War of the Worlds (TV series)

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War of the Worlds
Format Science fiction
Created by Greg Strangis
Starring Jared Martin
Lynda Mason Green
Philip Akin (season 1)
Richard Chaves (season 1)
Adrian Paul (season 2)
Composer(s) Billy Thorpe
Country of origin Canada
United States
No. of seasons 2
No. of episodes 43 (List of episodes)
Production
Location(s) Los Angeles, California
Toronto, Ontario
Running time 45 minutes.
Broadcast
Original channel Syndicated
Audio format Stereo
Original run October 10, 1988 (1988-10-10) – May 14, 1990 (1990-05-14)

War of the Worlds is a Canadian/American science-fiction television series that ran for two seasons, from October 10, 1988 to May 14, 1990. The series is an extension of the original 1953 film The War of the Worlds, using the same War Machine, often incorporating aspects from the film, radio adaptation, and original novel into its mythology.

Though the original film's producer, George Pal, conceived of a TV series from the same film sometime in the 1970s,[1] it was not until the late 1980s that a series was finally realized, this time by television producer Greg Strangis. The show was a part of the boom of first run syndicated television series being produced at the time. It was later shown in reruns on the Sci Fi Channel.

The series was filmed in Los Angeles, California and Toronto, Ontario.

Premise[edit]

According to the series, rather than being killed outright by germs at the end of the 1953 film, the aliens had all slipped into a state of suspended animation. Their bodies were stored away in toxic waste drums and shipped to various disposal sites within the United States (ten such sites are known to exist in the country[2]), and a widespread government cover-up combined with a condition dubbed “selective amnesia” has convinced most people that the invasion had never happened.

Since the concept of vastly intelligent life on Mars had lost its plausibility by the time of the series, the aliens are revealed to actually be from Mor-Tax—a garden planet 40 light-years away in the Taurus constellation orbiting a dying sun.

Thirty-five years later, in 1988 (modern day when the series began), a terrorist group calling itself the People's Liberation Party accidentally irradiates the drums containing the aliens while raiding dumpsite Fort Jericho. The radiation destroys the bacteria that are keeping the aliens unconscious. Once free, the aliens take possession of the bodies of the six terrorists who overran the site. From there they use a series of human bodies and crudely adapted Earth technology to find means of appropriating the planet, both in purging the plague that is humanity and developing a permanent means to inoculate themselves against the planet's indigenous bacteria. Their attempt to successfully make Earth into their new homeworld is imperative for in roughly five years, three million colonists from Mor-Tax are expected to arrive.

An eclectic group is formed by the government to deal with the new alien threat, and the series follows their missions and adventures (and, often, failures) in fighting the aliens. The Blackwood Project, named after its central member, consists of the following:

  • Dr. Harrison Blackwood (Jared Martin): Astrophysicist whose parents were killed in the 1953 invasion. He was adopted following the events of the film by Dr. Clayton Forrester and Blackwood's character is played very much to resemble Forrester down to his demeanor, dress, and even his speech and appearance. He is a pacifist and a vegetarian, and is often seen practicing many alternative health techniques such as yoga.
  • Dr. Suzanne McCullough (Lynda Mason Green): Microbiologist and single mother to Debi. She firmly embraces standard procedure in her work, which causes friction with Blackwood and his chaotic and eccentric work habits.
  • Norton Drake (Philip Akin): A long-time friend of Harrison, he is a paraplegic computer genius who is granted mobility via a voice-activated wheelchair named Gertrude. He is often portrayed as being cool and laid back with a good sense of humour. In earlier episodes he had a pseudo-Caribbean accent; this was later dropped.
  • Lt. Col. Paul Ironhorse (Richard Chaves): Native American military man. He is very conservative and often clashes with the other members of the team, especially Blackwood who is his political and philosophical opposite.

First season synopsis[edit]

Opening narration (spoken in voice-over by Martin in character as Blackwood):

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![3]

Along with other sci-fi/horror series that ran in syndication in the late 1980s (such as Friday the 13th: The Series and Freddy's Nightmares), War of the Worlds constantly pushed the “acceptable content” envelope, regularly featuring violence on par with the R-rated horror movies of the time. Gore is commonplace in the first season: dead aliens and their tossed-away hosts’ bodies melt in a grotesque puddle and the malicious Mor-Taxans have no compunctions about mutilating any person who gets in their way. One of their trademark methods of murder would be gouged-out eyes courtesy of the third arm that would often burst out from their chest.

During the first season, the aliens are led by a triumvirate known as the Advocacy. They are a part of their society's ruling class, overseeing the invasion force on Earth while their leaders, the invisible and never heard Council, remain back on Mor-Tax. Outfitted throughout most of the season in contamination suits that pump coolant to counteract the killing heat of the radiation they need, they stay in their base of operation: a cavern in the Nevada desert, which is perfect due to the ambient radiation from atomic bomb tests. Due to the risks to their lives, they rarely venture into the outside world because without the Advocacy the lower classes would have no guidance and be useless.

