I'll admit upfront that I've never read, watched or listened to War of the Worlds by H G Wells. However, the ideas in it have drifted out into pop culture and I suspect influence my following improbabillity. Certainly the idea of canals on Mars does.
Talking about canals on Mars (those lines seen through telescopes here on Earth). What if the early human astronomers did see canals?
Initially, Martians pretty much ignored humans. What we did on Earth hardly mattered to them. We were planet-bound. But as we built rockets and started prying into space, our near neighbours had to think again. And what they thought was -- "Neighbours from hell. Let's draw the curtains."
So when the robots were sent to Mars to check out the "uninhabited" planet, the Martians were ready. They intercepted the devices and replaced the reality of what the robots encountered with feedback mimicking a dead planet. The virtual reality being fed to the watching scientists back on Earth is of a planet not worth venturing to. If we try to do so in person, then the Martians will have to do more than draw a curtain.