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Invaders - The Second Season, The

Paramount // Unrated // January 27, 2009
List Price: $36.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted March 31, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Invaders - The Second Season doesn't play so much like a second season as like an extension of the first. A mid-season replacement - about an ordinary man, architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) trying to "convince a disbelieving world" that the earth is being invaded by beings from a distant planet - aired just 16 episodes its first year. But The Invaders came back in the fall, picking right up where it left off. It's a highly enjoyable, suspenseful, and generally intelligent and well-acted series, but its second season shows aren't appreciably better or worse than those that had preceded it.

Indeed, about the only difference between the two years is that during the second season there was a slight willingness by the producers to experiment a little and deviate, just a bit, from the established formula. "The Trial," for instance, is structured like a Perry Mason episode, only this show happens to deal with the accidental murder of an alien invader.

Because the second season is so much like the first, most of what I have to say about the series was already said in my review of The Invaders - The First Season. Rather than simply regurgitate comments from that review, I thought it might be fun to chat with television historian Stephen Bowie, whose excellent behind-the-scenes look at The Invaders was a major reference source for information in my first season review. Stephen's Classic TV History website and blog in fact is a great place to visit if you're a fan of '50s - early '70s television (though Stephen also writes about new shows like Mad Men). Right now his terrific blog includes a great new interview with actress Collin Wilcox (The Defenders, Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchock Hour, etc.) Here, Stephen and I chat about The Invaders' longevity, about season two highlights, and CBS/Paramount's DVDs....

DVD Talk: During the 1950s sci-fi films often reflected the Cold War paranoia with the nuclear arms race, the McCarthy/HUAC hearings and so forth, and later in the '70s there were films and TV shows that reflected the post-assassinations, post-Watergate era - and yet The Invaders, having been produced during 1966-68, doesn't really fall squarely into either era, so where does all this paranoia come from? What, if anything, is it a reflection of?

Stephen Bowie: I think one reason The Invaders endures is because it wasn't terribly specific, even though there were plenty of things to be paranoid about in between HUAC and Watergate - JFK assassination conspiracies, nuclear annihilation, escalating racial violence, etc. Like George Romero's zombies, the idea of alien infiltrators who could be anyone among us has proven a remarkably elastic metaphor - it's a sort of all-purpose template that can refract whatever is unsettling or ominous about any given historical moment.

The Invaders was a mid-season replacement with only 16 shows its first year. Did pressure to do a full slate the following year adversely affect the show?

Not really. The second season had the standard number of episodes for that era. If anything, there was more pressure on the producers during the first year, which was rushed into production to serve as a midseason replacement.

Why should we care about The Invaders? What about it has stood the test of time, and what aspects, beyond obvious things like the special effects, have dated less well?

That's a pretty big question. To answer the second part first, I'm going to argue that The Invaders isn't really "dated" (which is kind of a cop-out idea anyway) in any significant way; you either buy into the fantasy, into the particular suspension of disbelief that the show is asking of you, or you don't. Even the optical effects, simple as they are, appeal to me more than modern CGI, which almost always looks fake to my eyes. The effects are also pretty well integrated into the overall look of the show, which is a great example of the oversaturated color (both in the photography and the costume/production design) that was characteristic of the "look, everybody, TV is all in color now!" period of the late '60s. As with 30s-40s Technicolor, it's exuberance, not realism, that's the visual treat here.

Getting back to your original question, I think The Invaders is still one of the most intelligent science fiction shows shown on American television. This is an obvious point, but the series was very well produced and generally well written (unlike, say, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which was conceptually promising but poorly executed). The Invaders was also one of the last genre shows for a very long time to successfully follow the Twilight Zone/Outer Limits model of presenting spooky stuff grounded in plausible, everyday surroundings. It was, as you suggested in your first question, in touch with its times in a way that the more popular contemporary TV fantasies (the Irwin Allen shows, I Dream of Jeannie, etc.) were not.

What are some of the best season two episodes, and why?

I think my favorite is "The Trial," which is a talky "bottle show" [i.e., a self-contained, inexpensively-produced episode to balance the budget against more expensive shows] but full of ideas and fairly frank in its curiosity about how aliens do the nasty. "Dark Outpost" and "The Believers" are really bleak and downbeat, and achieve a tone reminiscent of the best Outer Limits episodes. "The Peacemaker" and "The Vise" address topical issues (Vietnam and race relations, respectively) in a credible way. The first half of the two-parter, "Summit Meeting," is a great, fast-paced action piece, although I guess they blew the whole budget on it, because the conclusion has the cast mostly just running back and forth on bare sets.

