War of the Worlds is a television program that ran for two seasons, from 1988 to 1990. The series is an extension of the original 1953 film The War of the Worlds, often incorporating aspects from the film, radio adaptation, and original novel into its mythology.

Though the original film’s producer, George Pál, conceived of a TV series from the same film sometime in the 1970s, it wasn’t 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 Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Premise Edit

According to the series, rather than being outright killed 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[1]), and a widespread government cover-up combined with a condition dubbed “selective amnesia” 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 were 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), the terrorist group the People’s Liberation Party accidentally irradiate the drums containing 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 that 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, consist of:

  • Dr. Harrison Blackwood (Jared Martin)--Astrophysicist whose parents were killed in the war. 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 speech and apperance. He is a|pacifist and vegetarian, and is often seen practicing many alternative health techniques such as yoga.
  • Dr. Suzanne McCullough (played by 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 (played by Philip Akin)--A long-time friend of Harrison, he is a paraplegic computer genius 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 (played by 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, aliens started taking over the world; today, they’re taking over our bodies![2]

Along with other science fiction/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 triad 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 pumps 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. They rarely go into battle because without them, 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 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 favour.
  • The Qar’To--an unknown alien race represented by a synthetic lifeform sent to Earth, they have sinister reasons for wanting the Mor-Taxans dead and humanity preserved.
  • Project 9--a shadow government organisation 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 Pál 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 have 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) to their planet (the third from their sun), weaponry (in “The Resurrection”, they make bolas with three weighted ends), and even their mating cycle is every nine 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 “The Walls of Jericho”, “To Heal the Leper”, and “Among the Philistines”.

To Life Immortal” (too do nakatae 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 honourable self-sacrifice. It later became a popular catch phrase among the show’s fans.

Second season synopsis 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?”

--character and voice actor unknown

Although the ratings for the first season were among the highest Paramount had of its syndicated series that year, it was still seen fit to replace the creative force of Season 1 with Frank Mancuso Jr. (who was also busy producing Friday the 13th: The Series, which, interestingly enough, was actually rated just behind the first season of this show), who admitted that he never really watched many of the episodes of the first season. This combined with different writers made for a season that was terribly inconsistent with the first. Just about every detail of the first season was either changed completely or just deleted altogether (such as the Biblical reference and black humour). Even the show's name underwent change as it was now fully titled War of the Worlds: The Second Invasion.

Countless changes are made in the second season. First, the modern-day setting has now been 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. Of the few characters that return for the second season, most are killed off in the season premiere. The two saddest demises are that of fan favourites Norton and Ironhorse. Also sent to their death are the aliens of the first season. The Advocacy and their lot (all incorrectly referred to as soldiers) are sent to execution by a new race of aliens, the Morthren. Despite the fact that their planet is clearly stated to be Morthrai, they are still inexplicably tied to the first season aliens of the planet Mor-Tax. Planet name change is but one aspect altered with the aliens. In fact, nearly every aspect of the season one aliens are either written out of the show or ignored altogether. The show is inconsistent in revealing whether or not the Morthren are indeed a new race of aliens, a sub-culture of the season one aliens, or something else altogether.

Whereas bacteria and radiation are constant problems for the Mor-Tax, the Morthren have quickly found a cure-all means for this by transmutating into human bodies, a process that is only noted in the first episode, but never explained in any detail. 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 John Kincaid (Adrian Paul), seek shelter. They take up base in an underground hideout in the sewers. And the aliens aren’t the only characters to change. Harrison seemed to have lost touch with his kooky nature (yoga positions, tuning forks, etc.), and for a man who turned down every offer of a gun from Ironhorse, he carries one with no second thought. Meanwhile, Suzanne, a microbiologist, suddenly seemed incapable of even baking a simple cake with her daughter Debi (Rachel Blanchard) who slowly becomes the star of the series. The show’s theme of warfare between two races, and all the issues that come with it, had been taken over by a theme of a bleak life on a desolate world.

The radical changes were often claimed to be for the better of the show, but divided fans down the middle. While many old and new viewers preferred the new quasi-cyberpunk setting (cyberpunk being a fresh new genre at the time), many fans were turned off due to inconsistencies with the first season, the loss of favorite characters, and what was perceived as character derailment for remaining characters. Ultimately, the ratings were so poor that the series had to wrap things up just two episodes shy of a full season.

