Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: DVD Review: The Invaders: The First Season - Paranoid Sci-Fi Show Plays Even Better Today

Monday, June 9, 2008

DVD Review: The Invaders: The First Season - Paranoid Sci-Fi Show Plays Even Better Today

by Tony Dayoub

Making its long awaited debut on DVD recently, is the 1967 cult favorite, The Invaders. Starring Roy Thinnes as brooding architect David Vincent, The Invaders lasted only two seasons. But what a dramatically rewarding and influential two seasons they were. The 5-disc set contains all seventeen episodes of the first season, including an extended edition of its pilot, "Beachhead". In addition to new introductions for each episode recorded by the dapper Thinnes, a half hour interview with the actor is also included. And a refreshingly honest audio commentary for this season's best episode, "The Innocents", by cult director and series creator, Larry Cohen (It's Alive), describes his limited involvement with the show once it aired, while putting the show into political context within its era.

The premise is simple. David Vincent, while driving home late one night, believes he sees a UFO landing in a desolate area. After convincing authorities of what he witnessed, they go back to that area, but with all evidence of their landing having been erased, he ends up looking like a crackpot. After further investigation on his own, he discovers several things: the aliens look like us (except most have a mutated pinkie finger); they must regenerate often or risk death; when they die, they - as well as anything they are touching - disintegrate; and they are already deeply entrenched in key positions of authority throughout the world, laying the foundation for an invasion. Most importantly, Vincent must now watch his back, as they are aware of his knowledge, and fear any setback to their plans.

With the rebirth of American society after World War II into a cultural and military superpower, the U.S. leading the anti-communist charge in Korea and the cold war, and the assassination of JFK (and his Camelot ideals), the cultural turbulence and general malaise of the late sixties was emerging. No longer able to discern evil in simple terms, the average American couldn't have been blamed for the paranoia they felt in a society that had become a little less black-and-white and more shades-of-grey. Gone was the fascistic bogeyman of Hitler, replaced by the multi-headed hydra of the Red Scare. Conspiracy theories prevailed regarding who was culpable for both a president's assassination, and the death of his alleged assassin. The time was ripe for Larry Cohen to create a show that would comment on the times, even if disguised behind the allegory of an alien invasion.

However, as he describes in his commentary, another veteran producer was assigned to run the show. Quinn Martin, producer of The Fugitive, took those duties, bringing his show's format to The Invaders. Every week, the show's grander alien mythology would serve as a backdrop to the more grounded earthly problems of other guest characters Vincent would run into. This attracted a lot of existing and future stars to the show, as their characters usually had their own dilemmas for the actors to chew on. Among the celebrities who make an appearance in the first season, are Ed Asner, Ralph Bellamy, Peter Graves, Roddy McDowall, and Burgess Meredith.

Some themes would be visited frequently in these morality plays, like adultery, or the questionable motives of the U.S. involvement in both Korea and Vietnam. Producer Martin's subtle house-style was effective in pushing these then taboo themes past the censors in a way that I doubt the in-your-face Cohen could have done. Our ambivalence over whether to trust radicals or the establishment was being reflected in the paranoia inherent in Vincent's alien conspiracy theories. "Vikor" is an episode that perfectly encapsulates this. Guest star Jack Lord plays a war hero, whose wife has turned to alcohol, since his return from Korea. Having lost a leg in the war, the self-made industrialist felt betrayed when he was turned down for a government loan to start his business. So instead he throws in with the aliens, hoping to give his wife a happy life under the new alien world order.

Martin's appreciation for stoic actors, who could still be physically dynamic (like The Fugitive's David Janssen), proved to be essential to The Invaders' alchemy. Roy Thinnes was a strong lead, generous when sharing a scene with a prominent guest star, but commanding when fighting the conspiratorial enemies of mankind. This would prove to be an essential part of the formula in subsequent series strongly influenced by the format, like The Incredible Hulk, and the casting of its star, Bill Bixby. Thinnes is still highly regarded, appearing as a recurring guest star on another show that shares its legacy, The X-Files. And as recently as August 2004, Thinnes' portrayal helped David Vincent rank number six on TV Guide's list of the Top 25 Sci-Fi Legends.

Given the current political climate's similarity to the Red Scare era that The Invaders comments on, the ultimate compliment I can pay the show is that it transcends the period's anachronisms and plays extremely well today. Definitely worth a look.

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