A Clarke adaptation with sympathy for the devil
UK Broadcast TBC
US Broadcast Syfy, finished
Episodes Reviewed 1.01- 1.03
Childhood’s End has been chained up in development hell for decades. Arthur C Clarke’s classic alien invasion novel has long been considered for adaptation, but its complex story, vast scale and sprawling cast were surely a stumbling block. Well now they’ve only gone and done it ( they being US Syfy, Life On Mars co- creator Matthew Graham and movie producer Akiva Goldsman) and it’s not half- bad.
We begin with a whacking great spaceship turning up and hovering over the Earth. The twist here is that the Overlords, as they are quickly dubbed, appear to come in peace. They end poverty, hunger and crime, and soon humanity is prospering under the benevolent gaze of Supervisor for Earth, Karellen – a gravelly- voiced, initially unseen Charles Dance.
Dance carries the weight of his many villainous roles here. When Karellen is revealed to look like the devil, it’s a powerful moment but not a huge surprise – you anticipate him being evil. And yet, as the story progresses, your sympathies increasingly lie with him. The Overlords are clearly up to something dodgy ( and the story has a famously bleak ending) but the alternatives embodied by Colm Meaney’s newspaper editor Wainwright are nihilistic and reactionary. Dance is the most interesting thing here and symbolic of the show’s strengths.
There are grumbles. One major character is written out off screen – if you’re not paying attention to a background newscast you’ll have no idea where he’s gone! Pacing is also an issue. At 90 minutes each, the three episodes feel padded, despite the scope of the story. Perhaps that would have been less noticeable if it had been split into six shorter chapters. Clarke diehards will also no doubt find some of the alterations to the source material a little egregious – Ricky Stormgren is now an all- American everyman, rather than the Secretary General of the UN, for instance.
It’s a brave and satisfying attempt, though, to capture the spirit of the novel in all its epic, terrifying glory. That it mostly succeeds is quite the feat. More like this, please, Syfy. Will Salmon
Watching the skies a bit too literally.