James Delingpole James Delingpole

War of the Worlds is as bad as Doctor Who

Plus: the BBC’s adaptation of War of the Worlds is deeply sad. Will we ever again see a faithful, honest, politics-free adaptation on the BBC?

Edwardian England deserved everything it got from those killer Martian invaders. Or so I learned from the BBC’s latest adaptation of The War of the Worlds (Sundays). Everything about that era, apparently, was hateful, backward and ripe for destruction: regressive attitudes to women and homosexuality; exultant white supremacy (cue, a speech from a government minister on the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race); a general prevailing bone-headedness and stuck-upness; stiff, stuffy, relentlessly brown clothing with superfluous belts; and as for those ridiculous bristling moustaches…

Still, I don’t think H.G. Wells would have been totally appalled by this travesty of his 1898 potboiler. Wells was, after all, a man of the left who would later write of Stalin: ‘I have never met a man more fair, candid and honest’, and who flirted with most of the politically correct causes of his day, from Fabianism to anti-imperalism. Early in the book, he rails against the ‘extermination’ of Tasmanian Aborigines by ‘European immigrants’, asking: ‘Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?’

No, the bigger problem with this version, adapted by Peter Harness, is that apart from the obligatory feisty, scientifically advanced, liberated heroine played by Demelza from Poldark (Eleanor Tomlinson — not that I’m at all complaining about her prominence, by the way) you really don’t much care for anyone because they’re all bloodless throwbacks to an era we’re encouraged to despise. A bit like with Doctor Who, the function of history is no longer to help us engage sympathetically with the past, but merely to act as a foil to our current, so-much-better world where toxic masculinity, racism, homophobia etc. have been largely eradicated.

The book’s unnamed narrator, for example, has become a wimp called George whose response to any action situation is to stare, frozen and bedazzled, like a rabbit caught in the alien headlights while his progressive mistress does all the heavy lifting.

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