The Invaders: The First Season on DVD

This 1967 series, created by Larry Cohen, featured Roy Thinnes as “architect David Vincent,” who takes a wrong turn on a lonely road one night and ends up witnessing the landing of a flying saucer – vanguard of an alien invasion. The rest of the series follows Vincent’s attempts to track down the aliens and find enough proof to convince the world that he is not a crackpot. Despite the science fiction trappings, THE INVADERS is more a study in paranoia than a traditional space opera: it is about a lone man convinced of a danger that everyone else refuses to recognize, and the stealth invasion by emotionless aliens (rather like the scenario of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) could easily stand in for the Red Scare of the 1950s.

The first season of THE INVADERS is filled with the cliches of its era, in particular a desire to emulate the structure of executive producer Quinn Martin’s hit series THE FUGITIVE, in which a loner hero wandered into a new town - with a new cast of supporting characters – for his weekly battle with the Invaders. There is a tendency to forego continuity in favor of making each episode a stand-alone story: Vincent convinces one or two people every week (including his brother), but the following episode features him alone again, instead of leading an organized band of followers. He never bothers to purchase a gun even though his life is in danger on a daily basis. And dialogue occasionally fills in back story that we have never seen (e.g., midway through the season, Vincent laments that he gave up his old life, including a previously unmentioned girlfriend, in order to pursue the aliens ). Also, there seemed to be some doubt that the paranoid sci-fi invasion storyline would hold viewer interest, so episodes typically feature fistfights, often a shoot-out, and occasionally a car crash and/or an explosion.


Fortunately, this all becomes part of the show’s charm. Unburdened by the baggage that comes with weekly continuity, THE INVADERS avoids falling into the swamp of muddy details that eventually mired THE X-FILES. Each episode starts fresh, with some new plot by the aliens, which Vincent must uncover and/or thwart. One especially valuable dividend of this approach is that the Invaders remain an anonymous, almost faceless menace: a series of guest stars play various aliens in charge of each episode’s scheme; without a visible supreme leader to act as our hero’s weekly nemesis, David never develops a personally antagonistic relationship with them, and we seldom if ever see him confronted by a famliar menace, thus avoiding any Holmes-versus-Moriarty type of melodrama.  (e.g., “Judging from the foul stench, I might have known you would be involved”). We are left with an impression of a single man fighting an amorphous, poorly defined group of “Others” – the perfect embodiment of paranoid fears.

The technical credits are about standard for the era. Dominic Frontiere’s music is suitably ominous, especially a recurring motif used to indicate the presence of the Invaders; the main title theme should please fans of his work on the first season of the original OUTER LIMITS. Photography is good but not of feature film quality. A series of competent television directors (e.g. Joseph Sargent, Paul Wendkos) tell the stories with admirable but not much stylistic distinction (with the exception of some woozy camera angles and slow-motion employed by Wendkos for one hallucinatory sequence). The special effects are adequate though not always convincing; fortunately, the show hardly relies on them.

What stands out more than the effects are the stunts. Not that characters are hanging off cliffs each week, but there is plenty of action, especially fight scenes. Unlike episodes of STAR TREK (where body doubles were often obvious and punches missed chins by inches), THE INVADERS did a good job of making it look as if David Vincent really were throwing down against the aliens, even when Thinnes was replaced by a stunt man. 

Thinnes is strong as David Vincent (the only regular character). The role is, frankly, underwritten. Vincent is less a personality than an aggressive voice, demanding that the truth be heard. His defining characteristic is a dogged determination that borders on self-righteousness; only occasionally is he allowed to show some range of emotion. Fortunately, Thinnes plays this determination for all it is worth; in fact, he is so convincing that you start to wonder why he does not have the alien invasion exposed by mid-season.

Chalk that up to the various plot devices the scripts use to protect the Invaders’ secret. They are willing to abandon important facilities at a moment’s notice, often by means of a self-destruct switch. They conveniently disintegrate when they die, leaving no trace but a pile of ashes (nothing to be autopsied). And they are more than willing to kill one of their own if necessary.

The result is an exercise in frustration, almost as much as paranoia, as Vincent suffers defeat after defeat on a weekly basis. He may win battles, stopping the Invaders plan in each episode, but he never wins the real war, which is to bring the truth to light. He finds temporary allies from time to time, but the toll it takes is pretty dire, with a series of guest stars (Roddy McDowall, Burgess Meredith, Ralph Bellamy) killed off in the process.

In short, this is not your typical network show in which everything is resolved in the last act, and the characters have a laugh and go out for a beer. It is, instead, an intriguing thriller about a lone man fighting a solitary battle against a virtually unseen menace, in which each week’s meagre triumph is just enough to keep him going until next week, the result resembling a slow war of attrition.

 DVD DETAILS

Paramount/CBS’s five-disc DVD set of THE INVADERS – THE FIRST SEASON contains all seventeen episodes from Season One, plus the uncut 60-minute version of the pilot episode, “Beachhead.” Bonus features include a new video interview with Roy Thinnes, who also provides introductions for each episode; an audio commentary by series creator Larry Cohen on “The Innocent”; and three promos.

Each promo consist of footage from two or three upcoming episodes, with a narrator encouraging viewers to check out the show. Curiously, the third promo is clearly the one that should have been shown first, as it was obviously meant to follow the pilot episode, with its promise of David Vincent’s adventures in the upcoming weeks.

