THE REMOTE OUTPOST…. Written by Mark Onspaugh
This week we look at: THE INVADERS, in color! Tonight’s episode: Pinkies of Doom!
You find yourself on a barren and desolate world, light years from anything or anyone you know… Without much food or water, your oxygen running low, you strike out for the distant mountains… After days of torturous climbing, you see an oasis below. An installation of quonset huts bedecked with hundreds of television antennae. Congratulations, Traveler, you’ve reached… THE REMOTE OUTPOST.
While we’re waiting for the next crop of science fiction and horror series to debut on network and cable, I thought we’d stroll through the musty and parasite-infested archives of the Outpost. N… O… P… Q. Hmm… Quark, Quasar, Quigley – ah, QM.
Back in the 60s and 70s, one of the more successful television producers was Quinn Martin (1922-1987). Martin was born in New York, but raised in Los Angeles. He attended Fairfax High and then UC Berkeley, but quit and got an editing job with MGM. (His father was also a film editor—always good to have connections!)
Martin rose up the production ladder and would eventually executive produce a number of television classics: THE UNTOUCHABLES (1959-1960), The Fugitive (1963-1967), Twelve O’Clock High (1964-1967), The F.B.I. (1965-1974), Cannon (1971-1976), The Streets of San Francisco (1972-1977) and Barnaby Jones (1973-1978). QM also produced the Burt Reynolds series DAN AUGUST (1970-1971) and the short-lived (8 episodes) TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED (1977). One of Martin’s few forays into cinema would be the memorable THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971), where Alan Alda (of all people) makes a deal with the Devil and lives to regret it. (Note to self: cancel deal meeting with Beezlebub.)
Quinn Martin Productions were known for having a lavish guest star budget and high production values. Another trademark was that each show would feature a title sequence, then a narrator would intone “With guest stars…” and “Tonight’s episode: ‘Pardon My Murder!’” (Actually, that’s a joke from MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 [1988-1999], but it certainly captures the flavor of QM titles.) Episodes were divided into acts and ended with an epilog. It all helped to establish the QM brand, and no other series looked or sounded like QM productions.
This whole period was a golden age for character actors, as there were many anthology series and dramas needing guest stars to round out the cast. Familiar faces like Ed Asner, Suzanne Pleshette, William Windom, Michael Rennie, Susan Oliver, Harold Gould and John Larch (among many, many others) would make the rounds, often appearing on two different QM shows simultaneously. A good character actor could often work nearly year-round in those days.
Quinn Martin produced one of my favorite science fiction shows, THE INVADERS which ran on ABC from January 10, 1967 to March 26, 1968. ABC was the last network to adopt color programming, so the network would run bumpers that would say, “Next, The Invaders… In color!”
A departure from QM’s police procedurals, many thought THE INVADERS was a riff on THE FUGITIVE. However, Larry Cohen, the series’ creator, drew his inspiration from the films INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), INVADERS FROM MARS (1953), and from the Alfred Hitchcock trope of “the wrong man.” The hero of the series was David Vincent, an architect who becomes lost and stops to sleep on a deserted road. That night, he sees a UFO land. When he returns the next day with the sheriff, all traces of the UFO and its visitors are gone.
This would be a central thread in most episodes: David Vincent would try to warn people of an Invader scheme, but no one would believe him. The Invaders themselves were aided by the fact that they looked human (unless undergoing “regeneration”) and they vaporized when dying, leaving just a pile of ash. They also had little discs that, when placed on a human, would cause death by cerebral hemorrhage. The Invaders did not bleed, did not feel pain, rarely exhibited emotion and had a mutated little finger that could not bend. Often only David Vincent would notice such clues, and he was often considered dangerous and/or crazy.
David Vincent was played by Roy Thinnes, a handsome young actor who had done well in soaps and was part of QM’s rotating troupe of guest stars on previous series. As with David Janssen in THE FUGITIVE and Bill Bixby in THE INCREDIBLE HULK (1978-1982), he had sufficient charisma to carry the show. As I mentioned, Quinn Martin did not skimp on budgets for his productions, not on effects or guest stars, which may explain why his shows had a richer look than those of Irwin Allen or even the original STAR TREK. Quinn Martin also strove for realism, nothing too far out like Space Cowboys or a Nazi planet.
The iconic theme was by Dominic Frontiere, who did the amazing theme for THE OUTER LIMITS (1963-1965). THE INVADERS also had a dynamite voice-over lead-in, which is one of my most favorites, following THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-1964), THE OUTER LIMITS and STAR TREK (1966-1969):
First, you hear Hank Simms, who announced all of Quinn Martin’s series – series name, stars, guest stars and title:
“The Invaders – a Quinn Martin Production! Starring Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent.”
Then, a gravelly bass voice takes over (my research shows this is supposed to be William Woodson who also did CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER FRIENDS in 1978, but it sure sounds to me like William Conrad, who starred in the QM series CANNON, but was also the voice of Marshall Matt Dillon on radio):
“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 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!”
(Check out THE INVADERS opening credits for yourself, here)
After that, Hank Simms would tell you who was guest starring and the name of the episode. THE INVADERS had great episode titles like “Beachhead,” “The Experiment,” “Doomsday Minus One” and “Quantity: Unknown.”
Wooo-eee! I’ll tell you, friends, if you were a kid who loved science fiction liked me, this show grabbed you from the get-go. Sure, the effects are primitive by today’s standards, but were top-notch for television of the day. And writerly contrivances like disappearing alien corpses and mutated pinkies just added to the nightmarish and surreal predicament in which David Vincent found himself. It made you wonder what you would do under similar circumstances, and made you regard some adults with suspicion… Just why does my British aunt keep her pinky up at tea time?
For his part, show runner Larry Cohen did much to infuse The Invaders with layers, making it a metaphor for the Red Scare and the dehumanizing influence of mindless conformity. He had similar thoughts for BRANDED (1965-1966), the Chuck Connors (western) series he had created as an allegory of Hollywood’s blacklist. An interesting note is that we never learned much about the aliens, only that they came from “a dying world.” We never learned what that world was called or what they called themselves, nothing about their culture or beliefs. There seem to be only two episodes where we got the briefest glimpse of their true shapes, amorphous blobs in solution (which makes our water-rich planet ideal).
Sadly, THE INVADERS only lasted two seasons, and I am not certain why it was canceled. However, the series did take a turn in the second season, where certain people (“The Believers”) begin to trust David Vincent and worked to help eradicate the aliens. For me, this was far less satisfying than a single man alone against terrible odds, and I began to lose interest. I imagine others did, too. It’s like a “will they or won’t they” couple in a sitcom… As long as Sam is pursuing Diane, or Jack and Sawyer are pursuing Kate, there is a natural tension, one that gives the series some weight. Once a couple marries or becomes exclusive, that tension is gone. Also, a lone wolf or fugitive in the series is like a secret friend—someone only we understand and appreciate… Once they become accepted, they are no longer alone (but we are). REMOTE OUTPOST—we don’t just analyze television!
Larry Cohen went on to do low-budget horror faves like IT’S ALIVE (1974) and Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982). An Invaders mini-series with Scott Bakula was attempted in 1995, with Roy Thinnes reprising his role as David Vincent, handing off the torch, as it were. It was not picked up for a series… I guess those alien bastards won this round…
© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh