“In 1953, Earth experienced a War of the Worlds. Common bacteria stopped the aliens, but it didn’t kill them. Instead, the aliens lapsed into a state of deep hibernation. Now the aliens have been resurrected, more terrifying than before. In 1953, the aliens started taking over the world; today, they’re taking over our bodies!” - Season One opening narration by Jared Martin
In the late 1980s Greg Strangis created the syndicated television series War of the Worlds which was a sequel, of sorts, to the 1952 film by George Pal which starred Ann Robinson and Gene Barry. The film was, of course, adapted from the famous book by H.G Wells which chronicled an attempted invasion of Victorian England by Martians and is widely argued as the first example of popular science fiction in literature. There’s no denying the heavy influence H.G Wells novel, and also The Time Machine, has had on science fiction be in on film, television, comic or story-book.
While the original novel was an attack on colonialism and the classist society of Victorian England the 1952 film by George Pal was very much a cold-war film. The movie shifted the setting from Victorian England to “contemporary America” during the early years of the Cold War. The hysteria of a possible invasion from the Russians was only too obvious in the film – though the Russians were substituted for the relentless Martians. The 1952 film successfully manages to escape the tag of “B Movie” because of its stunning model work and star performances from leads Gene Barry and Ann Robinson.
The idea of spinning a television series off from the film actually first came from George Pal who developed a treatment, and test footage, in the 1970s. Pal’s proposed television series imagined that the invaders – revealed not to be from Mars – and humans became entangled in a bitter war lasting decades and the series would have followed the plight of a crew on a spaceship (the Pegasus) hunting down the aliens. Pal’s television series never made it past pre-production but the idea was resurrected in the late 1980s.
In the late 1980s Paramount decided to exploit the rights to held to various material and created a syndicated television series to act as a sequel to War of the Worlds. Writer Greg Strangis was brought on board to craft the sequel. The television series revealed that the invaders of 1952 didn’t die at the end of the film but instead went into suspended animation. Their bodes were placed in storage depot’s around the world, their war machines placed in other storage facilities and the world quickly recovered from the invasion and seemingly forgot about it entirely!
The aliens are resurrected in the late 1980s when they are exposed to radiation which helps them temporarily develop immunity to the bacteria that placed them in suspended animation. Once awakened the aliens attempt to track down their war machines, resurrect more members of their race and rid the Earth of humanity. All that’s stopping them is a small group of humans working for the Blackwood Project. While most of humanity has forgotten about the invaders completely some within the American government were aware of the aliens and set up a small group to tackle them.
The group consists of Harrison Blackwood, who the project is named after, played by Dallas actor Jared Martin. It is revealed that Harrison is the adopted son of Sylvia Van Buren and Dr. Clayton Forrester – the protagonists of the 1952 film. Dr Suzanne McCullough, played by Lynda Mason Green, is a scientist recruited by Harrison into the project and her uncle just happened to be a high ranking official in the American military and overall charge of the Blackwood project. Computer genesis Norton Drake (Phillip Atkin) and Lt. Col Paul Ironhorse (Richard Chaves) round off the team – Ironhoese is depicted at first of being sceptical about the presence of the aliens.
The War of the Worlds series reworks the aliens back-story slightly; they are no longer from Mars but a planet called Mor-Tox around 40 light-years away from Earth. The aliens are ruled, on Earth, by the Advocacy, three alien leaders. The fact that there are three of them ties into the aliens obsession with the number of three as established in the 1953 film. While the television series has the invasion forgotten by the majority of people it does tie itself into film as well; the war machines from the film are seen in the pilot episode and (briefly) in a second season episode. Ann Robinson also reprised her role of Sylvia Van Buren for three episodes and its confirmed the character has some physic connection with the invaders – hinted at in the 1952 movie.
The television series also ties itself into the infamous 1930s radio dramatisation of the War of the Worlds by Orson Wells. The 1930s radio play, styled as a news report, spread some panic in American when listeners tuned in part way through, missed the warnings that it was a drama, and assumed Martians were really invading America. The television series tied the Orson Wells adaptation of War of the Worlds into its mythology by claiming the events were real but covered up by the government with claims it was all staged.
The basic format of the first series was episodic with no overall story-arc with the only real recurring elements being The Advocacy (actress Isle von Glatz played an Advocate in 20 episodes, more episodes than any other actor/actress to play one), a three episode stint by Ann Robinson and a two episode stint by John Colicos as the alien Quinn. Otherwise each episode pits the Blackwood Project against a new project of the aliens to defeat humanity or get resources they need – sometimes the aliens win, sometimes the Blackwood Project win. Each episode of the first series has a Biblical name again that ties into the 1952 film which had several religious elements not least the end of the film. A number of episodes are also written under (obvious) pen names because of the writers strike taking place at the time.
