RETRO TRASH: V (The Series)

A refuge for the ’80’s!

Welcome to Retro Trash, a dumping ground of all things ’80’s, from movies and music to television and fashion.  Here, fans of everything from prosthetics to spandex can find gems from the decade that taste (and subtlety) forgot!

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With the seventies taking a bow with the second season of Battlestar Galactica, the ‘sci-fi’ slot went to V, a politically-charged alien invasion soap opera which saw a race of intergalactic beings known as the ‘Visitors’ seeminly coming in peace, whilst secretly harvesting the human race for food. Initially taking a harder edge with its social commentaries, the show was eventually reduced to a generic good vs. evil showdown between the reptilian invaders and a small band of freedom fighters who pledge to save mankind from extinction. With special effects which, back in 1983, were considered groundbreaking, and an array of three-dimensional characters, V was an instant hit with audiences and would run until its sudden cancellation in 1985. Almost twenty-five years later, the show still commands a dedicated fanbase and recent rumours of new story prove that you can’t keep a good sci-fi show down.

V was the brainchild of Kenneth Johnson, a writer for Warner Bros. who had previously been responsible for such hit television programmes as The Bionic Woman and The Incredible Hulk. After reading a 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis entitled It Can’t Happen Here, Johnson began to fashion a premise of a fascist takeover of the United States and how the ordinary citizens reacted to the threat. Reseaching the Nazi’s occupation of Europe during the early years of the Second World War, from the resistance that fought against the opressing force and the Vichy French who submitted it it, V was full of analogies of past conflicts and how a brave few fought back in the name of freedom. It was this subtext that raised the show above many of its contemporaries and transformed it into a cult classic.

Johnson had initially given thought to developing V as a feature film and approached his friend Brandon Tartikoff, who had replaced Fred Silverman as the president of NBC‘s entertainment department in 1981. With Tartikoff’s support, Johnson agreed to write a two-part pilot, at ninety minutes each, which would serve as a foundation for a television series. The story opens with the arrival of fifty large flying saucers that hover over major cities across the globe, much like the alien spaceships in Independence Day did a decade later. Finally, the Visitors make contact with a pledge for peace and a mutal exchange of knowledge and resources. Heralded by their leader, John, and his mysterious sidekick, Diana, the strangers at first seem harmless but soon scientists around the world are arrested at their command and those who questions the validity of their intentions are rounded up and taken on board their ships. But when a respected journalist, Mike Donovan, uncovers the truth about the Visitors he becomes a fugitive, eventually taking shelter with an underground army who have declared war on the invaders. The final shot of both episodes in the original miniseries saw one of the rebels spray the letter ‘V‘ on a wall – V for Victory.


Despite rather dated effects for the aliens, who wear human faces in order to keep their true identities secret, the spaceships looked surprisingly impressive, and many of the action scenes were staged with a degree of style. Johnson himself directed the two-part miniseries, though he would eventually leave Warner Bros. due to a creative disagreement during the making of the follow up, The Final Battle, which was released the following year. The full-length television series, which ran for nineteen episodes, seemed to stretch the concept to the point that several stories felt like fillers, particular the obligatory Christmas special. But the earlier episodes in particular displayed some truly unique and interesting ideas that were sadly jettisoned in favour of a soap opera formula for the proper serial. In fact, the opening credits for the later episodes seemed to be a little too reminiscent of Dallas or Dynasty, though the show remained entertaining throughout its two year run.

In the lead as Donovan was Marc Singer (the He-man-style hero from Don Coscarelli’s sword-and-scorcery flick The Beastmaster) and, in later episodes, Scanners villain Michael Ironside in a rare heroic role, whilst the supporting cast included Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives‘ Jennifer Cooke and Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, as the lovable alien Willy. The characterisations were surprisingly good, with the majority of the cast bringing personality to their roles, especially Jane Badler who chewed the scenery as the evil Diana. Both the style and premise seemed to be a strong influence on John Carpenter’s 1988 classic They Live, despite that film claiming to have bee inspired by Ray Nelson’s 1963 short story Eight O’Clock in the Morning. Whilst there is no hiding its camp eighties tackiness, V continues to be a favourite among sci-fi fans, with Johnson planning on bringing the fight back to our screens in an all-new feature film. Thankfully, Warner Bros. have released all the episodes on DVD, meaning that both those that grew up on the show and those who are curious can discover its charms.

Christian Sellers


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