Title: War of the Worlds: The Complete First Season
Starring: Jared Martin, Lynda Mason Green, Philip Akin, Richard Chaves
When aliens invaded Earth in 1953 they were defeated by bacteria. Thought dead, the aliens were placed in storage containers, but they were merely in hibernation. Accidentally revived during a terrorist attack on an army storage facility the aliens continue their plans for world domination by taking over the bodies of humans. Dr Harrison Blackwood, a survivor of the 1953 invasion, assembles a team of scientists to work with the military to try and save the Earth from a new invasion.
This 1988 TV series is a curiosity for two reasons. Firstly it is conceived as a direct sequel to the 1953 film version of the story. The ships used are lifted directly from the film complete with the same death ray effect. Ann Robinson returns as Sylvia Van Buren who is now in a mental institution babbling about aliens and Harrison Blackwood was raised by the now deceased Dr Clayton Forrester after his parents were killed in the invasion of '53.
The second thing that marks this show out is the level of graphic violence and gore involved for a TV series. Faces and limbs are regularly ripped off innocent human victims. When aliens in human form die they melt slowly into a puddle of viscera. This show is as much horror as it is sci-fi and it doesn't pull its punches as to who it kills. Pregnant women, old people and college teens all fall to the aliens during this first season and it gives an impression that no one is safe.
Despite these two points most episodes manage to be incredibly dull. This is an average episode synopsis. Aliens posses and kill people to achieve their goal of the week. Team Blackwood sit around and discuss what the aliens might be up to and don't get involved until the last ten minutes. They then blunder into the aliens' plan by accident, by which time the aliens already have what they want and clear off. Wash, rinse repeat.
The problem is that team Blackwood never come across as anything other than a minor annoyance to the aliens' plans. In fact the aliens barely acknowledge that team Blackwood exists. Instead we get the alien leaders, the Advocates, constantly moaning about how useless their underlings are, which is all a little boring.
As Harrison Blackwood, leading man Jared Martin is an actor hewn from solid 100 year old oak and dipped in the finest French Camembert. The character is given a bucket load of quirky habits drawn at random from the “eccentric scientist” cliché bag. These are supposed to make the character interesting but actually make you want to punch him.
Representing the sceptical military is Richard Chaves as the also improbably named Lt Colonel Paul Ironhorse. Chaves looks good in action scenes wielding a machine gun (or occasionally his custom made military grade tomahawk because, you know, he's Native American) but in any scenes requiring actual acting he makes Martin look like Olivier. One episode deals with Ironhorse suffering guilt and possible PTSD after accidentally killing a civilian he thought was an alien. This on paper sounds like an interesting character piece but is let down by Chaves being unable to play any emotions other than gruff and annoyed.
There are a few decent episodes that manage to stand out from the crowd. An Eye For an Eye attempts to tie the 1938 Orson Wells radio drama into the show's mythology as the team manage to actually defeat a bunch of aliens disguised as a biker gang. The Last Supper has some half decent action sequences as the aliens attack a multi-national conference to share information on them. The stand out episode is Unto Us a Child is Born which manages to get the blend of visceral horror, tension and story together just right, as an alien posseses the body of a pregnant woman leading to the birth of a human-alien hybrid that both sides want. Team Blackwood are pro-actively involved in the story from the outset and it has a surprisingly dark ending.
If every episode had been like that they would have been onto a winner. Sadly anyone who, like me, has nostalgic memories of watching this in the ITV 2am graveyard slot (along with shows like Highlander: The Series and Renegade) will probably find themselves disappointed.
A short text synopsis for every episode. I'm baffled as to why anyone would want this as an extra feature.