Archive for January 23, 2010

Thoughts on Quinn Martin’s THE INVADERS

January 23, 2010 6 comments

On Monday, Syfy ran a marathon of the first eleven episodes of Quinn Martin’s 1967 television series The Invaders.  This is a series that I’ve read about, but by bad luck I’ve never actually managed to see it before.  And since it was a holiday, I ended up watching nearly the whole marathon (aside from one episode that looked so silly I decided to skip most of it).

The Invaders was an interesting show, but it had problems.  The premise was that “architect David Vincent” (that’s how the narrator introduces him for some reason, “Starring Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent”) happened to see a UFO landing and couldn’t get the authorities to believe him.  Investigating further, he discovers suspicious-acting people with little fingers that won’t bend, and when he confronts them, one of them fights him until suddenly the guy seizes up and starts glowing red (a nice effect apparently achieved by the actor hiding a bright red light in his hands, pointed at his face).  From that point on, Vincent is convinced there are aliens infiltrating Earth, and they make more than one attempt to kill him.  The rest of the series is basically Vincent trying to track down and defeat alien plots across the country and futilely attempting to prove their existence to the authorities.

The show had some creepy charm and decent production values.  In one sense, it had an unusually serialized quality for a ’60s show, in that Vincent progressively learned more and more about the aliens, their nature, and their gadgets over the course of the show (although one episode, “Vikor,” is evidently aired out of sequence, because it shows him witnessing for the first time how the aliens regenerate their human disguises, but in the previously aired episode he already knew about it).  But aside from that, it had a lack of continuity typical of the more episodic shows of the day.  In the pilot, toward the end of the episode, he became convinced that the aliens wouldn’t try to kill him again since he’d raised too much publicity with his accusations and it would look suspicious.  Presumably that was to justify why he was able to go on functioning on a continuing basis.  But in subsequent episodes, the aliens routinely tried to kill him, even to the extent of devising elaborate plots to get at him.  Not to mention that episode 2 features a scientist who’s been even more vocal about the alien plot than Vincent, and yet the aliens blow up a whole plane to try to silence him and then succeed in staging a fatal car accident.  Why would they be so blatant in targeting that guy if they were trying to avoid drawing suspicion to themselves?

And really, it’s hard to believe that nobody but Vincent is catching on to this.  The aliens have devices that fake heart attacks and cerebral hemorrhages to make their murders look accidental, but there are so many of those murders that you’d think somebody in authority would recognize a pattern.  There was an episode in which a military officer (Dabney Coleman) witnessed an alien himself and tried to convene a Congressional hearing with Vincent as a witness, but the alien Magnus (Michael Rennie) blackmailed Vincent (by threatening innocents) into discrediting himself and scuttling the hearings.  But it’s hard to believe Coleman’s character would’ve fallen for that or given up so easily.  (And by the way, Dabney Coleman looked surprisingly square-jawed and heroic in 1967, a far cry from the smarmy and/or villainous characters he later became known for.)

Apparently, he’s somehow able to continue his normal life, since people know how to contact him with alien sightings, plus he apparently manages to continue earning enough of a living to feed and clothe himself.  So why don’t the aliens get to him at his home?  It’s a paradox that isn’t adequately explained in the half-season I’ve seen.  Also, in most episodes, he gains additional witnesses to the reality of the aliens’ presence, but they never seem to come back and help him out with convincing the authorities; he remains perpetually a man alone.  I gather this changed later on in the series as he finally gained a recurring ally, but it took long enough.  (There’s never any physical proof of the aliens, since they burn up and vaporize when they die, and usually take their equipment with them.)

And if Vincent’s so hell-bent on finding proof, why does he never bring a camera with him when he infiltrates alien nests?  Plus The Invaders suffers from the same problem as the later paranoia-driven series Nowhere Man — namely that the protagonist’s paranoia always fails him at just the wrong moment and he trusts people he should know better than to trust.   For Earth’s sole champion against invasion, David Vincent is really a pretty incompetent guy, except when it comes to fighting his way out of deathtraps.  In fact, bellicosity and stubbornness seem to be his only real strengths as a hero.  In the pilot, he had no really solid reason for being convinced he’d seen a UFO rather than dreaming it, or for  suspecting the “campers” just because they didn’t corroborate his story and had stiff pinkies.  He ended up attacking them with very little provocation, and it was just luck that he ended up finding out the guy he attacked had anything to hide.

But like I said, the show’s production values weren’t bad.  The opening and closing narration is by Bill Woodson, who was a major and prolific TV announcer for decades and had a good rich voice.  He’s perhaps most famous for Superfriends, but of course he used a much more serious, sedate delivery here, and it works very well.  The music is mostly by Dominic Frontiere of The Outer Limits, and in fact the pilot features a lot of stock music from that show.  Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to write a lot of music for the show, and the same limited number of cues seem to get used over and over.  Plus the main 3-note motif for the show is exactly the same as part of the Mission: Impossible theme, which is distracting.

The visual effects are by Darryl Anderson of the Howard Anderson Company, one of the main FX houses that was doing Star Trek at the same time this series was on.  So The Invaders no doubt benefitted from the experience Anderson gained doing a production like ST, which for ’60s television was unprecedented in its FX demands.  One thing Anderson did particularly well here was the effect of the aliens glowing red and disappearing when they die.  The glow often begins while the aliens are still falling, and the rotoscope work — the handmade animation of the red glow fitting the contours of moving bodies — was superbly done.  I would’ve expected they’d require stationary bodies like in the ST transporter effect, but they didn’t.

So The Invaders is a decent show, but not one of the greats.  Hopefully I’ll catch the rest of it someday, but my curiosity is more idle than passionate.

%d bloggers like this: