V is the title of two television projects with a common premise: an extraterrestrial expeditionary force consisting of a large number of very large ships arrives on Earth, having officers and crew who look very human, but are actually reptilian. They offer humanity their technologically powered assistance with many besetting problems, in return for access to the earth's water and other raw materials. When enough humans discover their ruse, they reveal their true nature and impose a dictatorship on the earth, and are defeated partly as a result of one of their own projects that produces unintended results, and partly by a coalition of humans and mutinous extraterrestrials.
In May 1983, producer Kenneth Johnson sold his first project to NBC-TV. In it, fifty very large spacecraft, each having the shape of an oblate spheroid, descend to earth and hover over fifty of the largest and/or most influential cities. The officers and crew of this expeditionary force, who call themselves Visitors, offer technological aid in exchange for water and other resources. But after a television journalist discovers their true nature—not human-like at all, but reptilian—and that their chemical synthesis project is a waste of time, the Visitors abruptly impose martial law upon the world. Their actual plans are to steal the earth's water and to turn the earth into a stock farm and consume humanity for food.
Humanity must organize, of course, to fight back. They are aided and abetted by a group of Visitors, called "The Fifth Column," who do not agree with the plans that their officers have for humanity—though why they should thus rebel against their own authority, the project never makes clear.
Two mini-series (the original in May 1983 and a follow-up in May 1984) describe the eventual triumph of the human-"Fifth Column" alliance, using a biological warfare agent with a rather curious origin: a male Visitor impregnates a human prisoner, who, after her rescue, gives birth to hybrid twins. One of the twins dies immediately, and from its bowels the resistance movement isolates a hybrid gastrointestinal florum that humans can easily tolerate, but which causes instant and fatal pneumonia in any Visitor who inhales so much as one germ-laden breath.
The mini-series were followed by a weekly series in which the Visitors come back and attempted to re-occupy the earth. They enjoy only partial success, because the distribution of the hybrid intestinal florum is uneven. The war ends when the Leader of the Visitors' home world makes an abrupt decision, also never explained, to make a permanent peace with humanity—and must run an operation of his own to assert his authority after those who have inherited command of the original expeditionary force attempt to make a mutiny against their Leader and even to assassinate him.
2009 to present
In 2007, Scott Peters resurrected the original V project, this time as a weekly series with the same premise, but several significant changes. Four episodes of this project have aired at the time of this writing (December 9, 2009).
In this new project, twenty-nine large ships, each in the shape of a flying wedge, take station over twenty-nine cities. Within minutes, the commander of this task force, in appearance a strikingly beautiful woman dressed as a civilian, not a military or naval officer, addresses the residents of these cities, in all their local languages, simultaneously. She says simply that she and her people need water and a rare mineral, and will offer technological assistance in return.
But in fact these are not the first Visitors to appear on earth. In fact, the Visitors, difficult to detect because they have cloned human skin to cover their reptilian skin, have been on earth for decades, organizing sleeper terror cells, starting wars, and in summary, making the world ripe for a God-substitute to act as the saviors of humanity. Their actual plan will end in the eradication of humanity, but the exact details are unknown.
The few humans who know what is happening often face elimination and being held up to ridicule. They try to alert their respective law-enforcement authorities, but the Visitors have infiltrated them. When the expeditionary force arrives, matters come to an often brutal head.
Furthermore, the God-substitutionary nature of the Visitors is not lost on everyone. A Roman Catholic priest, who was once a chaplain in the United States Army, understands perfectly the destructive influence that the mere existence of the Visitors has on people's faith, even as the Vatican chooses to evade the issue with an encyclical saying that the Visitors are also "children of God," a proposition that the priest could never accept even before, in a chance meeting, he discovers their true nature.
Not all Visitors want this plan to go forward. A Visitor calling himself John May started a movement, which he named "The Fifth Column," among his fellow Visitors to fight the plans of his society's leaders. That fight can only escalate now that the expeditionary force has arrived—but strikingly, the Fifth Column movement has its adherents even aboard some of the expeditionary ships, even including some high-ranking officers. And in a further refinement of the original premise of the project, the Fifth Columnists have a recognizable motive: they are libertarians, and their primary motive is to break free from the totalitarian dictatorship that controls their society, and the technologically enhanced personality cult that their leader, Anna, has long established and enforces through telepathic hypnosis, called simply "Anna's Bliss," to convince her forces that she is a God-substitute for them, even as the Visitors themselves act as God-substitutes for humanity.
