The BBC’s three-part miniseries The War of the Worlds, based on HG Wells’s classic 1898 alien invasion novel, was supposed to be shown last Christmas.

The news that it had been postponed, reportedly due to problems with special effects, sparked speculation that the production was in trouble.

While the BBC dithered over announcing a transmission date, The War of the Worlds was quietly shown in Canada and New Zealand last month, in two parts rather than three. It was a strange move for such a major drama and one that set more alarm bells ringing.

Now that the miniseries is finally here, spread across three Sundays and – self-defeatingly – in direct competition with ITV’s ratings behemoth I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, it’s impossible to ignore the signs any longer.

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I’ve seen all three episodes and they’re a massive disappointment. Much as I hate to say it, because I’ve loved Wells’s book since I was a boy, The War of the Worlds is an early Christmas turkey.

The novel is a difficult one to adapt. It’s a fantastical tale of a Martian invasion, framed as a piece of thrilling reportage. It’s even set in real locations, including Horsell Common in Woking, Surrey, where the invasion begins.

The unnamed narrator is a witness to events, forever running for his life. We learn little about him other than that he has a brother, whose account to him of the Martian rampage in London forms part of the narrative, and a wife, who’s packed off to safety early on and doesn’t reappear until the end.

None are what you’d call well-drawn characters. The challenge facing any adaptation is to flesh out the story.

Orson Welles’s famous 1938 radio drama cleverly recreated the immediacy of the book by presenting it as a mock news broadcast.

The 1953 Hollywood film played on Americans’ Cold War fears. Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film, with Tom Cruise, echoed the 9/11 attacks.

For this version, which takes place in 1905, close to the novel’s setting, writer Peter Harness has bafflingly decided that what The War of the Worlds needs is a modern makeover full of contemporary concerns and clumsily signposted virtue signalling. You might say things have got “woke” in Woking.

The nameless narrator has been replaced by Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson) and George (Rafe Spall), an outcast couple who buck the trends of stuffy Edwardian society by living together out of wedlock (George’s wife refuses to give him a divorce).

He’s an ineffectual and frankly drippy journalist, while she’s a scientist, a feminist and very much the chief protagonist. Their relationship takes up more screen time than the alien attacks.

There’s a strong suggestion that their friend and Amy’s boss, the astronomer Ogilvy (Robert Carlyle), a character who’s vaporised by the Martian death ray early on in Welles’s book, is gay and therefore also an outcast – although there’s no obvious sign of this.

Fatally, sightings of Martian fighting machines are few and far between and, when they do turn up, usually one at a time, not particularly impressive. Most of the book’s major events happen (if they happen at all) off screen. The slaughter of mankind is depicted through the sound of distant explosions and lots of smoke. It’s as if Earth is under attack from a giant smoke machine.

The action, if you can call it that, is continually interrupted by tedious, red-filtered flashforwards to post-war society.

Welles’s original readers will have picked up the novel’s strong anti-imperialist message, which was subtly communicated. Harness’s script, however, sledgehammers it home in interminable, talky scenes.

Only one scene effectively captures the horror of Wells’s premise – that the Martians are harvesting humans for food – but it doesn’t come until halfway through the final episode. By then, viewers might have decided The War of the Worlds is The Bore of the Worlds.

The War of the Worlds (BBC1)

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