While it retains many of the faults of the first episode, there are at least signs here and there of some improvement in this still disjointed and sluggish adaptation of H G Well’s celebrated novel. Rafe Spall still seems miscast as George, a character which the show can’t seem to choose between making a hero or a MacGuffin. Instead, the lead character here is very much Amy and in this middle part of the BBC trilogy, she gets more to do, both in the past and the present (still past, but later) as the writer/ director team of Peter Harness and Craig Viveiros conspire to make the storytelling as disjointed and complicated as possible. It’s not quite the archly girl-power move you might hope as she’s put front and centre mainly so that the writers can fill up time with her Victorian-affronting unwed pregnancy and general independent-mindedness.
It may be their efforts are to conceal their bravura third act ‘modern twist’ that’s been promised – and there are certainly tantalising hints of the story the pair want to tell, once they can get the well-worn basics of Wells’ story out of the way. There’s certainly modern resonance in the suggested ‘fake news’ of the victory over the Martians and heaven knows there’s a timeless quality to the theme of pyrrhic nature of war but the rush to dig down to these rich thematic seams causes clumsy swipes to be taken at subjects which could do with a more thorough examination through the lens of the Martian invasion.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that the whole affair has been structured back to front because the ‘present-day’ period setting punctuated with drama-sapping frequency by the flash-forwards would have worked a great deal better had it been done the other way around. Not only would it have felt like the fresh take on an old story that it clearly wants to be, but it would have allowed the story to unfold in a more organic, easier to follow and certainly easier to care about fashion. At least the effects budget was put to better use this time out, although you can still see where corners have been cut, but the set pieces are well staged for the most part. It’s in the performances, though, that the series still suffers the most, especially in the larger scenes where nobody seems to be able to muster up much in the way of convincing fear. Stiff-upper-lippedness seems to have crept, botox-like, to encompass entire facial expressions.
There’s still all to play for in the third and final episode next week but, to be honest, on the strength of the series so far, I’m pretty ambivalent about who wins.