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Big “event” telly doesn’t come much bigger than this – a tale of the evolution of humanity, sprawling across decades, from the pen of legendary sci fi author Arthur C. Clarke. But was it truly out of this world?
In a nutshell
Another alien invasion show? Really? Well yes and no. Childhood’s End may have begun in majestic-if-generic fashion, with vast spaceships arriving in the skies, in the time-honoured and slightly tedious manner of alien invasion stories, but things swiftly took an unexpected turn. These aliens really DID come in peace, offering to steer humanity towards a utopian future – but rather worryingly refusing to show their faces. So far, so intriguing, and indeed the original Arthur C. Clarke tale is justifiably held up as a classic of science fiction.
Trouble is, this being a big glossy US drama, the writers made concessions to mass audiences. So the hard sci-fi stuff was watered down with “human interest” stories that showed a depressing lack of imagination. Especially when it came to our hero, a folksy farmer chosen as a conduit by the aliens, who had a standard issue back story and was only about a fraction as fascinating as the whole “utopia becomes real” stuff. Still, at least this feature-length episode did tackle some of the big questions from the novel, and we also had a winning turn from Charles Dance, whose ominous charm was put to marvellous use in the role of the main alien.
What's the verdict?
While some purists may quibble with this mainstream take on a beloved classic, Childhood’s End is still a big, fat, ambitious slice of sci-fi, whose central message – what price utopia? – is one that’ll have viewers thinking and debating. Which is more than can be said for Falling Skies, eh?