When and if our world is visited by beings from another, what form will they take?  Will they be friendly, or will they be enemies?

In May of 1983, Kenneth Johnson gave us one possible answer to that question when his creation, “V“, was shown over two consecutive nights on NBC-TV.  (See our exclusive “21 Questions” interview with Mr. Johnson linked below.)  Starring Marc (“Beastmaster“) Singer as journalist Mike Donovan, Faye Grant as brilliant medical student Julie Parrish, Richard Herd as Visitor Chief “John”, and Jane Badler as “Diana”, John’s top scientist and second-in-command who would give our heroes the most grief, this two-part miniseries told the story of a band of alien visitors who approach Earth with promises of cures for disease, improved technology – but who in fact were from a dying planet and intended to strip Earth of its resources, and take most of the human population as food.

They arrived in Earth’s orbit in immense, saucer-shaped ships and quickly set out to gain the trust of the human population.

Many people believed the Visitors to be benevolent, and clung to that belief even as the world came under their fascist rule.  To one intrepid group of humans, though, the fight had only just begun.  The Resistance was born.

It became a TV sci-fi classic. 

The story was a parallel to the rise of Nazi Germany and the fascist regime of the Third Reich.  Even the symbol of the Visitors is strikingly like the German swastika.  As in WWII Europe, resistance groups sprang into existence and attacked.  The Visitors were quickly revealed to be reptilian creatures, hiding their true appearance behind body suits of fake skin.

It took time and the cost was high, but the Resistance ultimately managed to gain a toehold and dug in.  At the end of the miniseries, Dr. Parrish and the others had gained control of a radio telescope and converted it to broadcast a call for help into the stars; they had learned that the Visitors had at least one enemy out there.  It could only be hoped that, if anyone responded at all, they would be friendly to the humans of Earth.

The miniseries proved so popular that in May 1984 the second miniseries, V: The Final Battle, picked up a few months after the end of the first, soon after the first decisive blow for freedom is achieved by the fledgling resistance movement.

This three-part miniseries begins as the Resistance is having its problems as the Visitors develop new armor and laser weapons, and their efforts must remain “underground”.  At the same time, the Visitors are gaining stricter and more potent control of Earth, prompting a daring plan to expose John, the Visitor leader, as a snake in human clothing – literally.  They succeed, attracting more people to the resistance, including mercenary Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside in a signature role).  Tyler would provide the Resistance with armor-piercing ammunition as well as his own expertise in guerilla warfare.

But Dr. Parrish is captured by Diana and subjected to the “conversion chamber” – a device designed to “brainwash” humans to become collaborators.

At the same time, the Visitors begin experiments in cross-breeding human and Visitor – and succeed when one of the Visitors seduces one of the young women within the Resistance.  She ultimately bears “twins” – a human-appearing girl, and a male who appears mostly Visitor but who dies upon birth (a scene that is strikingly moving despite the fact the viewer is watching a puppet “die”).

Elizabeth, as the girl is named, grows at an incredible rate, actually shedding her skin several times as she grows to appear about 10 years old over a matter of a few weeks.  She also displays rather frightening reptilian characteristics and is ultimately captured by Diana, who appears to dote on the half-human half-Visitor girl.

But is in the male’s death that the Resistance finds the weapon it needs to ultimately defeat the Visitor invasion, and they develop a biological agent called the “Red Dust”.  On a predetermined day, they attack the Visitors and release the Red Dust into the atmosphere, making the Earth lethally toxic to Visitors but leaves the native flora and fauna untouched.

Diana (who by this time has removed John and taken over command of the Visitors) then attempts to use a doomsday device to destroy the entire planet, but Donovan, Parrish, and others slip into the Visitor mothership and release the Red Dust into it, effectively killing all the untreated Visitors (there were Visitor members of the Resistance, a “Fifth Column”, and an antidote pill was developed to spare their lives).  They are able to disable the doomsday bomb with the help of Elizabeth, and they return to Earth victorious.

Earth again belonged to humankind.  The Resistance succeeded in driving the Visitors away.

This should have ended the saga.  But in the fall of 1984, NBC premiered what is now commonly known as “V: The Series“.

It seems that as the Resistance captured the Visitor mothership, Diana escaped in a shuttle.  Donovan pursued, shooting her down and capturing her.  The weekly series began one year from the day of the final human victory – “Liberation Day”, when Diana’s trial for crimes against humanity is about to begin.

She is, however, assassinated on the way to the court.  At least, that is how it is made to appear.  She was, in fact, spirited off by former mercenary Ham Tyler’s security agency at the request of zillionaire industrialist Nathan Bates (Lane Smith), who was instrumental in the production of the Red Dust and is now quite powerful in his own right.  He wants to work with her to create solutions for health and environmental problems with the introduction of Visitor technology.

She does not, however, want to cooperate; she kills Martin (a Visitor Fifth Columnist), steals a shuttle, and rendezvous with a new Visitor fleet that has taken up position behind the moon.  She leads the new Visitor invasion.

The Red Dust that was so decisive before is useless now – they have discovered that it is not as harmless as first believed, and should they use it again it will prove quite toxic to life on Earth.  So the Resistance reforms – Nathan Bates becomes the Governor of Los Angeles, an uncertain ally of either side – and they must find new methods to combat the Visitors yet again.

The series only lasted the one season, suffering from the same detrimental influences as sci-fi series before and since.  Fans of the franchise are largely in agreement that NBC made an error in the attempt to continue the story in this way after the end of the second mini-series, particularly without the involvement of creator Kenneth Johnson, who had left the second mini-series about half-way through to concentrate on other projects.

In both mini-series, for example, there were audio effects used that created a multi-toned vocal effect for the Visitors, which set them apart from the human characters.  This effect was missing from the weekly series, apparently due to budget concerns, which meant the Visitors sounded identical to the humans.

Pre-“Freddie Kruger” actor Robert Englund played a popular role as “Willie”, a rather simple Visitor who threw his lot in with the Resistance.  He continued this role from both mini-series.

The Visitor character “Martin” was very popular with fans of the two mini-series; his death in the series pilot angered many.  As ratings dropped, the actor, Frank Ashmore, was brought back as Martin’s twin, “Phillip”, but by then the damage was done.

Since the end of the weekly series in 1985, there have been efforts to revive the franchise.  Books set in the “V” universe have been published beginning in the mid-1980’s.  In 1989, J. Michael Straczynski, who would go on to create Babylon 5, was approached to write a sequel, but that project was scrapped because of the prohibitively high budgetary requirements to bring the story to the screen.

V” creator Kenneth Johnson has written a sequel story to the original mini-series entitled V-The Second Generation, which will be released at the end of October, 2007 (link to our exclusive review below). 

Written by John Pickard

We thank all the V fan sites, IMdB.com, and everyone who contributed images and information for this page.