Pop Culture

The Invaders (in Color!)

I’ve been watching the old Quinn Martin TV series, THE INVADERS. Despite only running for two seasons, from 1967 to 1968, the show has embedded itself in the consciousness of genre fans for its grim atmosphere, creepy music and relentless tension. As a kid, I loved it, and I’ve been pleased to see just how well it holds up when viewed from a 21st Century perspective.

One of the things I love about the series is its internal self-consistency, and the way details of the alien invaders themselves are gradually revealed over both seasons. By the end of the series, we still didn’t know what their true form was like, what they called themselves or even where they came from. But we, along with series protagonist “Architect David Vincent” (played by the intense and handsome Roy Thinnes), did pick up a few facts about the aliens, and it’s fun to try and puzzle out additional information from the few crumbs of information we did manage to gain.

The aliens natural form, whatever it may be, certainly isn’t human. In fact, the one time a human in the series sees one in its native form, it drives him insane. The aliens undergo a process, either during their voyage to Earth or on their homeworld (they’re clearly seen arriving on Earth having already assumed human form) that either transforms them into human form, or implants them in an artificial shell of some kind. These bodies have no pulse, no blood, no internal organs beyond a simplified skeletal frame, and do not feel pain. Pulse and heartbeat can be temporarily induced by means of a small device, but otherwise these bodies will not hold up to examination by a skilled doctor. They are, however, good enough to pass as human to a lover, as implied in a couple of episodes where unwitting husbands and wives discover unpleasant truths about their partners.

Aliens on Earth need to “regenerate” their human bodies every month or so, or they will begin to revert and will eventually die, as their native forms cannot survive Earths atmosphere for long. Indeed, it appears that the level of oxygen in our atmosphere is what causes them to need regeneration and pure oxygen is actually deadly to them, prompting at least one plot to remove or sequester the majority of our atmospheric oxygen. The nature of the invaders home atmosphere is unknown. Their human forms are seen to breathe, but this may just be a form of camouflage behaviour. If they do breathe, perhaps nitrogen is their preferred atmosphere, which might explain why they’ve come to Earth (our atmosphere is mostly nitrogen).

There’s some question about what happens if an alien fails to regenerate. In one episode, a senior alien scientist fails to regenerate properly and reverts back to his native form. The aliens then have to create a set-up in which the alien is suspended in a tank of amino acids and subjected to high-voltage electricity in order to regain his human form. This is ultimately sabotaged by David Vincent, and the alien disintegrates in the tank. The implication here is that the aliens use technology to change themselves into a human shape, rather than occupy a created shell. In most other episodes however, failure to regenerate simply results in the alien dying and incinerating in our atmosphere (“That’s how they die on Earth,” states David Vincent). In another episode, the aliens are experimenting with drugs to retard the effect of our atmosphere on their human forms, with the result that one aliens reversion takes place very gradually, the aliens human features slowly running like melted wax.

Perhaps in their own world the aliens are a form of smart matter, like one of Lovecraft’s shoggoths, capable of being radically reshaped through the power of technology. However, in the episode “The Prophet”, one alien is seen in a regenerating station, and rather than the pseudo-skeleton seen glowing through his flesh as in previous stories, we see for a second an odd writhing shape, like an octopus or a mutated starfish. Could this, perhaps, be the true form of the invaders, glimpsed briefly through a covering of artificial flesh? Several times throughout the series, we see aliens cut or otherwise injured, and each time their flesh appears bloodless and undifferentiated, more like clay or wax than living tissue.

The aliens are highly intelligent, technologically adept and – for the most part – without emotion, though there are exceptions. David Vincent encounters at least on alien “aberration” with the ability to feel love, and another who displays both fear and desperation. He also learns that while the majority of the aliens on Earth are cold, calculating killers, not all are happy with the plans of their rulers. Even these, however, want the invasion to succeed; their differences of opinion being more about the wisdom of certain strategies than the morality of enslaving an occupied world.

Interestingly, at no time are the aliens observed speaking their own language, and it’s possible they have no spoken language at all in their native form. Aliens on Earth always seem to speak the local language, and at one point we even see an alien communication hub in which messages for the invasin forces in different parts of the world are translated into their local languages before transmission. The aliens arrive on Earth having already assumed their human shapes, and already knowing enough about humanity and human interactions to appear entirely unremarkable. In one episode we see an alien training facility, in which the finer points of human sub-cultures are imparted to alien students, through both “traditional” lectures and a form of hypnotic induction. The aliens seem to have no problems acclimating to human society, and are extraordinarily capable of improvising plausible lies and manipulations with little notice.

TO BE CONTINUED

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