TV REVISITED: ‘V: THE ORIGINAL MINISERIES’ – PART TWO
I remember it very well: it was the summer of 1984, I was 9 years old and on a caravan holiday with my parents and brother. The Olympics were taking place in Los Angeles and the BBC were dominating the TV ratings with their coverage. However, that was about to change.
ITV took a gamble and decided to show a Science Fiction show over 5 consecutive nights to compete with the Beebs Olympics coverage. This show was V – The Miniseries and V – The Final Battle. The BBC has no idea what was about to happen – V completely trounced the Olympics in the ratings war.
Little did I know that this week would continue to shape me as a sci-fi fan – My life had already been changed when my parents took 5 year old me to watch The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, but that is another story – this week in 1984 would thrill me and terrify me in equal measure. That was the week that I saw V for the very first time.
V started out as non-sci-fi series based on the 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, which detailed the rise of a fascist dictator in the United States of America. Writer/director Kenneth Johnson, who had had previous success with his TV series The Incredible Hulk, adapted the novel into a script for a new mini-series. When he presented it to TV executives, it was rejected in its first draft. Due to the success of Star Wars it was suggested that Johnson rework the script to change the American Fascists into Aliens and give the show a sci-fi feel.
Starting this week, I will be re-watching and casting a critical eye over all the episodes of V, incorporating the original mini-series, The Final Battle and the weekly TV series that followed. This series will not cover the reboot from 2009. Needless to say, the reviews will be spoilertastic.
So let’s begin with part one of V – The Mini Series. The episode begins in the middle of a furious battle in El Salvador and in the middle of it are TV cameraman Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) and his trusty soundman and sidekick Tony Leonetti. (Evan Kim). This is a great action sequence with a helicopter flying about, explosions and stunts. A lone soldier stands there defiantly shooting at the helicopter with just a pistol, this image will have heavy significance in the next episode.
What makes this sequence even more extraordinary is the size of Donovan’s TV camera. He is running around with a camera which is the size of a top loading Ferguson Videostar VHS recorder. I’m amazed he’s got the strength! Nowadays, all he would need is a smartphone, he wouldn’t even need a soundman. (Sorry Tony, you’re fired).
The aforementioned helicopter is in hot pursuit of Donovan & Tony, determined to kill them to stop them reporting on what they’ve seen. Donovan and Tony are about to get creamed by the helicopter when the arrival of a huge flying saucer ruins their plans. Now Donovan is about to get a scoop on the biggest story ever.
We then meet Juliet Parrish, a promising bio-chemistry med student, as she and her colleagues watch news footage from all over the world. It seems that these alien ships seem to only hover over famous landmarks in each country. Look. there’s a ship flying over the Golden Gate Bridge! There’s one flying over Big Ben! There’s one over the Taj Mahal! (You probably get the point) Juliet works closely with her friend, Ben Taylor (Richard Lawson)
We meet Ben’s brother Elias (Michael Wright), a thief, hoodlum and all round bad egg. He’s in the middle of robbing a house. He turns on a TV he’s about to steal to test it, only to watch more live expositional news coverage, explaining that people are panicking all over the country.
As the saucers (or ‘Motherships’) start to arrive at all major cities around the world, we see one arrive above Los Angeles, it just happens to park itself above the one street the most of the principal characters live on. These include the Maxwell family, headed by Robert, (Michael Durrell) an anthropologist and the Bernsteins, a Jewish family headed up by concentration camp survivor Abraham. (Leonardo Cimino)
The Aliens announce via a Tannoy system all around the world that they come in peace and want to meet the secretary general of the UN on the rooftop of the UN that evening. I guess that’s their version of a press conference. If this series was made now, the aliens would probably make a reality TV show instead and beam it onto living rooms across the world. This has got me thinking worrying things about Kim Kardashian….
Donovan & Tony are covering the event, where they bump into Kristine Walsh, (Jenny Sullivan) a news anchor and ex-girlfriend of Donovan’s.
The episode cuts between the events at the UN and the living rooms of most of the principal characters, showing their reactions to what is unfolding.
A shuttle appears from the mothership and lands on the roof, very sleek in design with a red logo on the front. Let’s be frank, the alien logo is a couple of dashes away from looking like a Swastika.
The aliens, calling themselves ‘The Visitors’ announce that they come in peace and introduce their Supreme Commander, John. (Richard Herd) He is human in appearance (human looking aliens can drastically reduce the production budget) but he has a strange resonance in his voice. As Sean Donovan (Mike’s son) exclaims in disappointment, “He’s no E.T, he doesn’t even look like Mr Spock!”
John announces that the Visitors need help. Their planet is dying. They need certain chemicals and compounds that can help their ecological system flourish. In exchange, they will educate us with ‘all the fruits of our knowledge’ (First on my list: how can I make my own mothership?) Apparently they have been monitoring all earth communications so they could learn all of our different languages, goodness knows what they would have thought when watching Dallas.
The Visitors ask that the UN Secretary General and ‘several members of the media’ go up to the mothership for a tour. Wouldn’t you know Mike, Tony & Kristine are going! Some more expositional dialogue explains more connections between the main characters.
