Until his broken pinky healed, Judge Jim Thomas lived in terror of running into David Vincent.
Our review of The Invaders: The Second Season, published February 27th, 2009, is also available.
The Invaders: Alien beings from a dying planet. Their destination: the Earth. Their purpose: to make it their world. David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for a shortcut that he never found. It began with a closed, deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now David Vincent knows that the Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun.—Opening narration
Producer Quinn Martin certainly knew a good formula when he saw it. His landmark series The Fugitive established a stylized format for action adventure shows: A narrator introducing the series, quickly bringing viewers up to speed; a quasi-anthology format, with a main character roaming the country, encountering new people and new conflicts with every new town; title cards for each act; and a closing narration that among other things, affirmed that the journey was not yet over. As The Fugitive's final season moved towards its historic conclusion, Martin had another show waiting in the wings, one that debuted in 1967 as a midseason replacement. We again had a main character on the run, searching for proof. But in this case, David Vincent (Roy Thinnes), is looking for evidence that will convince the world of what he already knows-that an alien race walks among us, planning to take over the earth. The Invaders ran for a season and a half; it gathered a cult following, but never caught the general public's imagination the way The Fugitive did. The first season of The Invaders comes to us via the good graces of Paramount; but if the set does not meet our needs, it may become necessary to get out the lighted disc…
Facts of the Case
Architect David Vincent is driving home late one evening, when, overcome by
fatigue, he pulls over near a deserted town and goes to sleep. He awakes to a
strange light bathing his car. Peering through his windshield, he is astonished
to see a flying saucer. He rushes to the closest police station, but when they
return to the site, there is no evidence of any landing. The police, and even
his partner dismiss him, but Vincent keeps poking around, even after a
mysterious fire (set by Grandma Walton!!) almost kills him. Before long he
discovers not only that aliens have landed on Earth, but that they are part of
The five-disc set has all 17 first season episodes (A star in front of the title indicates a recommended episode):
• *Beachhead-Pilot episode. Guest stars Diane Baker (Silence
of the Lambs)
• The Ivy Curtain-Vincent discovers a training academy to assist
newly arrived aliens to blend in with humanity. Guest stars Jack Warden
(Heaven Can Wait) and Susan Oliver (The Disorderly Orderly).
The description in the Facts of Case really doesn't do "Beachhead" justice. One viewing and you'll understand why this show developed a cult following; it's taut, atmospheric, and keeps you guessing right up until the end. In general, acting is pretty good. Thinnes is rock solid as David Vincent; earnest but not strident. He anchors the series wonderfully. The guest stars do a pretty good job. Just looking at the episode list above gives you a sense of the talent they had at their disposal. There are few sour notes, but one that really stands out is Suzanne Pleshette's "emotional" alien. Very simply, if she were any more wooden, she'd make Mr. Spock look like a whiny emo kid. The Outer Limits' composer Dominic Frontiere provided a truly creepy opening theme, as well as atmospheric cues for the episodes.
The show had some good ideas and some silly ones. A good idea was that the aliens self-combust when they die. That point solved a number of problems, most notably the possibility that Vincent could dump an alien body on an autopsy table somewhere. The aliens themselves use that fact to strategic effect; in one episode, Vincent captures a group of aliens and their equipment, only to have one of the aliens take a suicide pill and jump on the equipment, disintegrating it along with him, leaving Vincent standing there, no doubt wanting to unleash all manner of invective.
The silly idea was the frozen pinky business-an idea that Cohen cribbed from Hitchcock's The 39 Steps. Aliens can't bend their pinkies. It's hammered into our brains in the pilot. Vincent sees a guy with his pinky sticking straight out. Ellen Corby, Grandma Walton herself, has her pinkies sticking straight out. We get it: Pinky sticking out = alien. Then, at the end of the pilot, we learn that some aliens can bend their pinkies (usually the aliens billed as guest stars). The thing is, Hitchcock just had a single digitally-challenged character, not an entire race. The pinkies become a convenience, nothing more. In the first act, the pinkies make it easy for us and/or Vincent to identify the henchaliens, and in the epilog, the pinkies are occasionally used for last-minute reveals that try to maintain the sense of paranoia. It's effective in fostering a "Trust No One" atmosphere, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
Extras are a bit sloppy; each episode has a very brief intro from series star Roy Thinnes. All he does is give an overview of the plot and point out guest stars of note-no reminiscences at all. The episode, "The Innocents," has a commentary track by series creator Larry Cohen. However, while Cohen provided outlines for many of the first season episodes, he had no day to day involvement with the show-he didn't even write the pilot. So he doesn't offer much in the way of on screen information or back stage reminiscences. And so, not surprisingly, not only does the commentary have little to do with the episode, it has little to do with the series-it's more of a discussion of Cohen's career in television. There's also a 30 minute interview w/ Roy Thinnes, shot at the same time as the episode introductions. A question appears on screen, and he talks about it for a while. Some interesting stuff, but a bit dry. You also get an extended 60 minute version of the pilot episode, "The Beachhead." The provenance of the episode is never explained, but my best guess is that it is the version that was submitted to the network. In any event, the added footage doesn't give us any new information, but rather just expands scenes and adds filler. The shorter version remains far superior.
A fair amount of cleanup was done for this set; details aren't lost in shadows, and colors have been rebalanced and enhanced. Someone went a little overboard on the enhancement part, though, particularly on Roy Thinnes' blue eyes, which are transformed from Paul Newman to Paul Atreides. Backgrounds, particularly exteriors are rather fuzzy. You can compare the two versions of "Beachead," as the extended version was not restored. There's still some amount of damage left from the source print, though not enough to distract. The mono track is clean and clear.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Individually, there are several good episodes here—in fact, the good episodes outweigh the bad. When you look at the series as a whole, familiarity quickly breeds contempt—or at least indifference. The stories fall into a predictable pattern. David discovers alien plan. David stops alien plan. David discovers someone nice. Someone nice turns out to be an alien. David helps someone who's been targeted by the aliens. None of the show's writers had any kind of science fiction experience and consequently failed to take advantage of the show's potential (To be fair, producer Quinn Martin never really thought of the show as science fiction, but rather a study in paranoia).
One final quibble: Not only are the aliens freaking everywhere, but they're the extraterrestrial equivalent of "The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight" (or Imperial Stormtroopers). They repeatedly capture Vincent and fail to kill him. They kill everyone else who crosses their path, but no matter how many times Vincent blunders into their traps, he manages to wriggle free at the last minute. Each episode usually shows anywhere from five to ten aliens. That's approximately 100 aliens in just seventeen episodes. Unless Vincent managed to find every single alien plot, there must already be thousands of aliens on earth. Fortunately for us, these aliens are neither Cylons nor the lizards of V: They do not have a plan. Not a long term plan, at least. It's as though dozens of mini-factions landed, each with its own agenda.
The extras are a disappointment. If you're going to do a commentary track, do a freaking commentary track. Why not get Thinnes to do a track? He's clearly interested in the show, he's already done brief intros and an interview—get a commentary track or two out of him.
The Invaders is a fairly compelling show, but you don't want to watch a bunch of episodes in one sitting—that would just emphasize the show's weaknesses, leaving its considerable strengths by the wayside.
Paramount is found guilty of not being serious about providing quality extras. As for the set itself…the woman sitting next to me at the bar has this spinning crystal that tells me that it is in my best interests to rule not guilty. She's appears to be such a refined woman-she's drinking her coffee and her pinky sticks right out like it's supposed to…
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Scales of Justice
• Introduction to each episode by star Roy Thinnes
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