Friday, 10 January 2020

Invaders season two (1967-68)

The Invaders started life as a mid-season replacement on ABC in 1967. It did well enough to get a second full season but that unfortunately was the end of the line. Which was a pity because it’s a fascinating oddity among 1960s American science fiction TV series. It was a Quinn Martin production and was their only serious foray into science fiction. As a result it plays more like a typical Quinn Martin series (such as The Fugitive) with science fiction elements tacked on. Surprisingly this works rather well, giving the series the feel of everyday life suddenly coming into collision with nightmare. The second season which started airing in late 1967 starts off being pretty similar to the first, and that’s not a bad thing.

The kinship with 1950s sci-fi paranoia movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers is very obvious. An architect named David Vincent accidentally discovers that alien invaders are among us. Nobody knew because the aliens look just like us. They’re from a planet that is dying and now they want our planet. They are most definitely hostile. They have already managed to infiltrate themselves into society, at least to a limited extent. As in other classic examples of the alien invasion paranoia genre David Vincent’s problem is that he can’t get the authorities or anyone else to believe him.

The Invaders however departs slightly from the usual formula. A few people do believe him. He acquires a few allies. Most of them are not in a position to do very much but sometimes he does get help. And at least he knows that are a few fellow believers. In fact there’s a slowly accumulating number of them. There isn’t the same sense of despair that you get in The X-Files where Mulder always seems destined to lose and to be the only true believer. The other key difference from The X-Files is that in 1967 when The Invaders began production it was still possible to believe that the government could be trusted. The problem isn’t that you can’t trust anyone. The Air Force officers Vincent encounters really would do something, they really would help him, if only he had hard evidence. But they won’t risk their careers without hard evidence. That makes Vincent’s task easier in many ways but also more frustrating. It’s more heart-breaking when he finds evidence and it slips through his fingers. There’s still plenty of paranoia but it’s more subtle. Like Mulder he gets labelled as a nut and a crank but let’s be honest - when you start telling people that aliens have invaded it’s quite natural for them to react that way. 


He is also a man who lacks Mulder’s cynicism. David Vincent really likes his country. Even though he’s a city boy when he finds himself in small town America he really likes that kind of society as well. There’s more at stake for him because he’s fighting to save a society that he very much thinks is worth saving. He’s also very intense. Perhaps too intense.

Being a Quinn Martin production The Invaders is naturally extremely well made with a surprising amount of location shooting. The special effects are simple but mostly effective. The fact the aliens look human means there’s no need for alien makeup effects which is a huge advantage. This series doesn’t really look dated at all.

It also doesn’t feel dated. If you can accept the basic premise then the plot lines are fairly believable. This genre lends itself to political allegories but fortunately The Invaders generally does not try to bludgeon viewers with political messages. You can of course read political subtexts into it. It’s up to you.

One unusual feature is that while the aliens have some advanced technologies they’re actually easy to kill. If you shoot them they die. Which means that while they’re formidable enemies they’re not unbeatable. It’s always believable that David Vincent has a fighting chance of survival and even a chance of winning some victories, without the writers having to resort to outlandish plot devices to explain those victories.

There is of course the matter of the crooked fingers which give away the identity of the invaders. The inherent problem with stories featuring aliens who look exactly human is that they would be impossible to defeat. It’s just too big an advantage. With means that they have to be given a weakness. There has to be something that reveals their identity. And it has to be something that most people would not even notice but that those in the know would be able to spot. The crooked fingers are a bit lame but they do the job and I’m not sure what else the series could have done. At least they don’t require any iffy make effects.

Which brings us to an unusual feature of this series - while the aliens have some advanced technologies they also have some serious vulnerabilities. Being able to take human form is a big advantage but it brings with a big weakness - when they’re in human form anything that can kill a human can kill them. They can also die in accidents, such as car accidents. They have a limited mind control ability but it can only be exercised at very close range and it isn’t fool-proof. They don’t have destructor beams that can level whole city blocks, they don’t have the ability to make themselves invisible or walk through walls or see through walls. The invaders are also not entirely united - at times some of the aliens will actually help David Vincent, although they do so for their own reasons. They’re formidable enemies they’re far from unbeatable. It’s always believable that David Vincent has a fighting chance of survival and even a chance of winning some victories, without the writers having to resort to outlandish plot devices to explain those victories. It’s a clever touch. The invaders win some battles and lose others.