We then cut to Donovan & Kristine celebrating their scoop of the century as they watch the news report on TV. It is here we are introduced to Diana, (Jane Badler) the second in command of the Visitors. She is responsible for all the scientific parts of their mission. She also does good evil stares into cameras. Donovan and Kristine decide to give their relationship another try.
At a ceremony at Arthur Dupres (Hansford Rowe) chemical plant (he is married to Donovan’s mother, Eleanor) a local brass band slaughters the ‘Star Wars’ main title as shuttle after shuttle of Visitors arrives to start producing the much needed chemical solution that will help save their home planet, Sirius. It is here that Robin Maxwell (Blair Tefkin) spots hunky bit of alien stuff Brian (Peter Nelson).
One of the Visitors at the chemical plant is Willie, wonderfully played by Robert Englund. It’s hard to believe that he would go on to play Freddy Krueger the following year. Willie learned Arabic but due to some mix up ended up in LA. His English isn’t so good, as he demonstrates as he’s wandering around the plant because he is ‘just’. He is actually lost, but kind soul Harmony (Diane Civita) shows him where to go. Willie is paired up to work with Caleb, (Jason Bernard) who is the father of Ben & Elias. I told you that pretty much all of the characters are connected! I bet Kevin Bacon is related to one of them somehow. Caleb is not too pleased about being paired up with a ‘stupid alien’ but he soon changes his tune when he is involved in an accident and Willie saves his life.
The Visitors continue to integrate themselves into society and soon become part of everyone’s daily lives. They soon form ‘The Visitors Friends’, a youth programme that encourages 12-20 year olds to get involved. One of the first people to sign up is Daniel Bernstein (David Packer), Abraham’s grandson, a kid who has no direction in his life and seems to float from job to job.
Donovan visits his son Sean (Eric Johnston), a baseball loving kid who is hanging with his mate Josh. (Tommy Peterson). Now, Tommy Peterson is billed as one of the main stars of the V Miniseries, which completely baffles me as he has only 4 scenes in the entire series! He must have had a great agent!
Sorry, on with the review. Josh is showing Sean his new Visitor action figures and shuttle. Donovan wonders if John & Diana get royalties. Chances are the Visitors looked up George Lucas when they first got to earth and asked for some merchandising tips. Donovan gives Sean an unremarkable piece of plastic that he stole from a Visitor shuttle. This makes Sean’s day, pisses over Josh’s “I’ve got all the toys” parade and really annoys Donovan’s ex-wife.
Kristine is offered an ‘Official Spokeswoman’ position by Diana, along with some awkward touching. When Donovan hears the news, (about the job, not the inappropriate touching) he leaves her in a huff, saying she’s no longer objective. Way to go Mike! Your girlfriend gets promoted and you leave her! “Put the steaks back in the freezer love, you’re dumped”.
Meanwhile, scientists are beginning to disappear. Robert Maxwell’s boss Quentin and Juliet’s colleague Ruth are among the missing. It is then announced on TV that there is an international conspiracy against the Visitors, spearheaded by the worlds’ most prominent scientists.
The police suddenly raid the lab that Juliet and Ben work at and it transpires that their boss is the ringleader! The Visitors and Police find evidence in his office! Scientists from all around the world confess that they have been approached or are part of the conspiracy. It is then revealed that scientists have been withholding important breakthroughs from the public, including a possible cure for Cancer. Those crazy scientists!
As more news is revealed about the conspiracy, scientists start to become ostracised from society and are required to register themselves and their families with the state.
Donovan & Tony are becoming more and more suspicious of what’s happening. Tony has noticed that a famous scientist who confessed to being part of the conspiracy that he met the previous year is now left handed. He was right handed when Tony met him. Tony reassures Donovan that he’s not ambidextrous because he checked. I don’t know about you, but I’m always checking whether people I meet or left or right handed.
Donovan (armed with his massive camera) and Tony plan to sneak onto the mothership and have a snoop around. Due to some clumsy tripping up on Tony’s part Donovan ends up travelling up to the ship on his own. Once aboard, he begins to explore the mothership in handy ventilation systems that he can hide in. He also sees that the random piece of plastic he gave to Sean is a key that opens doors on the ship. That may come in handy in a future episode!
For the next 5 minutes, pretty much all dialogue is exposition.
As Donovan is hiding he sees some Visitors attach a hose to a hole in the floor while one remarks “What a waste of time making this chemical, only to dump it into the atmosphere” Why don’t the Visitors want this life saving chemical that will help them heal their planet?
Donovan continues on and finds himself outside Diana’s quarters. He overhears quite possibly the most expositional conversation I’ve ever seen on screen as Diana & Steven (Andrew Prine) explain that the conspiracy has been concocted by the Visitors and all evidence has been planted by them. Due to a conversion process that Diana has created “people actually believe that they are part of a conspiracy”. Then Donovan sees something he quite simply cannot believe: a 1980’s special effect. Diana has a collection of live animals in her quarters, including a Guinea Pig, the poor thing is about to be lunch
Sickened by what he has just seen and heard, Donovan stumbles away and rests outside a random Visitor’s quarters. Watching closely Donovan sees the Visitor seemingly take out his eyes and put them into a box, as if they are contact lenses. The Visitor turns around and Donovan sees his real eyes, blood red with a slitted pupil! Freaky! (Those eyes gave 9 year old me nightmares for weeks). The Visitor sees Donovan hiding and promptly attacks him, dragging him into his quarters. FIGHT!
