Dateline: November 27, 1998
The BBC's ambitious science fiction drama Invasion: Earth premieres on the American Sci-Fi Channel on December 8-10th (repeats December 13th). Co-produced with an eye towards the American market (hence the casting of the rugged-yet-reliable Fred Ward as a skeptical NATO General), nevertheless there is very much a British sensibility about the mini-series that may disappoint the action-and-spaceships crowd, but should please those who want intelligent drama. Everyone should be surprised by the production values of Invasion: Earth which are first-rate and a far cry from the cardboard sets and rubber monsters of the BBC's most famous science fiction series, Doctor Who (fondly remembered as it is).
The story begins with a flashback to London during the Blitz of WWII. Something strange has been found in the debris and it's not of German origin (shades of Quatermass!). We cut to the present as an unknown craft attempts to enter NATO airspace. It is shot down and the hunt begins for its occupant. The RAF pilot responsible for bringing down the craft manages to get himself assigned to the search team, as do two by-the-bootstraps scientists who've tracked the spaceship's signal with special listening equipment. Eventually, all these separate people come together and we discover the "alien" pilot was in fact the Englishman we saw back during the Blitz. He has been the guest of friendly aliens (in a sort of exchange program) called the "Ecos" but has returned with a warning that other nasty aliens about to conquer the Earth. Indeed, several humans are kidnapped by the teleporting amorphous "NDs" (so called, because they exist in an extra "Nth" dimension) where horrible experiments are performed on them before being returned. Much of the story takes place with the military and its experts trying to assess the threat and come up with a solution, which reminded me a bit of the old 70s series Doomwatch, about an elite group trying to prevent the End Of The World each week. All this talk (with action scenes few and far-between) might put off some viewers, but the creeping sense of dread, combined with the growing realization that humans as a species might very well be making its last stand, combine to make an effective and credible thriller.
The BBC has suffered a lot of criticism in the past few years for ignoring the growing popularity of science fiction on its main channel, merely importing American series such as The X-Files and Star Trek: The Next Generation long after they had established their presence on satellite television. And of course their complete disregard on air for what was once their flagship series, Doctor Who, (except for co-producing the TV movie which ran on FOX in 1996) has continued to grate with license fee-paying fans. So it is heartening for the Beeb to finally put its money where its mouth is (after dipping their toes in the SF waters with Cold Lazarus, the final work of writer Dennis Potter) and producing a quality mini-series. Invasion: Earth could spawn a sequel, although as events unfold until only one course of action seems possible, viewers might be shocked in the end to discover the terrible price humanity must pay. As usual, the British prefer a thought-provoking ending to a drama, rather than the usual uplifting Terra über alles finale that might be typical in a similar American production.