There are several episodes in which David Vincent gets to see the aliens’ point of view, or at least we get to see that they have a point of view. They’re doing what they believe they have to do. It’s interesting that Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, made at almost exactly the same time, also shows us the the point of view of the aliens seeking to destroy us. What makes both series interesting is that knowing how the aliens see things doesn’t help. It’s still a case of either we destroy them or they destroy us. Understanding an enemy’s motivations does not necessarily mean that any kind of negotiation or compromise is possible. Both series approach the alien menace idea with surprising sophistication.

The tone is unrelievedly dark. David Vincent wins some battles, but there's always a price to be paid. Often a very high price. This series is actually considerably darker and more downbeat than The X-Files.

Episode Guide

Condition: Red involves a plot by the aliens to sabotage the computers at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command). David Vincent uncovers the plot when a young woman is killed after falling from a horse. She later makes a full recovery and Vincent suspects she’s an alien. She happens to be married to an officer in the computer section at NORAD. As always Vincent’s problem is getting anyone to listen to him but occasionally people do and in this case intelligence officer Major Stanhope (who had at one time been involved in investigations of UFO phenomena) believes him. But can the plot be stopped? If it can’t be stopped twenty UFOs will be able to penetrate the NORAD defences. A solid season opener with some tense moments.

In The Saucer David Vincent finds a man who has not only seen one of the alien spaceships, he claims he knows when it will appear again. It looks like this is the break Vincent has been hoping for, especially when he manages to capture the alien ship. But things never work out that neatly. To complicate matters there’s a couple on the run from the police (with the girl played by the always awesome Anne Francis). They end up right in the middle of things which turns out to be both a good thing and a bad thing. This is an episode that tries to combine some human drama with the sci-fi plot, and does so fairly successfully. A good episode.

The Watchers starts with a shocking accident. A man walks in front of an aircraft that is landing at an airstrip at a remote mountain resort. But it’s no accident. David Vincent is soon on the scene and witnesses the arrival of Paul Cook and his blind niece Maggie. Cook is a very important defence contractor whose company is about to upgrade the country’s air defences. If the aliens can get hold of the secrets of those defences they will be unstoppable. Kevin McCarthy guest stars as Cook, a treat for cult movie fans given that he was the star of the sci-fi paranoia classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers which was a major inspiration for The Invaders.

It's a good episode that showcases one of David Vincent’s major assets in his fight against the invaders - he has the ability to talk about seemingly crazy stuff while seeming to be calm and reasonable and sane. A very good episode.

In Valley of the Shadow an accident threatens the invaders. One of their number is involved in a traffic accident. The alien murders a doctor who tries to examine him (the aliens have no pulse and no heartbeat). The alien is taken into custody. For Vincent it’s an opportunity to unmask them publicly and an even bigger opportunity when dozens of people see the alien vanish before their eyes after being shot. The aliens however are prepared to take ruthless steps to prevent any word getting out. Another good story in which Vincent seems to be so close to getting the evidence he needs.

There are some fascinating and devious twists to this story. They don’t exactly take the series in a new direction but they do raise questions and add extra layers of ambiguity. A very very good episode.

The Enemy begins with one of the alien saucers making a disastrous crash landing. One crew member survives and is rescued by a human woman, a nurse named Gale Frazer,  who is determined to nurse him back to health. Her plans are threatened by the arrival of David Vincent. This is one of several episodes in which we see a different side of the aliens. They’re not necessarily mere monsters. This particular alien might be a dangerous enemy to Earth but he’s a long way from home and he’s alone and frightened. He needs help. His emotions are the same as ours. Or at least that’s what Gale Frazer thinks. She’d better hope she’s right about that. If it turns out that his emotions are not the same as ours she could be in big trouble. This episode could easily have come unstuck but it works pretty well.

The Trial is a departure from the usual formula for this series. David Vincent is trying to save an old army buddy accused of murder. He didn’t kill a man, he killed an alien, but that’s not exactly easy to prove in court. And what actually happened is not clear-cut even to Vincent. Courtroom dramas are risky. They rely heavily on dialogue scenes and that means sacrificing the action scenes that fans expect from a series such as this. The challenge in this episode is that it seems like the only way to get Vincent’s friend off the hook for murder is to prove the existence of the aliens but the whole point of the series is that David Vincent never manages to get the hard evidence that would prove such a thing. The problem is solved fairly satisfactorily but by its nature it’s an episode that is a bit slow and static. It is an interesting experiment though.

