WAR OF THE WORLDS (Television Series) – This short-lived series proceeded from a fun premise. In this program’s world the Martian invasions depicted occurring in 1901 ( 1897 novel), 1938 (Orson Welles radio version) and 1953 (first film version) were really three separate real-world attempts by extra-terrestrials (NOT Martians, however) to conquer the Earth. In an “X-Files before The X-Files existed” sort of way the world’s governments collaborated in an extensive – and successful – coverup to pass those invasions off as fiction.
The faux-Martian craft were presented as the explanation behind the first UFO sightings and their damaged spaceships and presumably dead bodies were being kept in hiding at various bases around the world for reverse-engineering and other studies. The leftover bodies from the 1953 invasion were really just dormant, thanks to the aliens’ latest attempts at immunizing themselves against the Earthly illnesses that were always their undoing in the past.
Those dormant aliens are now emerging from their sleep and attempting once again to conquer the Earth, this time by taking over the bodies of human beings thereby giving themselves full immunity. Human scientists, military and governmental forces battle the aliens.
Though all of that sounds derivative War of the Worlds actually managed to make it all seem fresh through quality scripting, fleshed-out characters and a capable cast led by Jared “Fantastic Voyage” Martin, Ann Robinson, Ilse Von Glatz and Richard Chaves. An added element of suspense lay in the fact that the aliens sometimes WON so viewers felt genuine tension. Pacing was a problem, however, and I would say the show’s episodes would have benefited from a half-hour run time instead of an hour-long format.
War of the Worlds was sort of a tale of two seasons. Season One had the nice paranoid and conspiratorial vibe of The Invaders and served as a proto- X-Files. Season Two featured a different production team and placed more emphasis on open warfare with the aliens like V: The Miniseries and served as a proto- Falling Skies. I personally thought both seasons were appealing in different ways and I could see how the constant “government successfully covering up the alien attacks” bit was already wearing out its welcome in Season One. There was no real reason to add a new group of aliens so early in the series, however, and that aspect of Season Two was clumsily handled.
Many viewers were also turned off by the sudden switch in Season Two from the aliens slowly building their ranks and stock-piling tech for a war to a post-apocalyptic setting with an Earth already mostly conquered (Shades of Killraven!). It played like there was a “missing season” between one and two. When Jared Martin was still reasonably young it would have been great to see a “lost season” produced to fill in the blanks. If this show had enough of a following for a proliferation of fan fiction that lost season would be fertile creative ground.
Further infuriating fans of the first season was the way the new production team jettisoned many subplots that Season One had been slowly building upon. The apparent belief was that audiences wanted quick answers, but the later success of The X-Files and other serialized shows disproved that theory. And killing off popular lead characters from Season One was just asking for trouble.
Overall, this neglected milestone in Science Fiction television deserves to be much better known. It doesn’t matter if you prefer the conspiratorial approach of Season One or the all-out warfare approach of Season Two, this program is thought-provoking and fun. The show’s fictional Blackwood Project ought to be as popular as Project: Torchwood, Blue Rose Cases, S.H.A.D.O. and U.N.I.T.
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