8 out-of-this-world facts about The Invaders
This Sixties sci-fi thriller had a major influence on The X-Files, college rock and French pop culture.
Do you ever get the feeling that some people are from another planet? That is the thread of paranoia running through The Invaders, the brilliant and brainy television show featuring architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) and his quest to unveil an extraterrestrial invasion of Earth. Produced by Quinn Martin, who was fresh off his masterpiece The Fugitive, The Invaders likewise followed its unlikely hero on the run. The eerie aliens were never seen in the full form, only in brief glimpses, but they would show their nature in fiery red deaths.
The series tapped into the zeitgeist of the era, with echoes of the Cold War and counter-culture revolutions. For example, in one particular episode, "The Ivy Curtain," the Invaders are teaching college kids to conform. And it was no coincidence that the Invaders glowed red whenever they kicked it or shifted form. They were a literal Red Scare.
Inspired by the underrated espionage series Coronet Blue and the creepy classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Invaders would have a profound influence on later sci-fi stories like The X-Files, V and They Live. The French were also super obsessed with it.
Let's uncover some secrets of The Invaders.
1. The show was into recycling — specifically music from 'The Outer Limits.'
In the spring of 1964, The Outer Limits wrapped up its mind-bending first season with its arguably its most artful, surreal episode yet, "The Form of Things Unknown." Skewed camera angles and impressionist lighting added an air of unease to the story, which featured the striking image of David McCallum (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) entangled in a room of clocks. But, really, it was the jarring music from composer Dominic Frontiere that enhanced the unsettling vibe. Much of the score from the episode was utilized in The Invaders, right down to elements of the theme song. Frontiere later went to jail for allegedly scalping 16,000 Super Bowl tickets.
2. Roy Thinnes is the rare actor to appear in the two longest-running network dramas.
Just two scripted primetime dramas have ever made it to 20 seasons on American television — Gunsmoke and Law & Order. Invaders star Roy Thinnes appeared on both of them, three decades apart. On the Western, he was most memorably Ab Singleton, a man killed after buying a horse in "Jeb." On Law & Order, Thinnes was meant to have a large role. He portrayed District Attorney Alfred Wentworth in the series pilot, "Everybody's Favorite Bagman." When the series was picked up, the D.A. role went to Steven Hill.
3. Years later, Thinnes played a shape-shifter abducted by aliens.
There is little doubt that X-Files creator Chris Carter watched The Invaders in his youth. A similar current of alien paranoia runs through both series. The X-Files cleverly paid homage to its forerunners through casting. Darren McGavin, star of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, popped up in some episodes. Likewise, Thinnes appeared in a handful as Jeremiah Smith, a member of the mysterious Syndicate with shape-shifting and healing powers. Eventually, he ends up as a sort of shaman in an apocalyptic cult until a UFO takes him away to his presumable demise.
Image: 20th Television
4. The singer of the Pixies is clearly a huge fan.
Eighties alternative-rock pioneers the Pixies hardly kept their UFO fixation, what with alien-themed songs like "Motorway to Roswell" and images of ringed planets on album covers. That's largely the work of singer and frontman Frank Black, who further explored his fixation with the arcane on solo tracks like "Men in Black." But few of his songs displayed his influences like 1994's "Bad, Wicked World," in which he sings, "A ship that is not there / But he knows that it was / It made a light and a buzz… some won't believe / An architect named David Vincent."
5. The show is Jerry Lewis-level huge in France.
The French have a knack for developing cults around unexpected, overlooked pieces of American pop culture. Their Invaders fandom is a prime example, and it's not just the how of it but the when of it. Thinnes himself explained the genesis of the French Invaders phenomenon in a 2008 interview with Premium Hollywood. "Back in the early '80s, Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, who is a star anchorman with Télévision Française 1, he had a four-hour show on Sundays and he did a survey with the audience and asked… because they love American television, what would they like to see again," Thinnes said. "And they got a lot of calls about The Invaders, so TF1 bought a few episodes and tested it and got a huge response. So they began running the series." The reruns later jumped to cable and an "MTV equivalent," airing in reruns for two decades.
Image: The Everett Collection
6. Suzanne Plechette twice sacrificed herself as a friendly alien on the show.
Not all of the aliens on The Invaders had wicked motives. Some helped David Vincent along the way. In particular, Suzanne Pleshette of The Bob Newhart Show stands out, as she turns up twice, as two different such aliens. In the second episode, she plays a stripper who also happens to be an Invaders, albeit a "mutation" who can feel empathy. So she helps David, dying in the end. This is the first time we see the glowing red death of the aliens on the series. In the second season, Pleshette appears again as Anne, a more hot-headed alien who also gives her life in helping David. Those E.T. must have loved shifting into the shape of Pleshette.
7. The Invaders dabbled in zombies, too.
While it was never a huge ratings hit, The Invaders nevertheless spawned an expanded universe of tie-in books and comics. Perhaps the must interesting pulp Invaders novel was Army of the Undead, which centers around the alien Invaders turning humans into mindless "zombies." What is perhaps most fascinating about its use of zombies is that the paperback hit stands in 1967 — a year before Night of the Living Dead. It was ahead of the curve.
8. The women of 'Lost in Space' staged a silent protest with an Invaders reference.
The aliens on The Invaders could convincingly assume human form, but like cruddy poker players, they had one signature "tell" — their crooked pinky fingers. According to John Abbott's book Irwin Allen Television Productions, 1964-1970, the female cast of Lost in Space, which was in production concurrently with The Invaders, grew frustrated with their limited roles on the show. Angela Cartwright told the tale of how she, June Lockhart and Marta Kristen stood in a row in a later episode with their little fingers extended, just like the aliens on The Invaders. They had nothing else to do in the scene, and thus sneakily did the pose to demonstrate their alienation. We had a hard time finding this particular shot. Did you ever notice it?