In The Spores the aliens have a suitcase full of spores. It’s an experiment and if it succeeds they will be able to grow practically unlimited numbers of new aliens. The van in which the aliens are carrying the spores crashes and a cop sees two of them vaporise. The case of spores goes missing and the police, David Vincent and the aliens are all hunting it but it changes hands so many times it seems like no-one is going to get it. Another very good episode.

In Dark Outpost the aliens have problems. Their people are getting sick so they’ve had to set up a secret hospital for them, in a disused army camp. David Vincent, along with a party of student geologists, discovers their hospital. This episode takes the mind control element a bit further and there’s a psychological battle between the humans and the aliens. Not a bad episode.

Summit Meeting is a two-parter that moves the series into a paranoid conspiracy theory world that seems like an anticipation of The X-Files. A summit conference of leaders of the major powers may be a cover for some plan by the invaders to poison the world with radiation or maybe the radiation plan is a cover for something else. David Vincent finds out about the plot from Michael Tressider, a major defence contractor who knows that the invaders are among us. Vincent soon has reason to believe that the aliens have infiltrated the worlds of government and diplomacy and even the Pentagon at the highest levels. This is real Trust No One stuff.

The Prophet is Brother Avery, a travelling preacher with a large following who claims to have spoken to the heavenly multitudes. David Vincent suspects that these heavenly multitudes are the aliens and that Brother Avery is preparing the way for a large-scale invasion. Vincent infiltrates himself into the organisation but he has to convince Sister Claire to help him get the evidence and Sister Claire is very much a true believer. A good episode.

There’s such a thing as being too paranoid and there’s such a thing as being not paranoid enough and David Vincent makes both mistakes in Labyrinth. He has the proof he needs in the form of X-rays of an alien and he has the support of a government program set up to study UFOs but it’s not enough. Lots of terrific paranoid twists in this excellent episode.

In The Captive an alien is caught breaking into the Soviet Embassy. The Russians realise they’re dealing with something very strange. Like all the aliens this one has no pulse and they have other evidence that whatever he is he’s not human. Knowing his reputation as an investigator of UFOs they call on David Vincent for help. But will the Deputy Ambassador risk his career by reporting the presence of aliens to his government? And the aliens want Vincent’s help as well. There’s a clever mix of different levels and varieties of paranoia and risk in this extremely good episode.

The Believers represents a major change for the series. David Vincent has finally managed to convince a number of people that he is right abut the invaders. And they’re important, influential, powerful people. Now he has an organisation behind him - an organisation of believers. Unfortunately the aliens know this too and they’re determined to strike back. Interestingly this episode ramps up the paranoia even further. The more people you have on your side the more likely you are to be betrayed. An excellent episode.

In The Ransom Vincent and one of his followers capture an alien leader. A very important man, or so he says. So important that the aliens may be prepared to make an attractive deal to secure his release. But can Vincent trust him?

David Vincent continues to build up his anti-invader group in Task Force. He’s trying to get major news magazine publisher William Mace to support him but the aliens are in the process of taking over the Mace publishing empire. Not an outstanding episode but still quite decent.

In The Possessed Vincent gets a message from his old friend Ted Willard but Ted seems very confused when Vincent arrives. Ted and his brother Martin are doing research into mind control. This is another story in which the motives of the aliens are slightly ambiguous, suggesting that they’re evil but perhaps not entirely evil. And those who help the aliens have tangled motives as well. A good story.

Counter-Attack marks a further stage in the development of the overall second season story arc. Vincent’s group has now obtained the means to strike back at the invaders. The story however focuses mainly on questions of loyalty and betrayal. Even David Vincent’s loyalty is questioned. A very good episode.

In The Pit the aliens are trying to sabotage the work at a research establishment. They seem to be particularly intersected in the dream machine and in the electro-magnetic engine project. A fairly routine episode.

There’s a three-way battle going on in The Organization which starts when David Vincent is looking for alien wreckage, vital evidence of the existence of the aliens, in a freighter. The aliens got there first and removed the evidence but they removed something else, a narcotics shipment belonging to a drugs syndicate. The syndicate wants the shipment back but may they may need Vincent’s help. He may need the mobster’s help to get that evidence. And that aliens may try to cut a deal. It comes down to whether the mobsters trust Vincent more than the aliens, and whether Vincent’s group can work with gangsters. This episode is typical of the growing moral complexity of the second season and it’s excellent, with a fine guest starring performance by J.D. Cannon as gangster Peter Kalter.