Larry Cohen is credited as one of the show's primary creators, but he left very early on. Who was chiefly responsible for making The Invaders what it was after Cohen's departure?

Mainly Alan Armer, whose great legacy in television was having produced the first three seasons of The Fugitive immediately prior to The Invaders. Armer was a tasteful producer with a fine story sense, who had no background in science fiction whatsoever. He approached the task by making a sort of scholarly study of both science fiction and real-life accounts of UFOs and extraterrestrials. I also suspect that credit for some of the political content in the second season might belong to the story editor, David W. Rintels, a young lefty writer from New York who had done some scripts for The Defenders and would go on to write The Senator, Fear on Trial, and a bunch of other TV movies on historical and political subjects.

Any idea how much each episode cost to produce? What was that relative to, say, Star Trek, or something today like Lost?

I have no idea, honestly - the QM production files weren't available to me when I researched the series (although I imagine that answer may be buried somewhere in the trade papers of the period). It would've been one of the more expensive shows of its time, and probably comparable to Star Trek. Quinn Martin was willing to spend money on name guest stars, and his shows were doing a bit more off-the-lot location shooting and night-for-night than was typical at the time.

While it seems that by the beginning of season two David Vincent has become something of a minor celebrity, and not so quickly dismissed as a lunatic like he was during many of the early first season shows, it seems a pity there was no master story arc like later, similar programs - The X-Files to cite one obvious example.

Yes, that's true. The Invaders was originally conceived as a serialized half-hour show (briefly a fad in the mid-60s after the success of Peyton Place and Batman), and like The Fugitive it seems at times to be reaching for a richer continuity than was typically permissible in the 60s. David Vincent gained some allies in the second season, and there was one alien leader (played by Alfred Ryder) who appeared more than once, so it's possible the series would've gone more in that direction had it lasted. That cluster of alien-invasion shows from a few years ago (Invasion, Surface, and Threshold) all had ongoing story arcs, so I guess they offer some clue as to what The Invaders might've been like in that format. Although, the long-term storylines of those shows (and The X-Files) all had more to do with government conspiracies than with the aliens, whose motives usually remained opaque - and a pre-Watergate show like The Invaders wouldn't have been that cynical.

Do you think the show might have moved in new directions had it lasted another year, or like most '60s shows of its kind, would it have run the basic concept into the ground?

Certainly The Invaders could have avoided that kind of stagnation, but whether it would have is questionable. I think it would have become repetitive had it not pursued both a more complex "mythology" and more overt social allegory. Both of those would have been hard sells with the network. There might also have been a brain-drain effect, as Armer and Rintels were too talented to stay in one place for very long. At a minimum, though, I suspect that The Invaders had at least another year in it creatively - and it would have been nice had it built to a series finale, as The Fugitive was able to do.

Was being a Quinn Martin series formatted very much in their house style a hindrance, or did the fact that so few of its writers were associated with sci-fi actually helped in some weird way?

Both. It was probably a good thing in the long run, because the QM writers' background in action and melodrama always kept the show grounded and plausible. On the other hand, one wishes for some writers who had been able to conceptualize the methods and consequences of an extraterrestrial invasion a little more imaginatively - remind me how come they needed locusts to conquer the world when they had ray guns? When Larry Cohen began directing films in the 70s, he was able to combine the same atmosphere of paranoia with some bolder sci-fi ideas, so it's tantalizing to speculate on what shape The Invaders might've taken had Cohen not been forced out at the very beginning.

You've said that QM attracted a high-level of talent, partly because they paid better than other production companies. But was some of their "stock company" talent reluctant to appear/work on the show, because of its sci-fi nature? Anyone conspicuously absent?

Nobody important. There were certainly some people who looked down on the idea a bit - Anthony Spinner, the story editor for the first season, gave me that impression. And Roy Thinnes got into a conflict with one of the directors, who mocked the concept to the point that it interfered with Thinnes' ability to stay in character. But I doubt that anyone turned down work on The Invaders because it was science fiction.

You met with Roy Thinnes during the production of the special features. He looks almost like an Ivy League professor now. How did he strike you?

I liked Thinnes. He was soft-spoken but, bow tie aside, had a down-to-earth sense of humor off-camera. He has a younger wife and a teenage child, which seems to keep people young. Thinnes was clearly very conscious of the extent to which his fame rests on The Invaders. He talked about having spent a lot of time in France because of the show's big fan base there, and he seemed quite well-read on certain aspects of the paranormal, as if The Invaders had triggered an interest in the subject, or perhaps conveyed upon him some responsibility to be a sort of ambassador for it.

You've also researched and written about Alfred Hitchcock extensively, and as you know, Roy Thinnes was originally the star of Family Plot, but fired by Hitchcock several weeks into production. Was replacing him with William Devane a mistake?

