V: The Series (1984 – 1985) — the continuing saga of reptilian alien “Visitors” occupying 20th century Earth — aired on NBC in America thirty years ago, and this anniversary affords us the perfect opportunity to remember the series and its often over-the-top (but nonetheless delicious…) brand of storytelling.
In creator Kenneth Johnson’s hands, the original V mini-series (1983) was a serious, thoughtful allegory about fascism taking hold in America, and it aped Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here.
Yet by the time the weekly series aired, Johnson was gone, and the new producers opted for a more soap opera approach to the alien and human intrigue.
In short, the series suddenly had to compete in the mid-1980s with the likes of popular prime-time programming such as Dynasty, Knots Landing, Falcon Crest, and Dallas.
So while the mini-series had focused on the ways that the sneaky Visitors assumed control of our hearts and minds (via the media, government, propaganda, and scapegoating), the ensuing NBC series focused on fireworks of a much more personal nature.
In particular, many of the series’ most dynamic and involving moments involve the sparring matches between Jane Badler’s brilliantly-drawn villain, Diana and June Chadwick’s equally charismatic Visitor opponent, Lydia.
The primary reason to watch the series — especially following a behind-the-scenes cast massacre mid-way through — very quickly became this character interaction.
Diana and Lydia battled over war strategy, peace, and romantic lovers like Duncan Regehr’s Visitor leader, Charles. They always attempted to gain ultimate power, making their opponent look bad in the process, and they did so with big hair, attitude, and forked tongue.
Tallied below are the five of Lydia and Diana’s best moments from the weekly series.
In this episode, Diana pretends to be Julie (Faye Grant), Mike Donovan’s (Marc Singer) “future wife” in a scenario designed to make the captured and amnesiac resistance fighter reveal information critical to the Resistance: Elizabeth’s location.
Diana kisses the captured Donovan passionately while they are in bed together, and doesn’t seem bothered at all by her intimacy with a species she considers…food.
Mike — shirtless and believing he is with his wife — thinks he sees Julie eat a pastry when in fact she’s eating a white mouse.
Wouldn’t he taste rodent on her breath?
The kicker in the scene, however, is the presence of Lydia (June Chadwick) — watching Diana’s every perversion from behind a two-way mirror. She is clearly disgusted by Diana’s fraternization with a lowly human being, and yet she can’t quite look away from the kinky moment, either.
In this episode, Charles (Regher) forces Diana to marry him, an act which will remove her from command of the Visitor fleet and armies stationed on Earth. Diana is reluctant to accept, but her society’s laws have given her no way to refuse.
Charles executes this plan with Lydia’s full complicity, but after he spies Diana nude in a “fertility” bath (with snakes, no less), decides that he may have a romantic interest in her after all. If he’s going to get married, he should at least enjoy the honeymoon, right?
A spurned, furious Lydia plans to poison and kill Diana on her wedding night with Charles, but the ever-clever Diana turns the tables at the last instant, and makes certain that it is Charles who drinks from the poisoned chalice.
She thus vexes Lydia and ends the threat to her command of the fleet in one swift stroke.
Diana and Lydia fight in ceremonial combat over the death of Diana’s betrothed, Charles.
The winner will be declared innocent and the winner will be declared…terminated.
Delightfully, Diana and Lydia dress for the occasion skin-tight leotards, and in strange make-up that makes them resemble glitter rock stars of the 1970s.
Before battle, Lydia also declares valiantly that she has never lost a contest involving “mortal combat.” Diana responds, delightfully, that Lydia is an “idiot” and that if she had lost, “she’d be dead.”
After several moments or combat and one-on-one wrestling, the battle is declared ended, and the judge, Philip (Frank Ashmore) reports that the investigation will continue, with Diana and Lydia each responsible for the other’s safety, another crazy turn of events for the duo.
“Oh god I loved that,” Chadwick reported of the ceremonial fight in “The Champion,” during an interview I conducted with her in 2004.
“We had two fabulous make-up artists…and they went to town on us, which did half the job. I’ve trained as a dancer, and Jane is a good mover. It’s basically choreography, as many fights are. We had a giggle. It’s very fun when someone says ‘action‘ and off you go, and you’re doing all this stuff, and the minute they say ‘cut‘ you dissolve into giggles.”
Realizing they are both now on the line for Charles’ murder, Diana and Lydia reluctantly join forces to frame a total innocent: the ship’s unlucky pharmacist, Marta.
Marta is then sent into deep space alongside Charles’ corpse, while Diana and Lydia watch…and escape any punishment at all for their machinations.
The episode’s final scene — with Marta trapped in a transparent sarcophagus beside a Visitor skeleton — is made all the more disturbing since Lydia and Diana can barely contain their glee that they have gotten away with the scheme.
The kicker, though, is that Diana knowingly made it even worse for their victim, assuring that Marta would be conscious for her send-off into damnation.
Not surprisingly, Lydia seems to approve, or at least show admiration for Diana’s cold blooded nature.
While Lydia falls in line behind “The Leader’s” newest peace proposal, Diana plants a bomb on his shuttle and plans to kill both her former lover (The Leader), and his new bride, Elizabeth, the Star Child.
This episode seems a perfect exploration of both the Lydia and Diana characters.
Lydia switches to the top dog instantly, modulating her very personality to conform to the new rules of the game. She holds on to power by switching allegiances…constantly.
Meanwhile, Diana sees the new order as a threat to her command, and goes for broke, taking a crazy risk which — if it turns out right — will also leave her in command not only of the fleet, but the entire Visitor government.
It is sad indeed that V: The Series was canceled following “The Return” and fans were never made privy to the final chapter of the Diana/Lydia rivalry.
“I was also personally sad because the next six scripts were all about Lydia and Diana, and the two of us were hunting each other down on another planet,” Chadwick told me.
Like a lot of V fans, I would have loved to see those episodes…