The conclusion of the first series saw the introduction of a second alien species which seemingly wished to aide humanity in its battle against the Mor-Tox species. However, at the end of the episode it was revealed the new aliens had an agenda of their own. The episode was obviously setting up a further conflict but sadly due to behind-the-scenes changes many of the loose ends from season one were not wrapped up.
“There’s rioting breaking out through the city. Fire is continuing to burn everywhere. Troops are shooting people. My God, I…I don’t know why! There’s a woman dying in front of me, and no one’s helping her! There are conflicting reports about who or what started the chaos. Will someone tell me what’s happening? This is madness! What is this world coming to?” – Second season opening narration
Following the first season and second was ordered but it underwent a radical revamp when Frank Mancuso Jr. was drafted in as producer. The second series shifted from a contemporary setting to a near future one, or almost tomorrow as the series noted. The second series also took on a “cyber-punk” look presenting a dystopian future with society collapsing and the government struggling to remain in control. It’s hinted in several episodes the collapse of society is due to the legalisation of drugs though other episodes hint its due to the influence of the aliens. The show’s name was unofficially changed to War of the Worlds: The Second Wave. A large portion of the continuity from the first series – and the little carried over from the film – was dropped or retconned with the aliens origins changing dramatically.
The aliens of the second series were amongst those elements re-written with the name of the species changed to Morthren, from the planet Mothrai, despite the fact it was stated in the first season the home-world was Mor-Tox. The first episode of the new season dealt with the arrival of a “second wave” of aliens who killed The Advocacy and the other “soldiers” for their failure to remove humanity. While it is stated, in the first episode and later on in a flashback episode, that the aliens are of the same species there is no reason given on-screen for the change of name or home-world. It is also not really explained why the Mor-Tox aliens had to inhabit human bodies on a regular basis but the Morthren were able to create clones – a previously unseen technology. Also introduced was a religion for the aliens with them wor-shopping the Eternal – an Squid like creature seen on-screen on a few occasions.
While Jared Martin and Lynda Mason Green remained part of the cast Philip Atkin and Richard Chaves were dropped and their characters killed off in the opening episode. Adrian Paul joined the cast as a new ally for the Blackwood team while Denis Forest, Catherine Disher and Julian Richings were cast as the leaders of the second wave of alien invaders. The character of Debbie (Rachel Blanchard), Suzanne’s daughter, became a recurring character through the second season and was often central to the plots of episodes she featured in. A story-arc, of sorts, for Debbie was her struggle to cope with the Blackwood’s team circumstances and not having a normal teenage life.
Once again the main format of the second season was episodic with only a few loose arcs and references back to the first season and the 1952 film – in one episode Malzor (Denis Forest) travels back to just after the invasion to try and stop the aliens being massacred which itself is a continuity error because the first series established all the aliens fell into suspended animation and were put in storage depots around the world. Another continuity error, of sorts, is the lack of devastation seen in the episode in the parts set in 1952 even though the film established that wide-spread damage was caused.
The changes to War of the Worlds were not popular with fans and unsurprisingly ratings dropped and the series was cancelled. The final episode attempted to tie up as many loose ends as possible but again created continuity errors – with the 1952 invasion being described as a exploration expedition which quite clearly contradicts the film entirely! The film is an invasion movie with the Martians destroying cities and killing millions – hardly the actions of an exploration expedition.
After the series was cancelled its existence was known, for a while, to be denied! Despite its denied existence for many years War of the Worlds has been repeated on the Sci Fi Channel (now Syfy) and Horror Channel in the UK. It has also been released on DVD though UK fans have had to wait longer than their American cousins with the releases only taking place this year – the second series will be released in July on DVD.
“To Life Immortal” was a phrase used by the Mor-Tox aliens that became a favourite of fans and often used by them. Despite only being on air for two years War of the Worlds attracted a number of high profile guest stars such as John Colicos who played the villainous Balter in the original Battlestar Galactica series. John Vernon appeared in two episodes as General Wilson – the second season establishes the character had gone missing and was presumed to have been murdered by the aliens. Other notable guest stars across its two year run include Patrick MacNee, John Ireland, Colm Feore, Gwynyth Walsh and James Hong. Second season star Adrian Paul would go on to find bigger fame in the Highlander television series.