The War Of The Worlds episode 3 review: a secular parable

This earnest story concludes with a clear lesson about the power of science vs faith. Spoilers ahead in our review…

This review contains spoilers. 

Publicly saying what one means being a vanishing habit in an election month, there was something refreshingly sincere about The War Of The Worlds’ finale. This story has been told with a zealot’s insistence on its lessons. Subtlety and prevarication haven’t been its modes; its point has been made through emphasis and repetition. 

It’s a decent point to make: hubris, jingoism and unquestioning faith are roads to nowhere; science is where the answers lie. This drama tells us to question received truths, trust in verifiable fact and generally just don’t go around being a massive top-hatted colonial nobber who only breaks off from your morning rendition of God Save The King to scream “They don’t like it up ‘em!” while rubbing yourself against the pink bits of the map. It won’t end well. 

It didn’t end well for the secretary to the Minister for War or for his Liberal idealist brother George, or for little Lillian or for Mrs E or for well, anybody much. They were all skewered by the Martian claw and dragged up to the school roof for slurpy insectoid teatime. 

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It also didn’t end well for the Martians, who, when they weren’t skewering old ladies and orphans, looked unexpectedly sympathetic tottering around like drunks on a ferry and nuzzling each other’s unresponsive corpses. (Maybe George’s ‘I’m a nice fellow, I’ll just talk to it’ plan could have worked if everybody had just taken a minute and done some calming alternative nostril breathing beforehand.) 

That wasn’t George’s real plan, of course. Having started the series being called a coward, he ended it by heroically sacrificing himself to save the woman he loved and his unborn child. The Darwinian principle in action, his genes lived on even though he became a Martian smoothie.

Only scientists Amy and Ogilvy survived, and even they hardly won big. Living out the first Martian attack meant the chance to sit in a drain next to the boiling Thames and eke out an existence in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where your son’s only friends are his Salmonella Typhi bacteria and a cockroach called Mr Legs. (Possibly.)

Bleak as things were for Amy and Ogilvy on post-invasion Earth, they rallied. “We must think of something, Mrs Thing,” said Ogilvy, so they did. They examined and theorised and experimented, and eventually discovered a cure for the red weed. It wasn’t avoiding church yards because God had cast a magical spell; it was being killed off by all the infected human flesh rotting there! Bacteria had saved the day, and now Amy and Ogilvy were going to harness its power to save the planet. 

After last week’s dizzying pile of woe, it all ended on a note of hope that was actually rather lovely. The green shoots of life returned Wall-E-style to the devastated landscape and the sun began to break through the cloud. Human ingenuity had prospered and life was returning. Maybe one day, there would be bacon sandwiches again, and swims in the sea. Perhaps Amy could finally get that wallpaper she ordered in episode one. 

In between the death and the hope was an effective haunted house segment in the abandoned school, and some decent monster action. A lantern, a spooky corridor and a clunking sound down a lift shaft dismissed as a door banging (like the priest in the church yard, we all invent explanations to suit and soothe us) are all classic horror ingredients, as were the scuttling, lurking creatures. 

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Somewhere in the middle of all that came speeches and ideological debates. Faith vs science. War vs peace. Idealism vs pragmatism. Darwinism vs Christianity. George turned the story’s subtext into text by explicitly equating the actions of the British Empire with those of the Martians. His brother called him a know-nothing idealist and carried on with barricading up the doors and making weapons. In the middle was Amy – caring but practical, romantic yet pragmatic. Like a parable, it was her, and not either of the two brothers at the extremes, who survived. 

Thus, anchored by a strong central performance from Eleanor Tomlinson, this deeply earnest story came to a deeply earnest conclusion. And why not? These days, having the courage of your convictions feels like an endangered trait. This adaptation said what it meant, and said it clearly. It just wasn’t really a great deal of fun to watch in the process. 

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.

Here’s what this adaptation kept and changed from H.G. Wells’ book.