RogerBW's Blog

The Great Martian War, 1913-1917 27 September 2015

2013, dir. Mike Slee, Mark Strong, Jock McLeod; IMDb / Wikipedia

A brief history of the Great Martian War, combining interviews with veterans and archive footage.

Everyone knows the outline of the Great Martian War, of course: the invasion, the advance, the stand-off, and the eventual defeat of the invading force. But most of us these days don't know the details of the course of the war, and the stories of those who were involved. In 2013 it seemed an appropriate time to make a new documentary, taking the odd position of assuming no knowledge at all, which would recount the whole thing.

And this is it: how the Martians landed in Germany and destroyed its army practically overnight; how other nations disbelievingly contributed troops to the war; how the Herons and Iron Spiders rampaged across Europe to be halted only a few miles short of Paris; how the scavenging Lice and the areas completely stripped of men and matériel had a morale effect worse in some ways than the defeats; how the Martian feints lured in the massed attacks of early '15. How a daring raid on a Heron base gave us the Victisite that would later define the technological path of the 20th century, and how the superweapon that would defeat the Martians was developed – and, to be fair, how this led directly to the "Martian Flu" epidemic that devastated Europe and the Americas after the war was over.

The style is the usual short-shot favoured by modern documentaries, with a narrator explaining what was happening, followed by one of the survivors (mostly filmed in the 1980s and 1990s before their deaths) talking about how it felt to be on the front lines. Particularly missed is Gus Lafonde, who retrieved Martian artefacts as a form of "counting coup" but died forgotten in the 1980s; his great-granddaughter, who recently re-discovered his notebooks from the time, does her best to fill in.

As one would expect, not much film footage survives, though this unfortunately means that what we see is sometimes a little repetitive. The quality is surprisingly good for the time.

I'm glad to see that this film resists the current trend for speculative alternate history: there are enough nutters out there with their theories of a Great War that might have happened if the Martians hadn't united humanity. Well, they did and it didn't, and that's that.

It's unfortunate that this useful summary should be tied up with modern conspiracy theory and the recent "Martian Code" nonsense, but I suppose the History Channel has to have a hook these days. This fellow Lawrence Hart claims to have come up with a translation of the Martian language (based on Lafonde's notes); yes, yes, and so has every other Mars-fixated crackpot over the last century. (Hart is also a fan of the false-flag theory of the three American destroyers sunk in early 1917, and consequent entry of the USA into the war, so that tells you how seriously you should take him.) And really, apart from his grandstanding, what does he actually advocate? To have the courage of his convictions would be to throw away all the technological gains of the last century given to us by Victisite, and return to valves, hand-cranked calculators, and internal combustion engines!

We are the guns, and your masters! Saw ye our flashes?

The trailer and the History Channel's site for the film may prove interesting.

Addendum in 2020: this is now available via

  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 09:25pm on 27 September 2015

    Interesting. Thanks for the link.

  2. Posted by Peter at 10:51pm on 25 June 2016

    I happened to catch this on the History Channel tonight (so late comment!). Quite a knowing mockumentary, which came across as a labour of love for fans of TV history. Much more convincing on that score than the 2004 C.S.A. (which I also enjoyed, I have to admit). The conspiracy theory was interesting, and worked to explain the survival of plucky humanity, but I would have been interested in less of that, and more of the immediate post-war settlement.

    They resisted a plot line with plucky Gefreiter Hitler taking crazy risks to run vital messages. Well done.

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