The Visitor is proving quite a tough opponent, especially when he reveals a forked tongue and spits some kind of venom onto Donovan’s cheek. Thank goodness he has his handy Ferguson Videostar sized camera as it comes in handy here. With a few well timed swings the camera proves itself a good weapon, he couldn’t defend himself with a smartphone that’s for sure.
Donovan eventually gets pinned down and he reaches up to the Visitors face. As they struggle, Donovan starts to pull off skin from the Visitors face. The Visitor tries to hide so Donovan goes for it and starts tearing at him and ends up pulling off his entire face! He’s a lizard! Luckily Donovan’s camera is in a perfect position to film what has happened. He quickly overpowers the Visitor and promptly escapes. Alarms begin to sound as Donovan quickly scurries onto a shuttle which is departing for the surface. That was lucky!
Donovan is about to go on the TV news and expose the Visitors when all communications are disrupted. It appears that the Visitors have taken complete control of all broadcast communications.
John appears and declares that due to the increasingly violent scientific conspiracy Martial Law has been declared and all prominent politicians and leaders have asked for Visitor ‘protection’ aboard their ships. He then declares Donovan enemy of the state. Donovan quickly escapes from the TV station and is pursued by Visitor troopers.
Despite taking control of the earth, the Visitors continue to put up propaganda posters declaring that Friendship is Universal! Now, let’s take stock a moment. They’ve targeted one section of society, have declared martial law all over the world, use propaganda to broadcast their message and they have insignias on their uniforms and ships. Sounds familiar eh?
The Maxwell family attempt to flee the city (Which doesn’t impress Robin because she’s been getting quite chummy with Brian) but there are roadblocks everywhere. After witnessing the shooting of a man that was trying to smuggle scientists over the roadblock, Robert’s wife Kathleen (Penelope Windust) tells him to turn the car around, she knows where they can hide.
Juliet and Ben hold a secret meeting with a few other people, discussing how the Visitors are taking over the planet and have control over everything. This meeting is the first rumblings of a resistance moving forming. I was going to say Rebel Alliance, but decided against it. The resistance members agree to meet again and bring more people with them. They also decided that they need to find an HQ and get equipment for a lab.
Ben approaches Elias for help with an equipment raid, but he won’t help as he is prospering under the new Visitor regime. He gets more money selling hamburgers than he does selling reefer! Elias lets his childhood jealousy of Ben and resentment boil over and won’t help.
The Maxwells are taken in by Abraham Bernstein, who offers them accommodation in their pool house. Despite typical teenage whining from Robin, Robert assures Abraham that it is perfect. Abraham’s son Stanley (George Morfogen) appears and basically asks the Maxwells to leave, as they are dangerous fugitives, not forgetting the fact that his son Daniel has recently joined the Hitler Youth, sorry, the Visitors Friends. Abraham loses his temper with Stanley and recalls a story from his time in a concentration camp and the death of his wife. He wonders what may have happened instead if he and his wife were offered a place to hide. In what is quite possibly the most moving moment of the episode he says to Stanley, “They have to stay, or else we haven’t learned a thing”. Leonardo Cimino’s acting in this scene is superbly moving, even if his jaw does wobble.
Meanwhile, Donovan sneaks into Kristine’s apartment to try and convince her of what he saw on the Visitors Mothership. Kristine is not convinced at all by his story as she works with these ‘people’ every day. Donovan again accuses her of not being objective and tries to leave but Kristine stops him with a kiss. As they get it on, Donovan notices a Visitor trooper sneaking into the apartment. He quickly attacks the trooper and barely escapes. Has Kristine betrayed him?
Daniel Bernstein gets home to find that Robin is standing there, moaning that she couldn’t stand the pool house. Daniel is a little drunk and fancies his chances with Robin, but all she wants to talk about is Brian. Daniel is not happy.
The resistance, led by Juliet and Ben, steal some equipment from a lab but are rumbled and attacked by Visitor troops. Ben is shot and wounded. While attempting to help him, Juliet is shot in the hip for her trouble. Realising that Ben is dying, Juliet drags him into her car and drives to Caleb’s house but he’s not there. Elias is there however and he has to watch his brother die in front of him, realising that things may have turned out differently if he had actually helped when asked.
Abraham and his friend Ruby (Camila Ashlend) notice some pesky teenagers defacing Visitor propaganda posters with cans of red spray paint. Abraham stops them and says “If you’re going to do it, do it right”, taking the teenagers hand and spraying a huge red V on one of the posters. “You see? For Victory! Go tell your friends!” Abraham and Ruby walk off while triumphant music plays as the kids look at the poster in awe.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Next week I’ll be reviewing the second part of the miniseries. Let us know your thoughts of the review and your memories of V in the comments below