‘60s #44: ‘The Invaders’

Every Saturday, The Savvy Screener’s Boomer Box is counting down “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960s,” in reverse chronological order, as researched and written by Todd M. Pence.

#44: The Invaders: ‘The Ransom

The Invaders

“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. 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. . . .”

Inspired by a classic movie

As The Fugitive neared the completion of its successful four-year run, producer Quinn Martin sought to find a replacement for the program that he hoped would have equal success. Enter Larry Cohen, who had an idea for a science fiction series inspired by the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Earlier in the year the pilot episode of this new ABC show introduced us to Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent, an everyman who discovers that Earth has been invaded by alien beings who are able to take on the appearance of Earthlings and have already deeply infiltrated our society and are bent upon the conquest of the world.

Roy Thinnes, The Invaders
(Roy Thinnes as David Vincent. Source: MeTV)

Vincent spends the series attempting to convince the rest of the world of the existence of the invaders and their plans, and tries to foil their various schemes, while gaining a widespread reputation as a crackpot. Hindering his efforts are the fact that the aliens incinerate whenever their physical human bodies are killed.

Although it never really caught on with the viewing public during its original run, The Invaders was ahead of its time. It would have been a natural in the 1990s climate in which shows like The X-Files thrived. Indeed, the Sci-Fi channel had success rerunning The Invaders in the mid-‘90s.

Vincent gets a team

By the time the series began its second season, an attempt to boost the ratings was made by giving Vincent a group of allies – fellow believers, led by a wealthy industrialist, who themselves had evidence of the existence of the invaders.

One of the first episodes done under this new format, “The Ransom,” which aired December 12, 1967, would prove to be one of the most thrilling and captivating of the series.

Vincent and one of his new allies plan a raid on an underground alien base they have discovered. It proves more successful than they hoped as they score a real coup – the capture of an alien whom they learn is one of their most important leaders, so much so that the rest of the invaders will stop at nothing to get him back.

Roy Thinnes, Alfred Ryder, Laurence Naismith, Karen Black, The Invaders
(L to r: Thinnes, Ryder, Naismith, Black. Source: IMDb)

Alfred Ryder, known for guest roles playing a variety of creepy characters, was the perfect choice to play this part. David plans to turn the leader over to the government, but pursuit forces them into the nearby wilderness. They hole up in a remote mountain cabin where an aged misanthropic poet named Cyrus Stone (Laurence Naismith) lives alone with his daughter (Karen Black).

Vincent attempts to transport their captive to a nearby military base where he can once and for all prove to the world the threat the aliens pose. But the efforts of the other aliens to reclaim their leader force a high stakes showdown. I won’t tell you what happens, but the end of Act Three has one of the greatest in-show cliffhangers of any QM series.

The shift in format didn’t much help The Invaders, and it was canceled after the 1967-68 season. But it maintains its status as a cult classic of science fiction television.

[Editor’s note: The Invaders is not streaming anywhere, but airs Sunday mornings at 5 am ET/PT on MeTV, available free over the air via an antenna connected to your TV set and on many cable systems. To find your local channel number, visit MeTV’s Where to Watch page.)

(Top photo: Roy Thinnes and Karen Black in ‘The Ransom.” Source: IMDb)

About Todd M. Pence

Todd M Pence has been an amateur historian and scholar of American television for the past 35 years. “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960” is the product of decades of research, not just in active viewing but in extensive combing of newspaper and magazine archives to read the original reviews of programs at the time they aired. He has also reached out to fellow television researchers to get their opinions. Pence maintains that the decade of the 1960's constituted the zenith of American primetime television drama, and that we will probably never see its like again. His purpose in compiling this list was to preserve this history and to spotlight many exceptional programs which have been forgotten and consigned to the dustbin of history. Pence holds a BA in Journalism from West Virginia University and has worked for the past 20 years in the Fairfax (Virginia) County Public School system

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