The 15 Best TV Alien Invasions
People are happiest when we're watching ourselves being subjugated by bug-eyed monsters.
For those of you who haven’t figured out your Sunday night yet, Falling Skies returns to TNT tonight. I’ll be covering each episode, but you oughta check it out too.
But to help you get in the mood again, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best alien invasions seen on the small screen…
#15: Invasion (2005)
This quirky ABC drama gets points for originality, at least. Though cancelled after one season, this ensemble piece about a town in Florida undergoing a subversive invasion was actually a lot of fun, if you followed it. The storylines were dense and intelligent, and even though the aliens, when seen, appeared to be Dayglo-orange manta rays, their technique of ‘altering’ people who watched their arrival via meteor shower was a nice touch. Tyler Labine stole the show as crazy conspiracy theorist brother-in-law Dave, as did the always-great William Fichtner as Sheriff Tom Underlay, one of the altered humans.
#14: Day of the Triffids (1981)
It’s amazing how timeless John Wyndham’s sci-fi masterpiece about alien plants taking over the planet turned out to be. There have been three radio adaptations, one film, and two TV series, counting this one. Though I’ve not yet seen the newer version, it would be hard to top the 1981 version, starring John Duttine as Bill, one of the few men left in Britain who was not blinded by a freak meteor shower. The Triffids themselves, large pitcher-plant shaped affairs, were decently realized, and their deadly stings were actually quite effective. Certainly one of the most unique visions of alien life ever to stir viewers.
#13: Dark Skies (1996)
Though Dark Skies is ostensibly a cash-grab put out to match The X Files‘ insane TV clout in the mid-90s, this show actually has a lot going for it on its own merit. Where Scully and Mulder worked the beat, going the hard way about proving their theories, John Loengard was a political aide, and lent the show an element of almost West Wing-like professionalism. The focus on actual historic events and their ramifications for a larger conspiracy was an interesting touch; it’s a shame the creators never got to realize their multi-year plan for the story and we’re instead left with a good, but frustrating, series of more-or-less unexplained events.
#12: Invaders (1967)
When I was a little kid in elementary school, I would spend a lot of time in the antiquated school library. One of the older shelves hosted a number of made-for-little-kids adaptation books of various 60s TV shows. Being a nerd even at that age, I made a beeline for the one that looked like it involved aliens. And that’s how I discovered Invaders, a socially-conscious piece of TV work that made quite an effort to make its message heard. Roy Thinnes played David Vincent, a man who discovers an alien invasion going down in the middle of American culture, and travels the nation trying to spread awareness and stop it. The aliens in particular were a strong piece of design work: instead of appearing alien, the beasts wore human ‘suits,’ distinguishable only by their inability to bleed and a mutated little finger that was unable to bend. It’s a harder show to get a copy of these days, but well worth the hunt.
#11: Stargate SG-1 (1997)
I have a confession to make: I really don’t care much for Stargate, in any of its forms. I’m not saying it’s no good, just not my cup of tea. Not when there are so many more interesting things out there. However, it’s impossible to not respect the impact SG-1 had on the science fiction genre. Just the length of their series alone lends them all the clout you’d ever need. And in fairness, the invasion of Goa’uld was an interesting storyline. Parasitic aliens that take over human minds are a little less common on TV, and Stargate took to them with gusto. Like I said: not my thing per se, but definitely worth checking out if you have the free time.
#10: Space: Above and Beyond (1995)
The 90s were a spawning ground for science fiction shows, as every network on the planet tried to copy The X Files format. Unfortunately for most, the public just wasn’t that interested in having thirty different options, and most of them fell by the wayside. Space: Above and Beyond was one of the more tragic victims, as they weren’t even really trying to copy that particular model. No, A&B wanted to blaze new trails in the ‘space marine’ genre. Unfortunately, they dragged it out too long in their first season and didn’t get that second order. A shame, too, because with a little more building, the show could have had a lot of promise.
#9: Earth: Final Conflict (1997)
Oh MAN, Roddenberry, why couldn’t you have just given us a little more to go on? This legendary five-season misfire came about when a group of writers tried to put together some of Gene Roddenberry’s posthumous notes on a new series. Ultimately there just wasn’t enough written out to make it convincing or fun; the overarching premise is actually a great one, though. The aliens in questions, the Taelons, arrive in peace much like the Visitors in V (we’ll get there) but have ulterior motives. What really would have set this apart is that instead of being your standard villains, the Taelons’ motives are revealed to be more or less benign, but their willingness to go against human rights to accomplish their ends makes them monsters. Just a little more work on the scripts, and this could have been an all-time great…
#8: Threshold (2005)
A more modern piece of television, this particular Icarus project burned up against the sun mainly because its ideas were maybe just a little too crazy for the majority of American audiences. The plot centered around a group of researchers attempting to identify and stop an alien invasion in which the aliens were using some form of radio wave to transform humans into aliens themselves. Crazy, right? You probably wouldn’t give it a second thought, until I mention that the mighty Peter Dinklage, yes he of Game of Thrones fame, plays a main character. Is that the sound of Netflix Queues being searched I hear?