The Fifth Column might or might not know that the twenty-nine-ship force now keeping station over earth's cities is only the vanguard of a much larger invasion force that is waiting in orbit around the planetoid Sedna, farthest of all trans-Neptunian objects, for a signal to invade the earth with main force. In any event, whatever plan they might have for the liberation of themselves and their human allies, they are running out of time.
Differences between the projects
Beyond the obvious difference that the current project is still running (though it is on hiatus and scheduled to resume on March 30, 2010), the two projects have a number of salient differences:
- In the earlier project, the Visitors were uniformed, and their uniforms were remarkably similar to Nazi uniforms. In the present project, the Visitors dress as civilians—though the human youth auxiliaries, now called "Peace Ambassadors," do wear uniforms.
- In the earlier project, the Visitors never sent any advance scouts. In the present project, they did, and those scouts are responsible for the current trouble state of the world.
- In the earlier project, the Fifth Column had no obvious motive, other than sympathy with the humans—though the short-lived TV series suggested that the Fifth Columnists were members of a persecuted religious tradition. In the present project, the Fifth Columnists are clearly libertarians, and are motivated by the desire to free themselves from dictatorial rule. The Fifth Column got its start among the advance scouts, apparently when some of them took human wives (or husbands) and discovered that love was no respecter of national or even planetary origins.
- In the earlier project, the Visitor society was explicitly militaristic and answered to a never-shown Leader. The present project is somewhat less clear. Is Anna, the leader of the expeditionary force, in fact the leader of the entire Visitor society? Does that society consist entirely of the crews of the expeditionary force, and the much larger main force waiting beyond the Kuiper Belt for a signal to invade? Or do those forces have an entire planet, with all its resources and industrial capacity, to back them up? In any event, Anna exerts her leadership, not by any militaristic organization, but by an explicit cult of personality. She encourages her people to worship her as a goddess, and dispenses the telepathic "Bliss" whenever she chooses—a thing that the Fifth Column rejects as a thing as unhealthy as is any drug addiction.
Kenneth Johnson apparently intended his original project to be an indictment of the Reagan administration, and especially its prosecution of the Cold War. Hence the Nazi-like uniforms, the uniformed youth auxiliary, and the obvious plan for exploitation of the earth's resources. But the second mini-series introduced a human hero at odds with this premise: a covert operative who once specialized in "black operations" and now finds himself united in purpose with the very sort of liberal journalist who once heaped scorn on everything he did. Kenneth Johnson had nothing to do with this; he left the project in 1984, and the project fell into the hands of Daniel Blatt and Robert Singer, who introduced this particular hero.
Though the present project was in planning since 2007, many viewers today have seen parallels between the Visitors' behavior and that of President Barack Obama and several of his allies—and whether Johnson or his co-producer Scott Peters actually intended that the Fifth Columnists be libertarians is impossible to determine.
Indeed, the present project appears much better developed (though some reviewers have suggested that the project is moving much too fast for good dramatic development). The project presents analogues to several current conspiracy theories, varying from the general (an all-powerful but unidentified clique plotting to take dictatorial control of the world) to the specific (scaring the population with talk of pandemics in order to induce people to accept a vaccine that might in fact be deleterious to human health). Indeed, the fourth episode includes a segment in which a small force of human resisters, aided by a Fifth Columnist, destroy a warehouse containing vials of influenza vaccine that have been tampered with in order to cause a rash of unexplainable deaths and thus scare the people into accepting an "immune-boosting" injection that the Visitors "offer" to all of humanity.
The two projects explore many common themes, especially in the present project. They include:
- Media-government relations
- Troubled parent-child relations
- Government control through dependency
- The tension between liberty and safety in a society threatened with terrorism.
- False-flag operations, or "terrorist acts" staged in order to legitimatize increasing control. (In fact, the earlier project saw obvious false-flag operations, varying from mere rumors to actual events staged and filmed, designed to give the Visitors an excuse to impose martial law on humanity. The present project has already seen one such false-flag operation, though on a much smaller scale.)
Novelist A. C. Crispin wrote a novelization based on the scripts of the original Kenneth Johnson mini-series and the Blatt-Singer sequel, The Final Battle. After the failure of the Blatt-Singer weekly series, several other V novels appeared, carrying the story beyond the liberation of humanity.
However, Kenneth Johnson, in 2008, published another novel, V: The Second Generation, in which the events depicted by Blatt and Singer never occurred, and an entire generation of human slaves grew up under the Visitor regime and now seek to overthrow it. Johnson is also rumored to be planning a motion picture project based either on his original mini-series or his Second Generation novel.