By Sarah Luger
I wasn’t sure what to expect going in to Childhood’s End, a three-part miniseries produced by Syfy and airing on Showcase based on Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 novel of the same name. I had not read the novel, nor even seen a synopsis of the series beforehand, so I went in with fresh eyes.
The series is about the arrival of an alien species on modern-day Earth in what appears to be a peaceful invasion that primarily involves indirectly making the world a better place. The original novel is considered to be hugely influential on the science fiction genre and inspired many similar stories, so if the plot sounds familiar, that’s likely why.
Overall, the look and feel of the show works. The cinematography is lovely, the practical and CGI effects are solid, and the design of the aliens, known as the Overlords, and their ships fit in quite well. The plot is gripping and takes place on an epic scale, not an easy feat to accomplish. The show also succeeds in keeping its mysteries – who the Overlords are, what they look like, what they are capable of and what their goal is remain important and gripping questions throughout.
Unfortunately, the side characters seem far more interesting than the protagonist. In the first episode, we only catch glimpses into the lives of child-genius Milo (Osy Ikhile) and religious extremist Peretta (Yael Stone). Our main character is Ricky Stormgren (Mike Vogel), a hard-working and well-respected everyman. The Overlord Karellen (Game of Thorones’ Charles Dance), known as the Supervisor of Earth, chooses Ricky to be the intermediary between the humans and aliens. Ricky is a plain character whose defining features are conflict-resolution skills and a tragic backstory involving a dead wife, which haunts his and his current fiancé’s lives.
This aspect of his history seems minor, however every time Ricky is ushered away to speak with Karellen one-on-one, he is somehow brought to the hotel room where he created meaningful memories with his late wife. The Overlords, however, refuse to be seen by humans for now, so these scenes involve Vogel pacing around an empty hotel room frantically while speaking with Dance’s disembodied voice. Dance has turned down the intensity compared to his role as Tywin Lannister, yet he is the truly gripping driving force in those scene.
The show has obviously taken some creative liberties compared to the novel, as both the time frame and the original reason for the Overlords’ arrival are no longer relevant. One of these liberties is the Overlords’ powers; at the beginning of the series, Karellen communicates with Earth by speaking to individuals through mirages of deceased loved ones. They can also seemingly tear apart houses and put them back together, cure diseases, create hotel rooms out of nothingness, and apparently make said hotel rooms appear anywhere so as to save the protagonist from a scrape. There don’t seem to be any rules or general cohesion to their powers, which makes it difficult to believe that they would just sit back and let humanity figure some stuff out on their own.
While the series generally does well in capturing the wider sense of scale, some aspects of the world-building fall short. Some of the scenes involving planning humanitarian aid come across as cartoonish, and we continuously encounter a lack of concrete leadership. While this serves to demonstrate Earth’s leaders’ sense of upheaval and confusion, it’s hard to imagine a lack of a larger security detail to guard Ricky once he becomes a person of interest, a council to help guide him, or a PR team that could buy him a badly-needed suit and tie. In the original novel, Karellen’s Chosen One is the UN Secretary-General, and while this version of Ricky is more relatable for viewers, the decision makes little sense within the universe.
While I had many gripes with some of the episode’s more minor details, the show kept me on the edge of my seat, and always wondering what would come next. Throughout it all, the plot-line remains an interesting one, and the first episode ended with a big reveal and huge cliffhanger.
You can catch the remaining episodes of Childhood’s End on Showcase at 8:00pm on Tuesday and Wednesday night.