Childhood’s End (2015) (TV series review).

It was a toss-up between ‘Riverworld’ and ‘Childhood’s End’ to have a look at, and the latter won. I think I only saw a few snippets of this three-episode Australian-made 2015 mini-series a few years ago, and that was out of curiosity to see how actor Charles Dance looked as the alien Karellen. This time, the assessment was how close it would be to Arthur C. Clarke’s original 1954 novel. Naturally, we needed to incorporate updates for the modern era, and since this series takes place in 2016, it doesn’t reflect our current reality.

This time, Karellen chose Ricky Stormgren (actor Mike Vogel) to serve as the UN secretary, but it would have been interesting to see the blind lady from Seoul in the role. However, selecting a single representative, even in the original version, doesn’t truly represent the entirety of humanity, albeit it certainly minimizes disagreements.

The first part of the book, similar to the TV series, follows the pattern of the Overlords solving Man’s problems quickly, eliminating pollution, resolving diseases and wars, and creating a prosperous utopia without revealing themselves. The dissenters form an alliance, even going so far as to kidnap Stormgren in order to undermine their own cause. Karellen reveals himself in 16 years, rather than a few generations later.

The second part differs significantly from the novel. There is a lot of reference to certain creatures in our history, but there is also some look at how much of a utopia human society has become in only 35 years and people staying healthy longer. This likely avoids the issue of keeping the same cast members for several generations. Problematically, we don’t see Karellen or any of his people until the third part, which may have been costly due to the heavy makeup. Milo Rodericks (actor Osy Ikhile) pops up, seeing his scientific career going down the tubes simply because there is little scientific development needed or wanted when the Overlords do so much. However, his focus is on exploring the Overlords’ home planet, particularly as they are collecting wildlife samples for a sanctuary there. Indeed, the children are undergoing transformations, demonstrating telekinesis and telepathy among themselves.

In the third and final part, there is far more focus on Stormgren’s unnamed illness than on Roderick’s plans to visit the Overlords homeworld. I did wonder for a time whether they were going to do it at all, simply because of budget restrictions. Even Karellen’s appearances were minimal and often dark, which is a shame because it’s a beautiful make-up job. Digital capture was around in 2017, but was rarely used on TV. I do think Clarke’s way of hiding Rodericks was better in the book than the TV version. I mean, were the Overlords really that bad at keeping track of the items they were taking home? The same also applies to the children at the end. The book depicted a sea of children, while in the TV series, Jennifer found herself amidst a whirlwind.

The extras focus on deleted scenes, although many of the 40, spread over the 3 DVDs at 75 minutes, are extended longer than used. Several of these deleted scenes are highly revealing about the plot, suggesting that Karellen was concealing something from the beginning, such as stopping space travel. However, I’m not sure how we could have achieved faster-than-light travel. You would have thought there might have been some attempt to preserve mankind rather than face extinction. They filled in some gaps, making it worth your time to watch these extras.

I was expecting to see whether there was a transition from the pod to the hotel room on Karellen’s mothership, even if it was only a doorway. It does seem like an odd choice, considering it was merely a room in the original book. It’s not as though Karellen’s people lack access to psychological equipment, let alone the ability to administer mind control, following the original communication with various people across the world.

A lot of the structure from the novel is there, often shortened. Instead of focusing on the Overlord’s actions, we observe their effects, giving the impression of magic. This is a common idiom used by Clarke to describe anything superior. Nothing can be perfect, which leads to utopia. It also tends to undervalue the Overlords, suggesting that their hidden plan was for the right purpose, but it would have appeared insidious to the rebels, who by then had either died or accepted their fate. Surely it would have made more sense to explain exactly what is happening to human children, who were effectively joining a god-like force, rather than just telling mankind they were dying out. There are no other options. It isn’t like the Overlords space fleet couldn’t have found somewhere else for humans to colonize.

Should we remake ‘Childhood’s End’ as a TV series or film? ‘Childhood’s End’ is certainly open to multiple adaptations and could span a longer period than 40 years. When adapting a science fiction novel to film or TV, particularly one set in a specific era, it often undergoes modifications and elicits varying opinions about its suitability, given the constraints of effects, budget, and permission. In many ways, there’s a compelling case for choosing lesser-known novels, even within the Science Fiction community, where there may be fewer expectations. It isn’t like there aren’t enough novels to pick from.

GF Willmetts

May 2024

(pub: Universal, 2018. 3 DVDs 3 * 75 minute episodes with extras. Price: varies. ASIN: 830-717-1)

cast: Mike Vogel, Daisy Betts, Osy Ikhile, Julian McMahon, Charles Dance and many more

check out website: www.universapictures.co.uk


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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