the paranoia of The Invaders: It’s what would happen if someone made a weekly TV show based on the ending of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where Kevin McCarthy is running down the middle of the highway screaming, “You’re next! You’re next!”

From what I’ve seen of The Invaders so far, it probably was an influence on Gerry Anderson’s UFO (a childhood fave of mine). UFO and The Invaders share a similar very bleak worldview: that it may be too late to stop the alien invasion.

But you know what? With its extremely paranoid vibe, and very cheap futuroid/alien sets, The Invaders reminded me more of Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner—in this case, the whole world is The Village, but under the aliens’ surveillance. Mind control and brainwashing are prevalent on both shows as well, which fits: both are about contests of wills.

Great site! Thanks,
Ivan

Bird of Paradise said...

I think in the very first episode we got a glips of what they realy looked like kind of skuulike faces and the ships make a rather chilling sound when they landed