Reviews | Written by Paul Mount 19/07/2021

WAR OF THE WORLDS Season 2, Episode 1

A co-production between Fox Networks Group and Urban Films/StudioCanal, the prolific Howard Overman’s take on War of the Worlds sailed under a lot of radars a couple of years ago, overshadowed perhaps by the BBC’s lumbering, agenda-driven three-part take on the HG Wells classic. Overman’s version, set variously in and around London (although largely filmed in South Wales) and France, was War of the Worlds in name only, taking the title and the skeleton idea of Earth ‘invaded’ by an alien intelligence, and spun it into something much darker and far bleaker. Across eight sometimes exhaustingly nihilistic episodes, series one told the story of Mankind under attack by a mysterious force that wipes out anyone unfortunate enough to be outdoors, with the survivors stalked and brutally picked off by ruthless killer robots vaguely shaped like dogs. No, wait, they were scarier than they sound, honestly… The series’ multi-strand narrative followed the travails of disparate groups trying to find shelter just to stay alive or making hazardous journeys to be reunited with lost loved ones. The first series was slow-paced but hugely atmospheric with its scenes of deserted, corpse-lined streets and it pulled no punches in its depiction of Mankind on the backfoot and the show quickly established an environment where it was clear that no-one was safe (in one episode a young child was brutally dispatched by the robot killers) and that anyone – even the core lead characters – could be killed off at any moment. Series one ended with Emily Gresham (Daisy Edgar-Jones) who has already been established as having some sort of link or affinity with the aliens gaining access to a massive alien ship located in the Thames where she makes a startling discovery about the nature of the aliens…

One of the main criticisms of the first series was that its storytelling was a bit on the slow side and it was clearly in no hurry to answer the questions it was asking or head towards anything resembling a resolution. This first episode of the second eight-part series suggests that War of the Worlds is going to be a pacier affair this time around and these first fifty minutes offer up more story developments and tantalising hints of things to come that many of the scene-setting first season instalments that existed in a sort of ‘vacuum of shock’. Emily has discovered that the aliens are actually humanoid and are harvesting human babies in an attempt to cure their own degenerative condition. Six months pass and the remains of humanity still living in London are attempting to mount a counter-attack with scientist Bill Ward (Gabriel Byrne) racing against time to develop a bioweapon that will defeat the aliens. An attack is mounted on one of the alien ships that has landed in the city but it is ambushed by a group of aliens who are now cured and many of the assault squad are wiped out… cue another bloody gun battle with resistance fighters falling left, right and centre.  Emily is rescued from one of the ships but a flashback reveals that she is now unwittingly conspiring with the aliens to kill Bill (if you pardon the expression) to prevent him creating his weapon. But it seems that there’s dissent amongst the aliens too, as one of them flees from his comrades in search of Bill…

An intriguing first episode then, suggesting that this second series is trying to avoid the sluggishness of the first run by seeding some new and dramatic plot twists that promise genuine tension ahead. It’s a bit of a disappointment that the aliens are just human instead of three-eyed tentacled things but this series is clearly trying to present a more grounded and less in-your-face fantastical vision of one of the most famous science-fiction tropes, a gritty war of attrition between two near-identical races both determined to avoid extinction by any means necessary. Gritty, uncompromising, and almost entirely bereft of lightness and humour, War of the Worlds might be a bit too much for many in the enduring circumstances we find ourselves in but with a third series already in production, it’s apparent that this is one interstellar battle that won’t be brought to an end any time soon by the simple fortuity of a lack of resistance to everyday Earth bacteria.

WAR OF THE WORDS Season 2 is available now on Disney+/STAR