Child­hood’s End

A Clarke adap­ta­tion with sym­pa­thy for the devil

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Viewscreen -

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.

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