Their goal is to pick up where they left off in 1953 by making way on Earth for the three million colonists heading in exodus from their dying world. Their major objective in order to accomplish this terraforming is to remove humanity from the planet. The aliens’ hatred of human beings goes beyond simple prejudice. Having come from a planet that can be compared to the Garden of Eden based on its description, the aliens see that humans do nothing but desecrate what they would call a paradise, and most importantly, a new home. Without humans in the way, they can restore the vegetation, and better replicate the conditions of their deceased world. To carry out a successful war, they seek out weapons (some of which are their own left behind from previous visitations), help amass their army, and engage in infiltration and all sorts of acts of warfare. But to make things more problematic, they must also find immunity against the germs that befell them in 1953.

The simplicity of the alien invasion storyline is countered in the first season by the addition of anomalous entities whose motives are only partially explained:

  • Quinn: An alien trapped in a human host since the invasion of ’53, mysteriously immune to bacteria, and ready to play both of the major warring factions against each other for his own favor.
  • The Qar’To: An unknown alien race represented by a synthetic life form sent to Earth, they have sinister reasons for wanting the Mor-Taxans dead and humanity preserved.
  • Project 9: A shadow government organization much like the Blackwood Project, but more interested in alien research than in resisting or countering the Mor-Taxan invasion plans.

A number of recurring allies are presented for the Blackwood team. Sylvia Van Buren (a character from the George Pal film reprised by the original actress, Ann Robinson), who was a colleague of Dr. Forrester, has since the end of the war developed the ability to sense the aliens and is prone to fairly accurate precognitive visions. The aliens’ scientific arsenal has little power over the supernatural powers of shaman Joseph Lonetree (whose presence is seemingly foreshadowed in the first episode). The team even makes friends with the remaining Grover's Mill militia of 1938 who had their own run-in with the aliens.

A recurring element in the series is the number three. This is an extension of the film, wherein the aliens’ physiology, technology and society are rooted in multiples of three: from their caste system (ruling class, soldiers, and scientists) to their bodies (three arms with three fingers), weaponry (in “The Resurrection”, they make bolas with three weighted ends), and even their mating cycle is every nine years (three times three years). The appearance of the number in some form is sprinkled throughout the season in reference to the aliens.

The episodes all had (often ironic) Biblical titles, such as "The Walls of Jericho", "To Heal the Leper", and "Among the Philistines".

“To Life Immortal” (too doe nakotae[4] as it would be said in the aliens’ native tongue), a phrase by which the aliens seem to sum up their belief system, is a common exchange between aliens, as a pledge to their shared goal or as a battle cry before honorable self-sacrifice. It later became a popular catchphrase among the show's fans.

Second season[edit]

Opening voice-over:

"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?"

–Off screen news reporter as the camera flies around a model night-time cityscape

The creative team of Season 1 was replaced, bringing in Frank Mancuso, Jr., who was also busy producing Friday the 13th: The Series. Many aspects of the show were retooled, such as the title sequence and music, and much of the black humor and Biblical references were removed. Norton and Ironhorse, two major characters from the first season, are killed off in the season premiere and replaced by mercenary John Kincaid (Adrian Paul).

The modern-day setting of the first season shifted to a not-too-distant future of "Almost Tomorrow" where the world has since spiraled into a dismal state with its economy, environment, and government all beaten down. The antagonists of the first season are replaced by the Morthren, from Mothrai (the first season aliens were said to be from the planet Mor-Tax and there is no explanation on-screen for the change of name). The Morthren exterminate all the aliens from the first season for their failure to eradicate humanity.

Whereas bacteria and radiation are constant problems for the aliens in the first season, the Morthren have quickly found a cure-all means for this by transmutating into human bodies. With this, they forwent the ability to possess human bodies, retaining only one human body. Their equivalent of body-swapping is a cloning machine that makes exact copies of someone, only differing in that the duplicates would be loyal to the Morthren cause and their existence tied to the original. Ironically, as sores are the telltale signs of alien possession in the first season, a lack of scars or any physical flaw was a telltale sign of a clone, as the Morthren are fixated with perfection. While the Eternal is their god, the Morthren are led by Malzor (played by Denis Forest, who had a large part in the Season 1 episode “Vengeance Is Mine”). Just under him was the scientist Mana (Catherine Disher, whose husband also played a major role in a Season 1 episode) with Ardix (Julian Richings who appeared briefly in “He Feedeth Among the Lillies”) as her assistant.

