Adapting one of the masterworks of science fiction would be a tough task for anyone, which is why we applaud Syfy for continuing to tackle more ambitious fare in a new kind of business model that is far removed from their previous penchant of more Sharknado-esque schlock. But is their take on Arthur C Clarke’s Childhood’s End – helmed by Life On Mars’ Matthew Graham – actually any good?
Happily, the answer is yes. While it’s not a word-for-word adaptation of the sci-fi classic, the different directions it goes in are satisfying enough, retaining the book’s interrogation of free will versus safety while at the same time remaining independent of it. Dealing with the presence of an omniscient, omnipotent, extraterrestrial deity isn’t exactly a special event when it comes to TV. Nonetheless, this take on the story manages to sell it as such, doing a great job of aping the book’s grandiose tone.
Indeed, over the course of the three-episode miniseries we are privy to varying points of view: there’s Ricky Stormgren (Mike Vogel), a farmer who is handpicked as the voice of alien representative Karellen (Charles Dance); Milo (Osy Ikhile), a paraplegic youth who is cured by Earth’s new overseers, and Ellie (Daisy Betts), Peter’s wife who isn’t so taken in by the newcomers.
Needless to say, the world today is a far more cynical place than what it was when the book was written, but ultimately this doesn’t matter, with Graham dealing with the challenges created by the change in time and place with grace and efficiency.
Life-affirming event TV of this kind is becoming rarer and rarer, which makes Childhood’s End all the more special. Almost a sci-fi War And Peace, it bears all the hallmarks of a creator completely at ease with the challenge ahead of him, determined to deliver his specific vision. It’s not always easy to latch onto, such is the spiralling nature of the plot, but it’s definitely worth investing the extra effort to keep track of.
Could this herald the dawn of a welcome new age of high-end TV series for Syfy? Let us hope so.