Back in the 60s and 70s, there was a kind of show that we don’t really see any more: “the fixing-up wanderer” show. Whether it was The Immortal, Branded, Coronet Blue, The Fugitive, The Incredible Hulk, Kung Fu or any of the others, the format was essentially the same and designed to allow shows to be broadcast in any order during syndication, re-runs, etc, without anyone getting lost: a man (it was always a man) would travel from town to town, doing his best to evade some horrible authority or person chasing after them; he’d try to stay low profile, but sooner or later, he’d discover some drama in the town that needed fixing. The situation would get fixed and the hero would move on to another town for the next episode, typically without anything happening that would change the overall show format (unless it was the first or last episode of a season).
Many of these shows were from Quinn Martin Productions, and after the popular The Fugitive started to draw to close in 1967, producers started looking for a replacement show of the same ilk. Larry Cohen, the creator of both Branded and Coronet Blue, came up with something that hooked into the flying saucer craze that had gripped the nation since the late 50s. It was The Invaders and it had a weird old title sequence.
The Invaders fit nicely into the “fixing-up wanderer” format, while also being ever so slightly different. The story was simple and shown in its first episode and told in the narration over the title sequence:
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.
Each week, architect David Vincent would turn up somewhere, having heard a rumour of aliens being in town, investigate the rumour, discover there really were aliens in town, then do his best to expose them. Unfortunately, he never managed to – but for all sorts of reasons, some of them more interesting than others.
The invaders seem to look exactly like human beings. Almost. But they’re not. We never see their true form since they have to undergo a process of change to survive the Earth’s atmosphere: if they don’t get periodic top-ups in a “regeneration chamber” – and they had many mobile facilities and secret locations for this – they’d burn up in one of the show’s most iconic effects, a handy side-effect for aliens that want to remain unspotted (although double-edged, since there was no explaining it in conventional terms if someone saw it happen).
It was also what the aliens’ weapons did to people and things they hit:
The Invaders’ other iconic move was to kill everyone who got in their way using a little gadget that gives you a cerebral haemorrhage.
Which wouldn’t really have given architect David Vincent much of a fighting chance. However, over the episodes, we found out the Invaders’ human camouflage wasn’t perfect. Many of them would have a problem with bending their little fingers, which would show up when they shook hands or held things – of course, sometimes suspected invaders would turn out to actually be humans with little finger problems, which made architect David Vincent look even more of twat when he accused them. They had no pulses and they couldn’t bleed. Most were emotionless, although not all of them. The black invaders – for they also pretended to be black as well as white humans – had the same colour skin on both the palms and the backs of their hands.
Still, for most of the series, architect David Vincent found himself lucking out each week. No one believed him about his wild accusations, and he found himself saving the world from the invaders nearly single-handed. Usually, the guest star of the week would help out, and then remain one of Vincent’s band of ‘believers’ ready to help him whenever he had enough people on his side.
However, there was variation in the stories. The Invaders soon realise that killing architect David Vincent would cause more publicity than they’d like, so come up with various measures to discredit him and even involve him in their plans: one episode sees him put into a sleep deprivation experiment and then released out into the world, where he hallucinates flying saucers – and discredits himself. And in a real metatextual nod, Michael Rennie – Klaatu in the original The Day The Earth Stood Still – is cast as an alien who tries to convince Vincent that the Invaders are really peaceful.
The Invaders also showed greater subtlety than might have been expected. Vincent soon finds out that the Invaders are very powerful – that they could, if they wanted, simply nuke the whole planet. They’d rather not and they’d rather take over by stealth, but if things go wrong, they might use this final option. As result, an entente cordiale between the two sides built up, and the Invaders and architect David Vincent sometimes came to agreements.
In Valley of the Shadow, an alien burns up and dies in a town square in front of the townsfolk. With an entire town on Vincent’s side and no way to cover the event up simply, the aliens inform Vincent they’re simply going to destroy the town, leaving Vincent to come up with a plan to use the Invaders’ technology to wipe everyone’s memories.
A similar situation occurs in The Peacemaker, in which Vincent tries to get the leaders of the Invaders to meet with an Air Force General. However, the general wants to use the summit to bomb the alien leaders, and Vincent has to stop him to prevent all-out war.
The second season also saw Vincent start to get a group of helpers, most significantly millionaire industrialist Edgar Scoville who became a semi-regular character. Scoville bankrolls Vincent’s efforts and over time, he’s eventually able to get a Congressional hearing to hear Vincent’s story. What happened after that, we don’t know, since a third season never happened.
However, since a mini-series starring Scott Bakula (and David Vincent himself, Roy Thinnes) appeared in 1995, suggesting The Invaders were still here and undiscovered, I’m going to say it didn’t go as planned.
While a little monotonous and unexciting at first, the show soon hit its stride and remains one of the best examples of the genre. It was smart and paranoid, and while the sci-fi plots don’t tend to hold up in this day and age, the tension and inventiveness still does.
I say go get it on DVD.