The Team Behind Syfy's Childhood's End Talks Clarke and Controversy

Illustration for article titled The Team Behind Syfy's Childhood's End Talks Clarke and Controversy

In December, Syfy will broadcast a three-part adaptation of Childhood’s End, the Arthur C. Clarke novel about aliens that come to Earth and correct all of humanity’s mistakes, resulting in a utopian world in which nobody wants for anything ... and curiosity and creativity have all but disappeared.


Taking great care to avoid any plot spoilers, Childhood’s End scriptwriter Matthew Graham (Life on Mars), director Nick Hurran (Doctor Who, Sherlock), and actor Julian McMahon (he’ll play Dr. Rupert Boyce in the series) sat down with us at Comic-Con to discuss the project. The interview came a few hours after the Childhood’s End panel, at which nearly every question posed by an audience member was accompanied by a declaration of love for Clarke’s book.

That’s a lot of pressure, but the trio (who professed their own deep love of science fiction; McMahon estimated he saw Star Wars eight times the week it came out) seemed confident that their take on the story (Graham calls it staying true to “the Arthur of it all”) would satisfy even diehards: “I felt confident that I could look the fans of the book in the eye today, so I hope that’s a good sign!”

Childhood’s End is coming to Syfy 62 years after Clarke’s book was published, but not for lack of trying by filmmakers (Stanley Kubrick was one, before he made 2001: A Space Odyssey instead). What was it about Hurran and Graham’s take that finally got it made? Hurran traces it back to the source material (“The anxieties we have now are very similar to the anxieties back then”), and Graham agrees:

It’s a book of ideas, and it’s not hide-bound by events. Global events, political events. And the ideas are timeless: mortality, morality, destiny, responsibilty for our happiness ... someone could make it again in another 60 years, and it would be just as reflective of that time.

Based on what we know about the miniseries, one of the biggest changes in Graham’s script is to make central character Rikki Stormgren (“Ricky” in the series), the human chosen as a go-between by the “Overlords,” a farmer rather than a government official. (Mike Vogel of Under the Dome plays him, with Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance as alien leader Karellen.) Graham explains:

The book was written at a time when we just assumed politicians were the best of us, and I don’t think we feel like that anymore ... making Rikki the head of the United Nations, it’s almost not realistic or credible ... I think it’s better that [Karellen] picks a farm boy to be his emissary, rather than picking the person you would automatically assume it to be. It just felt very natural, and even Rikki doesn’t know why he’s picked. It’s almost unknowable, the reasons why he’s chosen.


And hold on for the second night, because Graham says it’ll be the most controversial of the episodes, due to its themes of faith and religion:

After world peace comes changing the way we think, not putting our faith in things that we can’t see and have no proof for. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m not anti-religious faith, but I’m interested in the idea of powerful beings ... allowing us to work it out for ourselves. We don’t need to put our faith an afterlife, we can try and create a heaven on Earth while we live there. And how that makes people of faith feel.


Watch our whole interview with the Childhood’s End creators below:



But why not an older farmer? Did they just choose Mike Vogel because they need a sexy, young lead in the role?

Because it seems that way.