In hindsight it's predictable that Thinnes was replaced, because Hitchcock always seemed to have conflicts with his kind of method-y, intense actor. Personally I think Family Plot is pretty slight, and benefits from the presence of Devane's showier personality - not that I wouldn't love to see whatever footage was shot featuring Thinnes. There's a pretty devastating story out there about the confrontation between Thinnes and Hitchcock after the former was fired - supposedly Thinnes approached Hitchcock in a restaurant asking for an explanation, and Hitch, in his non-confrontational way, just stared at him until he slunk away. I don't think it came up at all when I was with Thinnes, although I was sort of suicidally tempted to make it my opening question: "So, regarding Hitchcock - would you call yourself a fan, or no?"

I can't let you go without asking about the music replacement controversy on another QM-produced series, The Fugitive. There have been steps to address this but...what's your take on all this?

Well, I said everything I had to say (and then some) about the original music replacement issue on my blog. But I'm glad you brought it up, because I've felt sort of obligated to follow up on the original post, but I haven't really figured out what I think about the latest developments. As you may know, CBS surprised everyone by announcing a second printing of the Season 2, Volume 1 DVDs, which restored most (but not all) of the original music. I haven't seen them yet, mainly because the only distribution method CBS has offered (you have to buy a copy of the bad first edition, then send away for a replacement) invites procrastination.

I guess it's obvious that anything is an improvement over the first printing, which had the entire underscore stripped off all the episodes and replaced with bad synthesizer music. But since some original cues are still missing, the second printing still seems like something of a half-measure, although I'd have to hear the new mix to form an opinion of whether it's possible to actually sit down and watch this version for pleasure (which was emphatically not the case with the all-synthesizer version).

Of course, whatever original music is there now could be absolutely everything that CBS could clear...but we can't be sure of that, given how frustratingly non-transparent the studio has been throughout this whole mess. Not only did no one from CBS return my calls, but they refused to comment on the record for every other journalist who wrote about the story as well, including Variety's resident music expert, Jon Burlingame. The problem seems to originate with stock cues from the Capitol Music library, and, giving them the benefit of the doubt, I guess it's possible that a claimant came forward after the first season of The Fugitive was released on DVD with the score intact. (That DVD is still in print, by the way.) But, given that other shows featuring extensive Capital cues have been released intact on independent labels, I suspect we're dealing with a case of excessive corporate risk aversion.

Also, it's very disappointing that none of the unnecessary video alterations - cuts made to one episode to remove an on-screen performance of a song written for that show, and the addition of the new composers' names to the end credits - have been fixed. In the latter case, that means that new viewers who come across this hybrid version of The Fugitive will hear Pete Rugolo's excellent library of original cues and attribute them to Mark Heyes, the composer of the synth abomination. So it's an even more perverse variant on the alteration of the on-screen credits of films written by blacklisted writers, a policy that you and I have both criticized in print.

Finally, it's upsetting that the replacement program is directed only at hard-core enthusiasts like us - people who read DVD websites on a regular basis. If CBS's claim that the second printing will never be available in stores is true, then the casual consumer and the Netflix renter are pretty much out of luck (and I've read that the altered episodes have appeared in syndication, too).

Thanks, Stephen. And now, back to our story...

Video & Audio

The Invaders - The Second Season is compactly packaged (with X-Files-ish cover art) with seven single-sided, dual-layered discs in what in the old days of DVD at most would have held two discs. The inside sleeve includes a concise episode guide with airdates. As with the first season, most of the shows are nice and sharp with good color. I didn't notice any music replacement, and the shows appear unedited and not time-compressed.

Some viewers have reported a jittering issue on several episodes ("The Possessed," "Counterattack") but while the effect is definitely noticeable I found it only mildly distracting.

The mono audio is pretty strong considering the show's age. There are no alternate audio or subtitle options, though the set is closed-captioned.

Extra Features

As with the first season, the Episode Introductions by Roy Thinnes are a big disappointment, which are generic, generally uninformative, spoiler-filled. A better idea would have been to conduct mini-interviews, with Thinnes prompted by questions about each show, its guest stars, etc.

There's more of the Interview with Roy Thinnes, which here runs even longer than the first, about 36 minutes. Finally, Alan Armer provides an audio commentary for the episode "The Peacemaker."

Parting Thoughts

As with The First Season, The Invaders' second year has all the same good qualities of the first, so if you enjoyed that you'll get your money's worth with this Highly Recommended set.

  My thanks to Stephen Bowie for his help in assembling this interview/review.

Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest book, The Toho Studios Story, is on sale now.

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Highly Recommended

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