Thinnes’ introductions for the episodes are fun but not very informative (it seems all the good material was saved for the interview on Disc Five). Basically, he gives a brief plot description and lists the week’s guest stars. Only occasionally does he drop a little tidbit, such when he informs us that he was married to Lynn Loring at the time she co-starred in the “Panic” episode.

The 27-minute interview with Thinnes is the highlight of the bonus features. The actor provides in-dept answers about  his co-stars, the show’s stunt work, and seeing a UFO a few days before THE INVADERS made its network debut (his wife told him to report it, but he declined, for fear it would look like a publicity stunt). Although initially reluctant to become involved in a sci-fi series, Thinnes explains that executive producer Quinn Martin won him over by describing THE INVADERS as a “study in paranoia.” He explains that, per Quinn Martin’s policy, the vast majority of the stunt work was performed by stunt man Glen Wilder, but occasionally an episode’s director would want to shoot at least a snippet with Thinnes so that the audience could see his face in the scene.

Larry Cohen’s audio commentary for ”The Innocent” is filled with interesting details, but it is not particularly relevant to that episode. Cohen begins by praising co-star Michael Rennie (famous for playing a benevolent alien in the 1951 classic THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL), then wanders off into a discussion of his other TV shows. At first, this provides some context for how he came to create THE INVADERS, but eventually it devolves into a vague autobiography of his television career (before he went on to write and direct IT’S ALIVE).

Sifting through the bits and pieces, you will learn that Cohen deliberately modeled THE INVADERS after THE FUGITIVE while also intending it as a sci-fi version of the 1950s Red Scare – a fact he says he should have kept to himself, because he believes it was partly responsible for his not being directly involved with the production once the network assigned it to their top producer, Quinn Martin.

Cohen does make some interesting points about the direction the show took without him. (He says he would have humanized David Vincent more, providing him with a sense of humor.) Cohen also complains that there were too many aliens and they were too easily killed. (He is right in one sense, but on the other hand, this might be taken to explain why the aliens are embarking on a stealth invasion rather than an all-out war.) Finally, he says he would have done more in Season Two with Vincent as the head of a vigilante organization fighting the Invaders because the government refuses to acknowledge the menace.

The 60-minute version of the “Beachhead” pilot contains several deleted and extended scenes. The restored footage is easy to identify and helps provide a much fuller version of the story, resulting in a superior version of the episode.

  1. In perhaps the most significant addition, a scene in David’s office shows that he has used his architect drafting board to sketch the flying saucer he saw (one of the few times his professional skills are ever put to use). His friend Allen reveals that David was a soldier in Korea: this helps explain why David turns out to be so good at fighting and killing aliens; it also establishes David’s history of being obsessed with rooting out the enemy.
  2. An alien begins to glow when his human form wears out - the Invaders need to When David gets in a fight with the honeymooning husband (actually an alien) who is camped near the flying saucer’s landing point, the husband is is about to kill David, but he loses his strength and begins to glow red – our first indication that the Invaders need to regenerate their human form from time to time. In the pilot version, there is a much clearer shot of the unhappy camper’s face with blacked-out eyes reflecting pinpoints of light. (The edited version contains only shots where the Invader’s face is partially covered by his hands.)
  3. The old lady (who later turns out to be an alien going by the name Aunt Sarah) speaks to David in the hospital. Pretending to by sympathetic to his story, she makes herself sound like a crackpot in an attempt to discourage David from finding people who will believe him.
  4. During the car ride home from the hospital, after giving David the address of a couple witnesses, Allen gets David to promise not to pursue the clue for a couple weeks, in the hope that he will get over his obsession with aliens.
  5. After “Aunt Sarah” burns down David’s home, David phones Allen to say that he is breaking his promise.
  6. There is a little more footage of David wandering the main street of the apparently abandoned city of Kinney, where his search leads him.
  7. There is a brief joke at the expense of one of the last human hold-outs in Kinney, who is too deaf to understand what is being said to him.
  8. In the epilogue, before David leaves Kinney, he tears down a small sign for Kogan Enterprises (a front organization for the alien invasion) and takes it with him, implying that his quest to uncover the Invaders will be focused in that direction. (If you look closely at the edited version of the pilot, you can see the sign in David’s hand as he climbs into his car.) Also, the closing credits play over a high-angle shot of David’s car driving out of town, instead of the still-frame of the flying saucer that would be used for the closing credits of all the first-season episodes.

BOTTOM LINE: I have only the vaguest memories of THE INVADERS from when it was originally broadcast, but I was aware that the show had developed a reputation as something of an overlooked classic. Although THE INVADERS may not quite equal STAR TREK or THE OUTER LIMITS, it does deserve to be considered in the same league with them, and this first-season DVD set is a wonderful way to discover how deserved the show’s reputation is. The bonus features may be a bit thin, but that is hardly surprising, considering that many of the principles involved are no longer with us; nevertheless, it would have been nice to hear some analysis from a critic or journalist familiar with the show -surely, THE INVADERS must have an equivalent of a Marc Scott Zicree (The Twilight Zone Companion) or a David J. Schow (The Outer Limits Companion). Even if the DVD is not all it could have been, it is still essential viewing for fans of ’60s sci-fi shows.

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.


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