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Childhood's End - Night One: Overlords - Review: "First Contact"

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Childhood's End Miniseries Episode Guide
1.01 - Night One - Overlords - Review
1.02 - Night Two - The Decievers - Coming December 15
1.03 - Night Three - The Children - Coming December 16

Night One: Overlords
Directed by Nick Hurran & Written by Matthew Graham

I'm a massive fan of the science fiction genre, and I'll watch pretty much any new show that's connected to it. There's a whole host of great television shows out there that I've discovered as a result that are either part (Person of Interest) or full sci-fi The 100) and one Channel that has been surprisingly lacking in recent years in terms of science fiction content has been SyFy, which is in fact the home of my favourite television series, Battlestar Galactica. Over this year however, we've seen a resurgence in shows in the genre from the network, with both Dark Matter and Killjoys being fun and light entertainment. And now we get a double helping of Childhood's End and The Expanse, which are both decent shows, or at least, from what we've seen of them so far. Childhood's End borrows from its source material, Arthur C. Clarke's novel, which sadly, I haven't quite had the chance to read yet so I went in blind. So before I start the review itself I'd like to ask any readers of this review who have read the novel to keep quiet about what's in store for the rest of us until the show's finished its run of the three episodes.

Childhood's End brings a decent cast to the table. The biggest name is Charles Dance, who is joined by Hell on Wheels' Colm Meaney as Karellen and Wainwright respectively. Mike Vogel (Under the Dome), Daisy Betts, Osy Ikhile and several other actors make up the ensemble cast, and it'll be interesting to see how their characters progress over the course of the three episode miniseries. The characters so far are handled well (for the most part) and the show itself gets off to an okay start. It appears Childhood's End is following the Ascension format by airing the episodes close together on the following night rather than on a weekly basis, which allows audiences to not necessarily wait as long as they would have to otherwise. And it works, because based on the cliffhanger at the end of this episode and the intriguing premise, Childhood's End will no doubt take an interesting turn when we return tonight for more.

The show itself takes a strong premise and builds on it well, effectively establishing the characters and how the world is changed by the arrival of aliens who on the surface, appear to be good and peaceful. They're not Cylons, Daleks or Cybermen. They want to seemingly save humanity, curing it of poverty, war and making it a general solid, stable environment for everyone to live in. The catch? Humanity will lose its culture, its uniqueness and any prospect of innovation. A small price to pay for world peace, right? Well, I know a bit about the original novel and I'm sure that fans will as well know that there's something more sinister going on behind the scenes, which was hinted at the end of the episode. That was a pretty big reveal and a very early gamechanger, with Karellen broadcast to the world in the guise of what most people believe to resemble a demonic appearance. Everything over the course of the pilot was building up to this moment and it left a strong impact, leaving the audience hooked for more. The consequences from this reveal are no doubt going to be dealt with the next episode and no doubt we'll be getting plenty of different and potentially hostile reactions from different quarters of humanity.

The mystery itself that kicks of Childhood's End gives us a hint that things don't exactly look great for the prospect of humanity's survival with a flash-forward to the future where the mystery reveals that Milo Rodricks (Ikhile) is the last man on Earth. We sort of know that we're not going to get a happy ending out of this one, but the fun will be in experiencing how we get there. What could have happened to humanity? Why was the astrophysicist spared and apparently, nobody else? Time will tell, but for now, we're straight into 2016, looking at the man who was chosen to be the mouthpiece for the aliens, a prophet, if you will. He's a smooth-talking farmer from Missouri named Ricky Stormgren, (Vogel) and is for all intentions and purposes, our main character. He makes for an interesting choice for the Overlords as an outsider from politics, but I probably would have gone with someone with more experience in the field myself, if I were a group of mysterious aliens looking for a mouthpiece to talk to another species. However, luckily for the Overlords, he seems charismatic enough to do what needs to be done.

There's plenty for Vogel to do here in the lead role as Ricky though. He feels very much like the down to Earth, everyman, and the script fleshes out his character very well. In the hands of the wrong actor it could have backfired horribly, but thankfully, Vogel is good enough to do the job. His long conversations with Charles Dance's Karellen make for interesting viewing as well, as Dance's commanding voice leaves a distinctive impression on the audience.

The first episode is pretty heavily packed with plenty of drama and depth and as a result there's a lot that the show has to deal with. It takes a slow burn approach and handles it well for the most part, it may not be the most gripping start to a series, but you kind of get the feeling that over the next two episodes, there'll be plenty more in store. The thing that makes this show so different from other typical alien invasion series & movies is that it's not a straightforward Independence Day barrage of mass destruction. In fact, there's hardly any violence happening at all in the pilot, which is rare in most series, not just science fiction. And the best thing about this is that it manages to remain interesting at the same time, not feeling boring. There are plenty of moving stories here as it starts off on a strong foot.

There are a few character arcs that don't quite work out as well as others however, with the reliance on archetypes and stereotypes not quite working to its effect. Milo seems to be a fairly relatable character and a grounded, central character at the heart of one of the series' many plotlines. One of the benefits of having such a wide ensemble cast is all the different perspectives and reactions that the show is able to get out of the moments like these, as we're watching everyday, helpless people have their lives changed by this significant upheaval that has affected their lives, and with plenty of time left to explore what happens to them next, it should be interesting to see where we go from here.

The show itself may have used a fairly basic story for most of the episode but the intriguing end twist makes for a solid end to the first night of episodes that we'll get over the remainder of the week. It's certainly started off on a promising note despite its flaws, and it'll be interesting to see what Childhood's End has in store for us with Night Two. Remember to leave your comments below, and let me know what you thought of Night One. Did you enjoy it? Are you familiar with the source material? If you are, how has it differed so far? (Keep this as spoiler-free for future episodes as possible, please!) And if you're not, are you going to go back and read the book at some point once this series is done? And also, one final question, will you be tuning in for Night Two? I don't know about you, but based on what I've seen so far, I certainly will be checking out more of what this show has to offer.

Overall Episode Verdict: B
+Alternative take on the alien invasion scenario.
+Plenty of familiar actors.
+Charles Dance!
-A few character arcs don't quite work out as well as they should.
-Ricky may not have been the best choice for the aliens to use as a mouthpiece, even if a reason may have been given.
-Ricky's home life is standard TV stuff that could have been cut out.

Look out for the next episode of Childhood's End tonight at 8pm on SyFy.

About the Author - Milo MJ
Milo is an Arsenal FC supporter and loves TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, Justified, The 100, The Americans and Person of Interest. He reviews Black Sails, Childhoods End, Hell on Wheels, The Knick, Manhattan, Murder in the First, Narcos and Veep for Spoiler TV as well as books, films and games for his own blog The Fictional Hangout and contributes to comic reviews on a weekly basis for All-Comic.
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