Thursday, November 13, 2008 by

A drama that starts from the standpoint God and Satan exist is almost high concept for television.

But that’s not the main reason the BBC has become increasingly nervy about Apparitions . The Corporation is currently more scrutinised than ever, while the media at large seems likely to react with histrionics to any of the topics the series puts on the table: the Catholic Church and it’s place in society, homosexuality in the priesthood, exorcism in modern day Britain, the potential abuse of a vulnerable child… Gulp! There’s a strong argument for claiming the time is just plain wrong for this show – but that’s really why I like it.

Falls the shadow

Falls the shadow

Tears for fears

Tears for fears

Right from the off this is a portentous drama, sombre but sincere. The titles feature religious iconography set against time elapse footage of – well – life going on. The Church casts a shadow over all of us. Somehow, there’s something almost 1980s about this. It has the same sense of self-importance as Edge of Darkness, and grasps for gravitas wherever possible. And yet, on paper it looks utterly bonkers.

Martin Shaw – with sonorous voice and beatific smile – is Father Jacob, next in line, it seems, to become the Catholic Church’s exorcist-in-chief. Satan and his cohorts aren’t happy, and while a little girl drops in to tell Jacob her dad’s possessed, demons are creeping out of the woodwork with the revelation that they, not Mother Theresa, miraculously cured protege Vimal’s (Elyes Gabel) leprosy 11 years previously. Yet, on screen, all seems frighteningly plausible.

That beatific smile

That beatific smile

"I need to see her!"

"I need to see her!"

Jacob is a grinning incongruity, stalking through a lighting appliance shop, trying to sell the olde worlde concept of exorcism to Liam (Shaun Dooley). “Just a couple of prayers, that’s all,” he buttercoats, standing unnaturally close to his quarry. The possessed dad responds as we probably all would; a mixture of incredulity, humour, and anger. And then, later, Liam’s malaise is treated as an addiction. “I need to see [my daughter]!” he pleads. “Not until you’re clean” is the response. Throughout, Jacob is unwavering, the laying on of hands is the only solution. And I don’t know about you, but I found that single-mindedness slightly unnerving.

Deep waters then. But do they hold perils for Apparitions? Possibly. I’m still not fully reconciled with Vimal’s story which seemed to depict him swapping one ‘disease’ (leprosy) for another (homosexuality). Urged on by a demon to “use the skin I gave you – love thy neighbour as thyself”, it’s hard not to conclude this nascent priest lost his life because he gave in to his sexual urges. What to make of that? I’m not really sure.

But this is an unusually rich show that touches upon dozens of topics (the Vatican baptising the dying, no matter what their religion was one I found particularly interesting).

It should also be noted that unless my memory is playing tricks on me, this episode received a couple of trims between its screening to the press at the start of October and its transmission. The scene with Liam hurling insults at a football match on TV (“Don’t use that language in front of a child” – er, what language?) and the final reveal of Vimal’s skinned corpse, both – I’m pretty sure – toned down for TX. Perhaps, when it comes to it, no-one really knows what to make of this unusually fecund offering. But, as the weeks continue, with episodes lined up about abortion and the fall of the Pope, you can be assured it’ll send demons screaming out of the television screen. Don’t worry. Exorcise is good for the soul.


3 Responses to “Apparitions”

  1. Chris on November 17th, 2008 3:10 pm

    I didn’t see it but isn’t it just Ahearne redoing his Ultraviolet, only with gods & demons instead of vampires?

  2. Richie J Haworth on November 17th, 2008 3:30 pm

    I didn’t expect to like it, after being somewhat underwhelmed by Bonekickers, and believing this would be in the same vein. However, I quite enjoyed it and am looking forward to part 2. Its nice to have supernatural/fantasy based TV quite well represented on TV at last!

  3. survyvr on November 19th, 2008 2:29 am

    Well “Hell”….
    What a legacy this series has to meet & scale!
    Rosemary’s Baby to The Exorcist, with a heaping helping o’ Revelations onward(up/downward?)….
    Sombre, stoic, matter-o’-fact and quite creepy.
    Well cast, written, produced…., damn, what is TV coming to these days?
    Regardless if you buy into the “Dogma”, or not, a well crafted, executed, and decidedly non-hokey, serious tale that is well presented, and opening a slot in a genre not well exploited as of late.
    Looking forward to more, and wishing the production folks the best! – s