Cult TV

Cult TV Essentials: War of the Worlds

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!

Set up as a continuation from the original movie, War of the Worlds (1953) explained that  rather than being killed outright by germs at the end of the 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 show), and a widespread government cover-up combined with a condition dubbed “selective amnesia” has convinced most people that the invasion had never happened.

There is a slight contradiction though, in the original movie it is explicitly stated that the aliens were Martians (even featuring artwork indicating an alien city on the planet Mars) where as in 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 aired), a terrorist group calling itself the People’s Liberation Party accidentally irradiates the drums containing the aliens while raiding a dumpsite known as 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.

This leads to the aliens using various human bodies and crudely adapted Earth technology to find means of appropriating the planet, both in removing 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.

With the aliens attacking the government form a task force known as The Blackwood Project to battle them:

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Dr. Harrison Blackwood (Jared Martin): Astrophysicist whose parents were killed in the 1953 invasion. He was adopted following the events of the film byDr. 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.

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.

At the beginning of the first airing of the first episode there was a brief sequence of clips from the 1953 movie with narration over it. The very last shot is a black and white image of a small boy standing in the wrecked Los Angeles from the end of the movie: the young Harrison Blackwood. This sequence was never shown again.

As well as the aliens The Blackwood Project also have run-ins with the following:

  • 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.

One guest star in the first season was Ann Robinson – reprising her role of Sylvia Van Buren from the original movie. Since the end of the war she has developed the ability to sense the aliens and is prone to fairly accurate precognitive visions.

Things went a bit weird in Season 2 though…

“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?”

Part of the reason Season 2 went weird was the fact that the whole creative team was replaced by Frank Mancuso Jr and by loosing that team the show also lost its black humour, biblical references,  and two key cast members who were killed off in the season 2 opening! Poor Norton and Ironhorse! They were replaced by future Highlander Adrian Paul in the role of John Kincaid.

The show was now also set in a dystopian future and the antagonists of the first season are replaced by the Morthren, from Mothrai. 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. These bodies are however easily damaged; as seen in the series a single bullet wound is enough to cause the aliens’ human form to break down, killing them. 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) with Ardix (Julian Richings) 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 now 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 lost and everyone now got along well. The theme of warfare between two races, and all the issues that come with it also vanished and was replaced by a theme of a bleak life on a desolate world.

These changes led to the series  being canceled after 14 episodes had been broadcast, six more episodes were completed. This also gave the production team the opportunity to create a finale, “The Obelisk”, which offers a conclusive ending to the series as a whole.

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