Meanwhile, with General Wilson missing, the Cottage destroyed, and two team members lost in battle, the remnants of the team, with mercenary Kincaid, seek shelter. They take up base in an underground hideout in the sewers. Some of the characters experience shifts, such as Harrison carrying a gun, becoming more sullen and losing his more quirky personality traits. The friction between the militaristic Ironhorse and the other team members was not transferred with Kincaid, who got along well with everyone, who themselves became more militaristic in season 2. The show's theme of warfare between two races, and all the issues that come with it, was replaced by a theme of a bleak life on a desolate world.

The series was canceled two episodes shy of a full season.

Series end[edit]

The story ends with the final episode of the second season. In desperation, Malzor makes a final attempt to eliminate all life forms native to Earth. Fearing for his human friend Debi, the young alien boy named Ceeto attempts to interfere. Blackwood and his team are introduced to a faction of aliens willing to make peace with the human race. Together, they use a device that stores the history of the aliens' homeworld.

In that history, Malzor is shown to be a scientist who creates crystals needed to power starships. The crystals provide a wealth of energy but require much energy to produce. Studying other planets, they discover on Earth the signs of an engineered nuclear explosion, suggesting the existence of a burgeoning technological society on Earth. The leader of the Mothren - Malzor's father-in-law - orders a major expedition to Earth, to be led by Malzor's wife and powered by large quantities of Malzor's crystal. Malzor is reluctant, not only because he fears for his wife, but also because he knows the dire consequences posed by large-scale production of the crystal. His fears are realized on both counts. The expedition is a failure - the Mothren are shown dying in large numbers, their ships failing. Worse, in mass-producing and empowering the crystals, the Mothren have severely altered their own planet's ecological and meteorological systems. Enraged by the Mothren leader's insistence on the expedition, Malzor murders him and usurps his position. Obsessed with Earth, and resigned to the destruction of Mothrai, Malzor accelerates crystal production needed to power a second invasion. The history comes to an end with Malzor preparing a last-minute escape from the doomed world.

Learning the truth, the aliens turn on Malzor. Ceeto is killed by Malzor, further alienating Mothrai. When the Blackwood group finds the aliens, Debi shoots Malzor dead, preventing his plans from reaching fruition. With this, the Morthren call off the war, and the heroes walk out into a suddenly sunny world.

Many facts concerning the Morthren past revealed in the episode contradict various aspects of the mythology established both in previous second season episodes, and especially those from the first season. Mothren are shown observing the catastrophic end of their expedition of 1953 from the safety of their homeworld - but the images they observe are taken from the last few minutes of the 1953 film. There is a contradiction posed by the finale - in which the clearly warlike behavior of the aliens in the 1953 invasion was purportedly a mission of exploration. In making the 1953 invasion the first visit of the aliens to Earth, the episode ignores the previous expeditions detailed in 'Eye For An Eye', 'Dust to Dust' and 'The Raising of Lazarus'.

Loose ends[edit]

The first season's finale, "The Angel of Death", introduces a synth from the planet Qar’To (which is in the same system as Mor-Tax) named Q'Tara who arrives on Earth and begins killing aliens right and left in effort of finding the Advocacy, without whom the aliens would be lost and helpless. The Blackwood Team is happy to have such a powerful ally (who can shoot "atomic bullets" and can easily detect aliens) on their side who seems to be fighting the same enemy. In fact, after the aliens launch a surprise attack on them all, Q'Tara even goes the extra mile to heal the fatally wounded team members. Although she is shown to be doing well so far, she reports that she needs to bring in reinforcements.

Just as she is preparing to leave Earth, she makes a last report in a strange native language (subtitled), which states that her mission is incomplete, and that humanity as a future food source is still in danger. This cliffhanger—combined with the plans of the rogue alien Quinn vying for his own global dominance—would potentially bring millions of more aliens and their leaders to Earth in a short strand of years. Under these scenarios, the show painted a future in which many friends and foes would be battling for the planet. Ultimately, however, this potential was lost, as many plots, back-stories, and characters were never picked up and carried into the second season.

Another element that was being built was the issue of why no one remembers the invasion of ’53 (something that is the centre of the show's criticism). Many hints of the true explanation were dropped in many episodes, but this was something that season two never even acknowledged, much less answered. Some believe that, as the synth constantly says "Remember nothing" and appears to be able to change people's memories, the aliens are somehow involved in wiping humanity's collective memory. The first season also touches upon a government conspiracy as demonstrated in the discovery of a whitewash of the alien reconnaissance mission that took place in Grover's Mill in 1938 that was forgotten because of the infamous radio broadcast made by Orson Welles. A few online sources claim, unverified, that the 1953 film audiences know is also a film within the show's universe, and was produced for the same purpose on a wider scale. Though the show gives no clear evidence of such a thing, this would, however, explain some discrepancies, such as the noticeable difference in the aliens’ appearance, and would also leave room for the idea that the global destruction depicted in the film may have been exaggerated from the show's reality. Another theory is that the aliens were somehow able to manipulate human memory, possibly to ensure surprise in the future should they fail and recuperate or for the colonists when they arrive. This is supported in an episode in which an alien object, regardless of its original purpose, is capable of radically altering a human being's personality. How any of these theories tie into the real explanation (separately or even all together) remains unseen and the issue of debate.

