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BBC’s War of the Worlds can hold its own among the best

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This new steampunk adaptation of HG Wells’ classic is hardly a first—but it’s well-made, well-acted, exciting—and has a lot of potential, says Gabby Thorpe
Issue 2680
Alien invasion through the eyes of the unconventional Amy and George
Alien invasion through the eyes of the unconventional Amy and George (Pic: BBC/Mammoth Screen)

The new BBC adaptation of the sci-fi classic The War of the Worlds promises to capture the spirit of the book.

It is the latest in a long line of adaptations. HG Wells’ story has been remade for radio, film—and an incredibly cheesy musical.

Confusingly enough, the new BBC adaptation comes on the heels of a modern day French production. Although decent CGI and a fairly acclaimed cast means that the BBC’s version will probably win out.

The story of Martian invasion is no longer new. Stories about Mars are having a resurgence as science supposedly brings us closer to the idea of occupying the “red planet”.

So why not revisit the original tale of Martians occupying Earth?

This version tells the story through the eyes of Amy and George who met at a meeting of the Freethinkers Society.

Their story is perhaps more ­interesting than the invasion itself.


They live together as an unmarried couple, shunned by Edwardian society. Eleanor Tomlinson and Rafe Spall do a convincing job in playing them.

And the always brilliant Robert Carlyle does a great job playing the Mars-obsessed scientist Oglivy.

And it’s a good thing too. The alien action we all tuned in for only emerges half way through the first episode. You see how writer Peter Harness can fit all the action of the novel into a three hour mini-series.

But the first episode shows a lot of potential. There’s a steampunk setting, including an impressive clock that distills tea. And although the aliens’ tripod-like vehicles are by no means a surprise to anyone familiar to the story, they are still an impressive sight.

Any worries about slowness are rewarded with gripping scenes of destruction and some impressive flash-forwards.

The series doesn’t take a lot of commitment. And it’s probably worth it to see what twist Harness has put on the story.

In a world full of expansionist regimes and rampant imperialism the story is definitely still relevant. Martians invading Earth because they’ve depleted their natural resources is especially poignant given the climate crisis.

And a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence boasting about Britain’s military prowess might seem a little tongue in cheek against a litany of alien technology. But it does bring to mind countless numbers of Western leaders and their smug warmongering.

The War of the Worlds is undoubtedly a science fiction ­masterpiece. The new series in no way lets the source material down.

It’s difficult sometimes not to compare this new take to the several adaptations that have come before it, though. And it’s fair to wonder if another adaptation of the War of The Worlds is necessary.

But for an hour of human versus Martian action, this is entertaining enough.

Starts Sunday 17 November, 9pm, BBC1


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