The First Season – Five Disc Set
Starring Roy Thinnes
Paramount Home Video
Release Date: May 27, 2008
The X-Files was not the first TV series to regularly feature paranoia, conspiracy, and creepy aliens.
In 1967, TV writer Larry Cohen and producer Quinn Martin gave us The Invaders. Now available in a hefty five-disc, 17-episode DVD set, The Invaders featured the struggle of architect David Vincent to convince everyone that an alien invasion had began, the aliens had taken human form, and they didn’t exactly want to sing Neil Young songs by the river and share planet Earth with us — they wanted us exterminated.
In the first episode, “Beachhead,” we learn the basic premise that would carry the show for its year-and-a-half run. The often sullen David Vincent (played wonderfully by Roy Thinnes) gets lost looking for a shortcut. While approaching a diner for much needed caffeine, he spots an alien spaceship landing.
In a short time, Vincent discovers that the aliens have landed, they look like us, they’ve infiltrated our society, and they can be identified in human form because their pinky fingers don’t bend. However, the aliens vaporize when they die, leaving no alien corpses behind for autopsy. The aliens’ big flaw is having to occasionally “regenerate” or they will lose their human form.
In “Beachhead,” Vincent’s character is established as a staunch believer in direct action. He doesn’t hide from the aliens, he chases them. He doesn’t keep the alien invasion a secret when people ask what he’s investigating, he tells the police there are aliens among us, even though it makes him sound like he’s on a day pass from a mental hospital.
David Vincent didn’t care if everyone in America thought he was loopier than a Tom Cruise interview, he just wanted them to pay attention to him and do something. Thinnes played the role with a kind of gunslinger swagger. Unfortunately, diving into a bad situation head-first gets Vincent’s friend Alan Landers (played by James Daly) killed in “Beachhead” and causes Vincent to get a skull-thumping beat down in most subsequent episodes.
There are many great episodes in the first season of The Invaders. It was impossible for me to only watch one episode — I’d planned just to watch a single episode, get swept into it, and then want to watch another one. The show featured weirdly dramatic music, generally good scripts, and some wonderful actors to help move the show along.
The guest stars on the The Invaders first season featured some of the best available TV actors at that time. Actors included Roddy McDowall (from the original Planet Of The Apes movies), Suzanne Pleshette (from The Bob Newhart Show), Jack Lord (from Hawaii Five-0), James Whitmore (from the movie Them and countless TV appearances), Michael Rennie (from the movie The Day The Earth Stood Still), Susan Strasberg (perhaps best remembered for her long theatre career), and Peter Graves (from the Mission: Impossible TV series).
But some of my favorite performances were given by Ellen Corby in “Beachhead” and Jeanette Nolan in the episode called “Nightmare.” They essentially just played creepy old ladies with a sinister tone that kept you wondering if they were really aliens or just spooky old spinsters. If you’ve ever seen the movie Rosemary’s Baby, you know why it’s so unsettling to have an old woman look at you like she’s about to rip your immortal soul out through your nose.
Some of my favorite episodes in this set include:
* The Mutation — Vincent meets an alien who has taken the human form of a nightclub “dancer” (I guess they couldn’t say “stripper” on TV at the time). She feels like an outsider among her people and Vincent begins to think that maybe all the aliens aren’t evil and works with her to try and track down an alien ship sighted in the area.
* Nightmare — Vincent visits a Kansas town that has reported unusual insect attacks. He finds a woman who claims she saw some local men in a barn with an insect-control device. As is typical in most Kansas towns, everyone thinks Vincent is a psycho troublemaker until they see proof of the aliens for themselves. After they have conclusive proof the aliens exist, they don’t want to talk about the aliens because they don’t want people to think they’re nuttier than a squirrel brunch.
* Doomsday Minus One — Vincent is contacted by a guy who then disappears. An Army Major asks Vincent to look into the disappearance of the guy and look out for anything “strange” on a military base. Vincent soon finds an Army General who has been manipulated by aliens to detonate an anti-matter bomb that will blow the Earth off its axis and kill millions. Vincents learns you can’t really trust any authority figures, because if they’re not aliens, they’re probably being controlled by them.
Much has been said about the “Cold War paranoia” of The Invaders. The series debuted only five years after the Cuban Missile Crisis and during a time when many Americans believed a nuclear war with Russia was inevitable. Many Americans also believed Russia would take us over without even starting a war by infiltrating and undermining “American Values.”
But it is that very paranoia that makes The Invaders attractive to a modern audience. In a country where people are losing faith in the government, where new conspiracy stories are reported every week, and where some see terrorists behind all our recent national misfortunes, The Invaders remains relevant. David Vincent doesn’t want to fight against aliens alone, he just wants people to open their eyes, look at what’s going on, and get involved. Like all men of integrity, David Vincent just wants people to accept the truth.
Even when the truth isn’t something we really want to see.