‘War of the Worlds’ (1988) TV Flashback: To Life Immortal!

If you were alive and kickin’ between 1988 and 1990, there’s a slight chance you remember a certain TV show called “War of the Worlds.” You might have seen ads featuring bizarre, one-eyed aliens with three long fingers extending out like wicked prongs, often to attack hapless human victims. For some, that’s all it would take to make them watch. Others never would. Either way, the series was something to remember, and you may be able to find the 2 seasons on DVD (or at least one of them). That’s right, this bad boy apparently isn’t on any streaming service yet!  Still, let’s look at what made the show fun!

To Life Immortal: What Do the Aliens Want?

In some ways, “War of the Worlds” is both corny and well-written, simultaneously. It is basically a continuation of the 1953 film, which was itself based on the novel by H. G. Wells, which was written way back in 1898! Then, of course, there’s the famous 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles, which supposedly caused some people to panic (though its impact was likely exaggerated). In other words, “War of the Worlds” ha plenty of history going for it, while the writers surely felt a need to make it contemporary. In fitting with that, the chief slogan of the alien invaders is “To Life Immortal” (which, in their language, is apparently “Too Doe Nakotae”).

As the first season progresses, we learn that the aliens come from a planet called Mor-Tax. They were thwarted by bacteria in their original invasion, but not forever. While it seems most people would recall such an invasion, the series implies a large-scale government cover-up and “selective amnesia” convinced most people that an invasion never occurred.

After the initial defeat of the aliens, the U.S. Government collects their remains and sealed them in steel drums, apparently preserved in nuclear/toxic waste of some unknown origin. How did they get freed? Well, sometime in the 1980s, some bumbling terrorists came along and accidentally freed the aliens, not quite understanding what they were in for. Because they’re bad-ass, the aliens body-snatched these terrorists and began a campaign to free their “brethren” and rekindle the fire of alien conquest of planet earth. We also quickly learn that they really, really don’t like human beings. While one might not fault them for that, these creatures have their own insidious nature which probably rivals ours.

At the same time, the writers of the show almost give us chances to sympathize with these freaks. Although they need nuclear waste to live, it also slowly kills them. This means that, while looking for a way to address their ailments, they have to leap from one human body to the next. Also, like many people on earth, they have war-like ways which don’t permit their own kind to step much out of line. In that sense, they’re not necessarily too different from humans. People would lament them as an invading force, but have actual humans in history been so entirely different from each other? Of course not! The aliens also hate what people have done to the environment, as their home planet (Mor-Tax) was a garden planet.

Main Human Characters

War of the Worlds
Photo credit: Hometown Films, Paramount Television

Here are the main characters:
1. Dr. Harrison Blackwood (Jared Martin), a quirky astrophysicist whose parents died in the 1953 invasion. He’s somewhat pacifist-leaning, though it puts him at odds with his mission to thwart the invasion.
2. Dr. Suzanne McCullough (Lynda Mason Green), a microbiologist who rarely just stands by the sidelines.
3. Norton Drake (Philip Akin) is a paraplegic computer genius. Drake is usually a source of good cheer and tends to successfully monitor the alien communications and media broadcasts related to alien activities.
4. Lt. Col. Paul Ironhorse (Richard Chaves) is a military man. Chaves played Poncho in the 1987 film Predator.

Other Cool Things About The Show

war of the worlds
An alien jock (Eric Bruskotter) gets gruesomely thwarted.  Photo credit: Hometown Films, Paramount Television

Violence can be cool, right? Well, “War of the Worlds” has plenty of that. In fact, some of the violence and gore effects were edgy for their time. In one of the freakier moments, we see the aftermath of aliens stealing human brains to use in medical treatment. Other scenes include aliens gouging out eyes or, of course, people just getting shot.

In some ways, this show was like “The Walking Dead” of its day, only these enemies could talk and take human form seamlessly (that is until their health begins to deteriorate in a newly appropriated body). The aliens are actually pretty cool, too, alternating between being silly and being scary. In addition to their cool, laser-blasting spaceships, they use some weird gimmicks. For example, at one point they implant subliminal messages in music to brainwash the human race. Those aliens sure like to f*** s*** up!

There are interesting additional characters, too, including Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson). She’s the psychic, adoptive mother of Harrison Blackwood after the 1953 invasion. Though they’ve placed her in a mental hospital, Van Buren’s psychic powers occasionally are an asset to Blackwood and his alien-fighting team. There’s also an alien-human hybrid named Quinn (John Colicos), While Quinn wants to conquer the humans, too, he’s faced with a unique moral dilemma due to his very nature. Toward the end of season one, the story is pushed to the absolute breaking point of believability, but in a fun way. We meet Q’tara (Elaine Giftos), A warrior princess-like a female android from the planet Q’arto. At first, it seems she’s a human ally…but is she?

Best War of the Worlds Season 1 Quotes

1. “Oh, yes, dear. Quite mad! And so would you be if you lived in a world all topsy turvy. I told them the aliens would be back and they didn’t believe me. They said I was insane. So they hooked electrodes up to my brain ’til I couldn’t even remember my name. Bzz, bzz, bzz! Rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain. This is not Spain, Harry.”
⁠— Sylvia Van Buren, from the episode “Thy Kingdom Come.”

2. Harrison: Can you enhance this image digitally?
Norton: Does a computer download in the woods?
⁠— From “A Multitude of Idols”

3. Pat Thistle (Carole Galloway): It looked like a cross between a giant green frog…and a huge slimy walnut.
⁠— From “He Feedeth Among the Lilies”

4. Quinn: I have nothing really against humans; some of my best friends are humans. But as a group, they stink and you know it. I say kill them all.
⁠— From “The Prodigal Son”

5. Suzanne [intelligently explaining the alien body]: “Structurally, they’re more like jellyfish than mammals. By examining DNA molecules, it appears that the aliens possess humans using a cell-phase matching technique…. Physiologically, the aliens have a liquid core which carries neurological information as well as arterial matter. Their stable, upright carriage is supported by a web-like musculature structure.”
⁠— From “The Last Supper”

The War Isn’t Over!

There have been other versions of the classic story, too. This includes Steven Spielberg’s 2005 version, starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning. The latest versions include the BBC’s “The War of the Worlds” mini-series and the Fox/Canal+ adaptation, both from 2019. There’s supposed to be a season 2 of the Fox/Canal+ version, and season 1 will premiere in America on February 16, 2020, on Epix. Why won’t these aliens just leave us alone? Jeez!

What are your thoughts on “War of the Worlds”? Let us know in the comments!

About Wade Wainio

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5 comments

  1. I love this series (well, the first season anyhow – don’t bother with the second, it’s rubbish!) – I regularly re-watch it… this is how alien invasion stories should be, coming to Earth to raid it for everything they can and colonise it – love their complete disregard for humans, they really couldn’t give a sh*t about us! I think this a good follow-on from the 1953 movie and also links back to the 1938 radio play too in one of the episodes, highly rated! The cast are all good, especially Blackwood (RIP Jared Martin) and Ironhorse (Richard Chaves).

    • Yeah, oddly enough I didn’t recognize Richard Chaves from The Predator until I researched this article. Then I was like, “Oh, yeah!”

    • Or I suppose that movie is just called Predator. I don’t wanna’ be crucified by a superfan or anything.

  2. No idea why they would destroy a solid first season with the crappy changes they made in season 2

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