Sunday, 14 September 2014

War Of The Worlds - The series (1988-1990)

The War Of The Worlds TV series was first envisaged as a concept in the 1970s by Director George Pal and was intended to be a direct follow on the the 1953 movie, however the series did not make it to screens due to no interest in it.
In 1988 however writer/director Greg Strangis managed to pitch a similar concept which found favour amongst US TV executives who were, at the time, quite keen on making TV series based on successful films, as the same year saw a "Friday the XIII" TV series and a "Nightmare on Elm Street" TV series.

Two full series were made, however there are massive differences in the settings and tone of the second series compared to the first, so much so that barring a couple of shared characters, the second series could be considered to be something entirely different based on a similar premise.

Series 1 (1988-1989)

The back story goes that both the events of the 1953 Film and the 1938 Radio Broadcast were actually real attempted alien invasions, however following the end of the 1953 invasion, the aliens (note - the aliens are not referred to as "martians", as a rule in all episodes, as the concept of life on Mars had long since been disproved and thus useless as a believable plot point) did not die when exposed to Earths bacteria, instead, the aliens entered a state of torpor, and thus, after the 1953 war ended, thousands of "dead" alien bodies were sealed into oil drums and sent to storage areas all over the world, supposedly for scientific research purposes, but in reality they were quickly hidden away along with any spacecraft and artifacts so that the worlds governments could quickly and quietly rebuild and forget about the horrifying events of the invasion.
35 years pass and in present day (1988) a group of environmental terrorists attack and take over a military storage compound, which they intend to hold for ransom due to it being used to store nuclear waste. Unfortunately for them the facility is also one of the places that sleeping aliens are stored, and, in the process of their assault on the facility, the terrorists cause the aliens to become exposed to radioactive waste, which reanimates them. The aliens quickly counter attack, and demonstrate that they have the ability to merge their bodies with a human body, thus allowing them to appear as human (This was actually a cost saving measure so that numerous difficult to produce alien costumes didn't have to be made and maintained, plus it also allowed the aliens to directly influence the plot. It should also be noted that throughout the entire series, the aliens are never seen clearly).

The aliens are discovered when they make a transmission requesting orders from their superiors, and this leads to the introduction of the series' main characters:-

Dr. Harrison Blackwood  (Jared Martin) - The adopted son of Dr. Clayton Forrester and Sylvia van Buren. Harrison is an eccentric scientist who carried on Dr. Forresters work on the aliens, even though after the great cover up no one believed in aliens any more. He becomes head of "The Blackwood Project" a secret group dedicated to finding and stopping the aliens before they take over the world. Blackwoods curiosity quite often gets the team into trouble.

Norton Drake  (Phillip Akin) - A paraplegic computer genius who intercepted the aliens first transmission. (In the pilot episode of the series, Norton sported a faux Caribbean accent, however this was dropped for the series proper, although in the first few episodes he still uses it, however the actor playing him re dubbed his lines in his own voice) Norton, as well as being a top notch research scientist is also an expert hacker, and helps the team get access to information by bypassing governmental "red tape" from time to time with his skills.

Lt.Col Paul Ironhorse  (Paul Chaves) - A US army special forces operative of native American ancestry who serves as the liaison between Dr. Blackwood and the military. Ironhorse is a staunch conservative and generally prefers military action over scientific investigation, putting him at odds with the pacifistic Dr. Blackwood, however over time the two grow to hold a respect for each other.

Suzanne McCullough (Lynda Mason Green) - A Microbiologist and single mother who comes to work for Dr. Blackwood prior to the arrival of the alien threat. Throughout the series Suzanne works on numerous biological methods of identifying or attacking the aliens, as well as finding out more about them. Suzanne is a very "by the numbers" scientist, which causes problems with Blackwoods eccentric approach to science.

The Blackwood team are tasked with researching and finding ways to combat the aliens, however the aliens themselves face numerous problems. Firstly, although they have been resurrected by the radiation, its effect of killing the germs that harm them also causes their bodies to break down from radiation sickness, meaning the aliens can only spend short periods inside a human body before they too begin to disintegrate. Secondly, the aliens do not have access to their advanced weapons or technology this time round, so therefore have to make do with crudely adapted human technology, or hopefully be able to scavenge some of their own equipment from secret storage facilities, or left over from previous visits to Earth.
Over the course of the series the aliens revive more of their own kind and try numerous strategies to subvert and kill mankind, some of which end up being horribly successful (yes that's right, the baddies win sometimes), but the series does end on a fairly high note, as it turns out that humans may have allies from space as well as enemies, although by the end of the series, it is established that an alien colonisation fleet will arrive within a few years.

Series 2 (1989-1990)

Series 2 saw some major changes to the shows format. Firstly, the setting was changed from "present day" to "almost tomorrow", this allowed for the timeline to be moved on to accommodate the arrival of the alien colonisation fleet.
Also, and more bizarrely, the aliens from the first series (the "Mor-Tax") were replaced with another set of completely different aliens, the "Mothren", with little to no explanation given as to why.
Also, Ironhorse and Norton are killed off in the first episode, and instead replaced by a mercenary called John Kincaid (played by a pre-Highlander: The Series Adrian Paul).

In this series, Earth has fallen into a period of chaos and great social upheaval, leading to an almost total breakdown of civilised society.
The Mothren arrive on Earth, and, unlike their predecessors the Mor-Tax, have no trouble whatsoever adapting to the environment, however they find it inconvenient that the humans haven't been massacred, allowing them to begin full colonisation procedures, however, over the course of the series they try to complete their mission of finding a new home world, despite their many internal conflicts.

Overall Thoughts

While the series' original concept, and thus the first series itself was quite good, it completely went to pot with the changes made for the second series.
The first series mixed sci-fi with elements of adventure and horror, and was genuinely scary to me when I first saw this series as an 11 year old, especially some of the gruesome ways that the aliens killed people.
A nice touch was that Jared Martin was instructed to copy actor Gene Barrys mannerisms in his portrayal of Harrison Blackwood, so as to make another link between the film and the series.
Another nice touch was the episode "An eye for an eye", which first aired on the 50th anniversary of Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast and pays tribute to it by having the Blackwood team visit the setting of the radio play and tangling with aliens with help from some of the town militia who fought them during the 1930s.
The series also had a lot of environmentalist themes, as well as some cleverly crafted bits of satire and black comedy, most notably that each episode of series 1 was titled after a biblical quote, which had an ironic connection to the plot for the episode.
Series 2 was just awful, with far too many plot and character changes to make the two series' related in any way, even the episodes of it themselves are boring, save for one episode which involves Blackwood travelling back in time to the 1950s.

This is a good series, so long as you only really watch series 1, well acted, and for the most part well scripted. Some of the special effects are a bit bargain basement, and any instance of alien war machines appearing in the series is simply repurposed footage from the 1953 film, but, even though the program is very 1980s in its stylings, and thus may be a little difficult for younger people to get their head round, it is still watchable and entertaining.

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