There’s a subtle Cold War subtext throughout the second season and it becomes overt in The Peacemaker. Maybe a war to the death between humans and the aliens isn’t such a great idea? Maybe a negotiated compromise would be better for both sides. Peaceful co-existence. But of course it’s all a matter of trust. David Vincent isn’t sure he can trust the aliens but maybe there are people closer to home who can be trusted even less. If the major themes of the first season were paranoia and belief then the second season themes are trust and betrayal. This is an extremely good episode.

In The Vise David Vincent trees to persuade a Senate investigator that a man about to be appointed to a senior position in the space program is an alien. This puts the investigator in an awkward personal position. This is an episode that tries to address social issues, always a bad idea. This one is too predictable and not a very successful episode.

The Miracle starts in a small town where a girl witnesses what she thinks is a miracle in a grotto where the Virgin Mary supposedly appeared to some children years earlier. In fact what she saw was an alien dying and vaporising. The alien left behind a crystal, a key part of a powerful new weapon, and David Vincent has to find a way to get hold of it. A reasonably OK episode.

The Life Seekers is a further exploration of the theme that maybe the aliens aren’t quite as simplistically evil as they originally seemed to be, and that maybe they’re not united either. Two aliens want David Vincent’s help but they may be able to help him even more. Another very good episode.

The Pursued is one of several episodes in which David Vincent finds a possible ally among the aliens but this story offers some new twists. The alien involved is young, pretty and decidedly female. She’s a really sweet likeable girl. Except for one minor personality quirk. When she gets stressed she gets so angry she could just kill someone. And she does. She kills lots of people. She doesn’t mean to. It just happens. She’s real sorry afterwards. And it really isn’t her fault - she’s the result of a failed alien experiment in simulating human emotions. She could be very very useful to David Vincent’s resistance movement if he can just stop her from killing anyone for a while. So there’s interesting moral ambiguity, plus it’s an exciting manhunt (or womanhunt) story with no less than four groups wanting to get their hands on her. An excellent episode.

The series moves well and truly into proto X-Files territory with Inquisition. The aliens are about to launch an all-out attack but David Vincent and his organisation of Believers have more immediate problems - a corrupt ruthless ambitious Special Prosecutor who charges Vincent and the other leader of the Believers, Edgar Scoville, with murder. The government may destroy the Believers before they can take action to stop the alien offensive. The paranoia level is at maximum in this episode. 

Final Thoughts

There’s an interesting change that takes place midway through the second season. David Vincent acquires an organisation, informal but including important people. He’s not a lone crusader any longer. And the aliens are no longer a mysterious inexplicable terror. They are people, with their own hopes and fears. There is still deadly hostility but there are temporary truces and negotiations. It’s not just a war. There’s now diplomacy, of a sort. Deals can be made.

For those who think that thematic complexity, character development and ongoing story arcs are a modern phenomenon and a sign of the superiority of modern television this may come as a shock. The Invaders is more than a sequence of standalone stories. There is an evolving background story. David Vincent starts out as a man completely alone, regarded as a madman, desperate and paranoid. He remains paranoid (and quite rightly so) but he has to learn to trust people and form alliances. He has to become a leader and take responsibility. He has to be prepared, to a limited extent, to listen to what the aliens have to say. He has to learn to consider the long game. Over the course of the second season he does so, and he finds himself the leader of an organised resistance group rather than being a lone paranoid outsider.

This was to be the final season which is a pity in many ways but on the other hand it does mean that the series did not have to suffer the ignominious decline into silliness that was the fate of just about every other American science fiction series of its era. And perhaps there really wasn’t anywhere left for the series to go. The second season of The Invaders is very different from the first but it’s more complex and more multi-layered. Very highly recommended.

2 comments:

  1. I haven't seen this show, apart from a few random episodes, in so long. I always thought it was great. I definitely remember the later episodes being more about Vincent getting allies rather than one man alone.

    Going through your episode guide, this is clearly a show I need to watch again. Luckily a friend of mine has the DVD box set ...

    ReplyDelete
  2. The show airs regularly on Me-TV on Saturday nights. I've been catching up on it, and am grateful for the episode guide!

    ReplyDelete