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 has been doing well so far, she needs to bring in reinforcements. Just as she’s 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 set-up in this cliffhanger combined with the existence of the rogue alien Quinn vying for his own global dominance and millions of more aliens with their leaders making the exodus to Earth in such a short strand of years made the future of the show promise of many friends and foes battling for the planet. Sadly, all this potential was lost as many plots, back-story, 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 unexplained. A common fan theory is that the Earth never fully recovered from the 1953 invasion and that this represents a 35 year long depression era. This is an obvious difference from season one where nobody remembers the invasion and the world seems to have rebuilt itself fairly quickly.

Another issue for season two is the part of the Eternal. There is some debate about whether it was a genuine god, or if it was going to be revealed to be a false idol controlled by a villain (perhaps Malzor). Its almost near absence in the final episode furthers questions since the Eternal does not appear during or after the revelation of Malzor’s deception, leaving no clue on whether the Morthren still revere their god since it would be perceived to either be in on Malzor’s plot or totally oblivious and therefore powerless. Another issue is that it was originally going to be called the Immortal, as a tie to the phrase “To Life Immortal,” before it was inexplicably changed.

Notable guest stars Edit

The first season made itself quite distinquished in that it managed to acquire 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 (of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek fame) 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 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, Michael Parks, and James Hong; also Gwynyth Walsh, Michele Scarabelli, Cedric Smith, Billy Thorpe (who also scored the season's music), Colm Feore, Alannah Myles, Vlasta Vrana, Pat Mastroianni, rock group Platinum Blonde, Aki Aleong, and Von Flores (of Earth: Final Conflict fame).

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.

Trivia Edit

  • Over the course of the series, the Advocacy appeared in all but one episode of the first season, and only one of the second season. In these episodes, many different actors portrayed them, mainly relegated to simply providing the voices.. The parts originally started with Richard Comar, Ilse von Glatz, and Michael Rudder who played half of the six-piece terrorist group that frees the aliens and then were themselves host to the Advocates. Halfway into the first season, Comar left, shortly followed by Rudder; Glatz continued in all but two episodes, making her the long-running actor in the collective role. Many other actors came in; most notable were the very three actors who played the other half of the terrorist group from the pilot. In their final appearance in the season two premiere, they were played by uncredited and unidentified actors. In addition to these and the two sets of actors playing temporary hosts to the Advocacy, the triumvirate part was played by a total of eighteen actors.
  • The teleplays for three episodes are credited with notable pen names: Forrest Van Buren, Sylvia Clayton, and Sylvia Van Buren. The true author(s) of these scripts are unknown.
  • Originally the character of Little Bobby from “Thy Kingdom Come” was to be the start of a running gag where in which we would see him in various places with his “family.” He was also to be the centre of an advertising campaign entitled “Save Little Bobby” to help the show. Paramount rejected both ideas and the Little Bobby character never appeared again with even the ending of his sole appearance being altered as it originally set up his appearance for future episodes. However, the writers had planned his future as far as a rough draft of “Eye for an Eye” where he appears in Grover's Mill.
  • In the closing credits for every episode in the first season is a reference to The Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson, courtesy of Chronicle Features. Several cutout Far Side comic strips are seen briefly in “The Resurrection”, tacked onto a bulletin board in Suzanne McCullough’s university office; however, since this is only seen in one episode, it’s unknown why the credit remains throughout the season.
  • The first season is another example of the use of the number 23 in fiction. It is Jack Sawyer’s floor in “So Shall Ye Reap”, the number of victims the Advocacy kill at a beauty salon in “To Heal the Leper”, the number of the sauna room Cash meets Quinn in “My Soul to Keep”, the floor from which an alien jumps in “The Angel of Death”, and the number of the first vault in “The Second Seal” is 23-A-46, in addition to Quinn’s studio that is located on 23 Canal Street in “The Prodigal Son”. Coincidently, the first season also consists of 23 episodes.
  • When aired on television from 1988 and on through the years in numerous airings, a traditional Paramount logo is used in the closing credits. Curiously, however, this is replaced in the DVDs by a Paramount Television “split rectangle” logo that was used from 1969 to about 1975.

Home video releases Edit

The series had never officially been commercially available until recently, although VHS rental copies were released in the U.K. and have been sold on such markets as eBay. 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 until early August, 2005 in which Paramount announced an official DVD release date of season one for November 1. 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.[3] 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. It also includes closed captioning, but these may not be entirely reliable as there are several clear errors - for example, it is inconsistent in the spelling of the aliens' homeworld, neither of which is in accordance to the spelling in the J.M. Dillard novelisation. 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.

There currently remains no information regarding a release for the second season. The potential of the release is in question due to the current lack of any related product from Paramount in which to release it as a tie-in.[4]


  1. Dumpsite locations are visible on a map from the episode "The Last Supper".
  2. 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."
  3. Brief DVD review at The Complete War of the Worlds Website

External links Edit

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