Osy Ikhile as Milo Rodricks in Childhood’s End. The miniseries is based on a classic science-fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke. Syfy Narelle Portanier
Osy Ikhile as Milo Rodricks in Childhood’s End. The miniseries is based on a classic science-fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke. Syfy Narelle Portanier

TV

After six decades, ‘Childhood’s End’ comes to TV on Syfy

By David Martindale

Special to the Star-Telegram

December 11, 2015 12:07 PM

Some things are worth the wait.

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, an epic science-fiction novel chronicling a sinisterly benign alien invasion, is one of them.

For decades, admirers have wanted to turn the 1953 literary classic into a movie or TV miniseries. One such filmmaker was the great Stanley Kubrick, who ultimately collaborated with Clarke to make 2001: A Space Odyssey instead.

But finally, more than 60 years after publication, Childhood’s End has been adapted for the screen.

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The three-night, six-hour miniseries premieres at 7 p.m. Monday on Syfy (with Parts 2 and 3 airing at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday).

It’s not a thrills-and-spills story fueled by action sequences. It needs time. And television wasn’t an option in the ’60s and ’70s.

Matthew Graham, writer and executive producer

Childhood’s End tells the story of mysterious alien visitors, so-called Overlords, who create a “Golden Age of Man” by eliminating all war, disease and poverty on Earth. But in accepting this gift, is the human race making a deal with the devil?

Decades will pass before the Overlords’ big-picture plans for Earth and its people become alarmingly clear. Consider it a case of something NOT being worth the wait.

Why the lengthy book-to-TV gestation period for this acclaimed work?

“I think it’s mostly due to the fact that people approached it as a movie project, only to find that the book was too big to cram everything into just two hours,” says Matthew Graham, writer and executive producer of the miniseries. “Childhood’s End has an epic quality. It’s very character- and idea-driven.

“It’s not a thrills-and-spills story fueled by action sequences. It needs time. And television wasn’t an option in the ’60s and ’70s. Television wasn’t doing this kind of drama then. But now we’re in an age where television audiences want to invest their time and attention to character-driven drama.”

Remarkably, and perhaps unfortunately, the themes in Clarke’s novel are still relevant.

Graham, creator of Life on Mars, counts the ways: “We’re hanging off the edge of a cold war with Russia, just as they were in the early 1950s. We’re staggering out of wars and terrified of a global apocalypse, just as they were in the 1950s. We’re in an age of austerity, just as they were in the 1950s.

“Not one of the troubles of the world described in the book seems archaic today — and we’re still desperately looking for a fixer.”

I love a premise that allows you to pose big ideas, maybe even dress them up as something else, and to start a conversation

Mike Vogel, star of ‘Childhood’s End’

Mike Vogel, one of the stars of the miniseries, just ended a three-season run in Stephen King’s Under the Dome. He’s carving a niche for himself in the genre, even though he’s reluctant to characterize himself as a sci-fi fan. So what attracts him to sci-fi properties such as these?

“For me, it’s all about good stories,” he says. “I love a premise that allows you to pose big ideas, maybe even dress them up as something else, and to start a conversation. I love a premise that gives you permission to dream big, where a more grounded story relative to our everyday lives wouldn’t give you as much freedom. That’s the aspect of sci-fi that I’m drawn to.”

Vogel plays Ricky Stormgren, a Midwestern farmer plucked out of obscurity by Karellen, the Overlords’ “supervisor for Earth,” to serve as his middleman when negotiating with the people of Earth.

“It’s not really a spoiler to say that it won’t end well for a lot of people,” Vogel says. “It is called Childhood’s End, after all.”

At a time when everything you see on TV is Santa Claus and Jingle Bells and nativity scenes, it’s fun to have a little something different stuck in the middle

Mike Vogel, star of ‘Childhood’s End’

The miniseries is also a masterstroke of mid-December counterprogramming by Syfy.

“At a time when everything you see on TV is Santa Claus and Jingle Bells and Nativity scenes, it’s fun to have a little something different stuck in the middle,” Vogel says.

Think of it as an oasis to keep you from getting a serious case of holiday fatigue.

Childhood’s End

▪ 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday

▪ Syfy