H.G. Wells' Invisible Man: Season 1 (1958)

The classic, early British sci-fi TV show boasts some impressive effects although mixed quality stories. Network UK R2 DVD release.

The Episodes

Complete Episode list and commentaries.

The Series

The first series of The Invisible Man contains thirteen episodes telling the story of Dr. Brady, a British Government scientist researching refraction, who accidentally renders himself completely invisible. The show is quite remniscent of the 1950s sci-fi cinema boom and in keeping with this tone, the Brady character is treated as a pure hero and is not the reluctant or anti-hero of some modern adaptations of the story. To add a family-feel to the film, Brady gets a "wife" and "daughter", although curiously they are actually his widowed sister and niece (presumably to allow Dr. Brady himself to get up to some guilt free romantic ventures during the series, although he never actually does). Fortunately young Sally is kept in the background and only plays a key role in a couple of the episodes - avoiding the pitfalls of becoming a kid-centric show that has affected many good sci-fi films and series, while Brady's sister Diane appears when necessary, and we are not treated to the banal details of her private life.

Much of this is probably down the 25 minute run-time of each episode, that acts as both a blessing and a curse. While keeping the stories moving quickly without any need for padding it also prevents too much real character development, especially for any of the guest star roles, and often leads to some rushed endings - this also means that interesting plot points raised in some of the episodes are left unanswered (Brady's actions get at least one man killed, but he doesn't seem to bat an eyelid). The episodes are stand-alone with minimal continuity - this does mean that it is easy to watch individual episodes on their own, but does miss out on some potential plot strands that could have run through the series (for example, rumours about the existance of an invisible man spreading before his official release to the press or the idea that Brady begins to think of himself as a super-hero and starts to ignore his scientific works and his friends/family).

The series begins with an interesting mix of storylines, from Brady being used by the military, to being tricked by a group of killers, and even sneaking into the Russian embassy in London, to rescue a friend. By the middle of the season however, it became clear that the writers were struggling to come with original storylines that they could focus around their Invisible Man, and four of the episodes (Picnic with Death, Play to Kill, The Mink Coat and Jailbreak) seem to be conventional detective stories, with Brady often awkwardly written in and doing little that a regular sleuth might not be able to achieve. Fortunately the other episodes in the series use him more effectively, and in the two entries where he is forced onto the other side of the law (Bank Raid and Strange Partners) and a third where he cheats a casino to help a friend (Odds Against Death) we get to see what Brady might have done were he not such a heroic figure.

A trio of experienced British television directors take on this quite difficult series and do a good job of mixing the special effects with the flow of the episodes. The effects themselves are very well done, with some quite complex puppetry on show, as well as some very daring stunt work from unseen drivers. Although not as effective as modern computer aided effects, it does appear all the more impressive for it, and is obviously the result of a lot of hard work.

The series regulars are Deborah Watling as young Sally, and Lisa Daniely as Diane - they both do some very good work, often opposite nothing but empty air or a floating cigarette. Dr. Brady himself was voiced by the uncredited actor Tim Turner who has a very Transatlantic accent, helping the show's sale to American broadcasters. A variety of guest stars appear in the show, including a few big names at the time (Dennis Price and Hazel Court notably receiving special guest star billing) while there are dozens of characters actors on display who would later become better known; including Douglas Wilmer, Peter Sallis,
Desmond Llewelyn and Patrick Troughton [see the episode pages for a complete list]. There are also plenty of extras on display, who give some good performances alongside the empty air that often represents Dr. Brady.

The Invisible Man is certainly a product of its era, and it has not garnered the cult following of many of its contemporaries (such as the Quatermass serials) and has remained all but forgotten. Although suffering from some rather poorly conceived episodes it is generally entertaining, with some superb special effects and a great cast of recognisable British character actors. Recommended to all fans of 1950s sci-fi.

In brief:

Anyone famous in it? Although none of the series regulars are well known, a selection of well known and soon-to-be well known character actors appear throughout the series. The episodes page has a full listing.
Directed by anyone interesting? A trio of relatively little known British directors worked on the series:
C.M. Pennington-Richards - the man behind Hammer's A Challenge for Robin Hood (1967).
Peter Maxwell - an otherwise unknown director
Quentin Lawrence - director of the British sci-fi The Trollenberg Terror (1958) and some early Hammer films.
Any violence? A few people are killed, and there are some guns and fistfights, but nothing by modern standards.
Any sex? None
Who is it for?
Fans of 1950s sci-fi, and the early sci-fi TV series should certainly enjoy this.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 1.33:1. Black and White.
The picture quality is generally good (the series was shot on 35mm film) with minimal grain and good detail. There is some lighting speckling throughout and occasional jumps in brightness in a couple of the episodes. Always watchable.
Audio Original English Dolby mono - sounds fine.
Subtitles None
ExtrasThe discs include:
  • The original pilot episode - The Invisible Man. Previously unreleased, this abandoned pilot episode mixes the storyline of Secret Experiment with that of the later Bank Raid into one storyline, with a predictably rushed feel. A very interesting viewing, if only to see how much better the first episode of the series was shortly remade. Footage from the pilot was used extensively in Bank Raid, and some shots appear in other episodes.
  • Newly recorded audio commentaries from Lisa Daniely and Deborah Watling (Diane and Sally) for the episodes Secret Experiment and Picnic of Death. Full of interesting stories and recallections, it is a pity that they are not moderated as many questions about the series still remain unanswered.
  • Italian language title sequence. A brief curio.
More bonus features are included on the Season 2 discs.
Packing Only available in a limited edition 4-disc boxset, along with Season 2.
Region Region 2 - PAL
Other regions? Also available in the USA from Dark Sky Films, includes a lower print quality and without the bonus features.
Cuts? The episodes are believed to be fully uncut and are the original UK television prints.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 18th May 2007.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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