The post-apocalyptic cyberpunk atmosphere for season two is never fully explained, although a radio newscaster in the first episode hints that the legalization of narcotics may have led to the deterioration of American society.

Episode list[edit]

Notable guest stars[edit]

The first season featured some recognisable actors in the series. Aside from getting Ann Robinson to reprise her role as Sylvia van Buren from the film, the series also obtained John Colicos (from Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek) as rogue alien Quinn who, while only appearing twice, was no doubt intended to play an integral part of the series as it went on (the character's power-hungry nature and middleman status between two worlds is noticeably reminiscent of Colicos’ role as Count Baltar). The list of notable guests begins in the show's very start with John Vernon appearing in the first two episodes as General Wilson. Other actors throughout the series: Patrick Macnee, Greg Morris, Jeff Corey, John Ireland, Colm Feore, and James Hong.

The series was also the early working ground for future stars. Aside from exclusive season two star Adrian Paul (of Highlander fame), the second season also featured the first onscreen appearance of (a then very young) Mia Kirshner. The second season also gave more screentime to Rachel Blanchard, who only had minor play in the first season.

Home video releases[edit]

A number of VHS tapes were released by CIC Video to the rental market in the United Kingdom. The series premiere was marketed as a sequel to the 1953 movie and subsequent releases edited two episodes together in a movie format similar to the company's concurrent rental releases of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

CIC released five volumes of these tapes before abandoning the range:

  • Volume 1: The Resurrection
  • Volume 2: The Walls Of Jericho & Thy Kingdom Come
  • Volume 3: A Multitude Of Idols & Eye For An Eye
  • Volume 4: Dust To Dust & Goliath Is My Name
  • Volume 5: The Second Seal & Choirs Of Angels

None of the tapes were re-issued for the sell-through market although ex-rental copies have been sold on such markets as eBay.

DVD releases[edit]

Fans were doubtful of the series being released as many reported that since it ended its initial run Paramount seemingly denied the show existed, bootleg copies being the only means of viewing the series. On November 1, 2005, Paramount Home Entertainment officially released season 1 on DVD in Region 1.[5] The set's release coincided with the DVD re-release of the 1953 film from which the show was spawned (the updated version from Steven Spielberg being released on DVD later the same month). A common criticism of the DVDs has been the poor image quality; fans in particular also point out the omission of the alien hand animation that had been inexplicably removed from every episode.[6] The set contains no special features. It does, however, allow the viewer to jump to a chapter, which are divided by act, including the opening and closing credits, but are not available via any menu.[citation needed] It also includes closed captioning, but these may not be entirely reliable as there are several clear errors - for example, it is inconsistent in how it spells the name of the aliens' homeworld, neither of which is the canonical spelling. By contrast, however, in a few episodes, the captioning refers to the Advocates by the name of their original host bodies from the pilot episode (i.e. Chambers, Urick, and Einhorn), even in the absence of the original actors.[original research?]

The Second and final season was released on October 26, 2010, nearly five years after the release of the first season.[7]

In Region 2, Revelation Films has released both seasons on DVD in the UK. Season 1 was released on April 30, 2012[8] and Season 2 was released on August 30, 2012.[9]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ George Pal's War Of The Worlds TV Series (Circa 1975)
  2. ^ Dumpsite locations are visible on a map from the episode "The Last Supper".
  3. ^ This is the quote originally used. For reasons unknown a different take of Martin's reading is used in the second half of the season. The quote is verbatim of the first except he now says that the aliens are "more terrifying than ever before."
  4. ^ This spelling can be seen onscreen in "Among the Philistines" on Norton's computer monitor. Another spelling variation is visible as well, but it is not seen clearly enough.
  5. ^ http://www.tvshowsondvd.com/news/War-Worlds/3894
  6. ^ Brief DVD review at The Complete War of the Worlds Website
  7. ^ "War of the Worlds: The Second Invasion" Comes to DVD At Last with the Second and Final Season, TV Shows on DVD, August 9, 2010
  8. ^ http://www.amazon.co.uk/War-Of-The-Worlds-Season/dp/B00790RMRS
  9. ^ http://www.amazon.co.uk/War-Of-Worlds-Complete-Season/dp/B007IV5GQM

External links[edit]