#7: Torchwood: Children of Earth (2009)
Man oh MAN, I wish I could put this higher on the list. Children of Earth isn’t just a great sci-fi show, it’s a great show, period. Unfortunately, I’m stretching it a bit to put it with alien invasions. The 456, hellishly nasty aliens we find out next to nothing about, are nothing more than intergalactic druggies, desperate to steal Earth’s children because some prepubescent chemicals in the human brain give them a real good high. Invasion? Not exactly. But thematically, the series plays out in much the same way, as Earth’s governments try to figure out a plan to deal with the 456–and ultimately, in a moment of absolutely chilling brilliance, open a conversation about how best to pick 10% of the world’s children to give away.
#6: Defiance (2013)
SyFy promised us the Next Big Thing in sci-fi TV, and it’s starting to look like they might be able to stick the landing on their claims. A sci-fi Western in the grand old tradition of shows like Firefly, Defiance shows us the planet Earth a generation after an entire solar system’s worth of aliens attempt to take it as their new refugee world. While the fighting has more or less ended and species copopulate (and copulate) in relative harmony, the humans of planet Earth are still keenly aware that they’re being occupied. And then there’s the mysterious Volge, the species most of the Votans left their solar system to escape…
#5: The X Files (1993)
You’re probably all wondering why this isn’t higher towards #1 on the list. After all, most people would probably mention Scully and Mulder at the top of their list of alien invasion stories. I’m not hating on The X Files at all, but if you boil down the entire series and look at the alien invasion story over all nine seasons, it’s actually not that impressive. For one thing, you find yourself bogged down in the interminable ‘Scully has cancer’ multi-season arc, which is followed by the equally interminable ‘Scully is pregnant’ season arc. While the episodes about the invasion are quite good, they’re simply too far apart and disconnected at times to be considered really great. But it’s still a hell of a show, and earns its spot in fifth place.
#4: V (2009)
ABC’s latest attempt to recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle that was Lost came about as an effort to recreate the 80s invasion story, V. Essentially, it’s about aliens making contact with people under the guise of diplomatic friendliness, but behind our backs the aliens are planning to take us over and presumably eat us. Oh, did I mention that under their skin masks, the ‘Visitors’ are nasty lizard-people? Morena Baccarin was without question at a career high playing Anna, the leader of the Visitors. Her power came into question throughout the show, and again, it’s a shame that this series only got two seasons to play around with a new version of an old invasion.
#3: V (1984)
As good as the revamp was, though, the original will always be the best. 1984′s V is rightly considered a masterpiece of sci-fi television, effects-wise and story-wise. Fun fact: the script for the pilot miniseries was originally a non-alien dystopia project called It Can’t Happen Here, in which an ultra-right wing politician takes control of the presidency and turns the United States into a fascist state. NBC, in their infinite wisdom, looked at that story and said, “Yeah, but wouldn’t it be better if the Nazi overlords were FROM SPACE? And had LIZARD HEADS?” Oh, and a lizard man eats a hamster, which is pretty metal, I guess.
#2: Doctor Who (The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964) & The Invasion (1968)
Yes, many of us Feasties are biased when it comes to the greatest show on Earth. But bear with us; the twin invasions of Daleks and Cybermen in the two aforementioned stories are among the most iconic scenes from the show’s fifty-year history. The image of Daleks swarming over Westminster Bridge has been turned into posters, magazine covers, fan art, you name it. The Cybermen, meanwhile, made themselves known as a force to be contended with through their covert invasion of the sewer systems of London. It’s surprisingly rare in Doctor Who canon that either big baddie actually go after Earth, and the shock of seeing them there is all the more apparent.
#1: Falling Skies (2011)
This isn’t just marketing tactics; I genuinely feel that Falling Skies is the best invasion series, and maybe the best sci-fi series, out there. What makes it so great? For one thing, a talented cast that works together and never focuses too heavily on any one character. True ensembles are hard, and Falling Skies pulls it off. For another thing, the aliens–Skitters, Mechs, Eyeworms, Overlords, and, starting today, Volm–are brilliantly realized (through Stephen Spielberg’s money) and aren’t just generic baddies to shoot, but carry their own stories. But the best thing I’ve found about the show? Its attention to detail, and awareness of its source material. Nearly every great science fiction project is lovingly homaged here. The harnesses the Skitters put on children are very much like the caps worn by everyone in the Tripods series. The Mechs are imported from harder futuristic science fiction projects, but integrated in such a way that they feel natural. Even the Overlords are clearly referencing the popular internet horror meme, Slenderman. Additionally, the show is designed to bear connections to the American Revolutionary War, and as such feels weighty and important. I’m not messing around here. I love Falling Skies, and if you haven’t started watching it yet, you’re wrong.
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Fun fact: as an infant, Charles was known around his community as 'The Beardling.' He discovered Lord of the Rings at 5, Doctor Who at 7, and a life at never. Some things he hates, in no particular order, are: James Cameron, River Song, birds of unreasonable size, eggplant, and TV adaptations that ruin the original book (Also known as The Walking Dead). In college, he was awarded the nickname 'Miggles,' a moniker that would become self-evident if you ever had to watch a comedy with him.