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The Second Coming
ITV 2003

With hindsight The Second Coming has taken on the mantle of being something of a rehearsal for the succesful relaunch of Doctor Who in 2005. After all it had not only the same writer, Russell T Davies, but also lead actor, Christoper Eccleston, playing an equally unearthly character (the Son of God no less), and there is something in Eccleston's performance that resonates with his incarnation of the Timelord. But the series also stands tall on its own merits tackling some difficult issues in a bold manner and when you consider this production was commissioned by the home of cosy drama (ITV) then you have to admire their taking a big chance to produce and screen such a potentially provocative programme.

The website for production company Red Productions sums up the plotline succinctly: "Christopher Eccleston plays Steve Baxter, a video shop worker, who is found wandering the Yorkshire Moors after 40 days and nights, mumbling he is the Son of God.
Steve isn't mad - he is the Second Coming. He needs to stage a major event to get the world to sit up and take notice, so he performs a miracle by turning night into day at Manchester City football ground.

The world's media kicks into a frenzy. Steve has a simple purpose - Mankind must produce a Third Testament or face Judgement Day, in five days time. Fear, cynicism and violence erupt and worldwide pandemonium ensues. But if God is real then so is the Devil. Can the Third Testament be found in time? Can the Son of God save the human race?"

Lead actors Eccleston and Lesley Sharp are, to coin a later Eccleston catchphrase, fantastic! Support roles are equally well essayed with plaudits to Mark Benton in an against type role as the malevolent Johnny Tyler (a surname Davies has used many times in the past and would recycle once more for the Tenth Doctor's assistant), Rory Kinnear (son of Roy) as Father Dillane and perhaps a career best performance by Peter Armitage as the tormented Frank Baxter, the earthly father of the Son of God. Director Adrian Shergold, a veteran of such series as An Inspector Morse, Micawber and A Touch Of Frost, handles the production well with a glossless and and underplayed tone which gives the story a realism and ordinariness that counterpoints the hign concepts ideas.

Davies had iniatially been commissioned by Channel Four in 1999 as four one-hour episodes. However, a the set of newly appointed Head of Drama at the company decided not to continue with the project. Davies then approached the BBC who very quickly passed on the offer in only two days. With little hope of a commission the project was then shown to ITV. To Davies' surprise and delight, and his production company Red Productions, the channel greenlighted the scripts almost immediately after Red Productions manager Nicola Shindler had submitted the project to the company. However, ITV wanted to reduce the running time from four hours to three hours, which forced Davies to rewrite the script though he later admitted that this did reduce of padding.

Filming commenced in the Summer of 2002 and continued throughout June taking in locations in around Manchester including various areas of Salford and Moss Side. The Shrewsbury Hotel pub in Moss Side was utilised as the public house that appears in the series and the football stadium that appears in the scenes involving the first miracle was indeed Maine Road.

The finished production was hailed as an overwhelming success by both critics and audiences alike though by this time Davies had moved back to the BBC and was busy working on Casanova, before embarking on a little something called Doctor Who. In retrospect what is most surprising about The Second Coming is that the expected storm of controversy predicted to occur after the screening never happened and production was even nominated in the year's BAFTAs, bestowing a stamp of approval from viewewrs and critics alike. What the programme did achieve was to slowly set in motion a second coming of a different kind, not only for the newly regenerated Doctor Who, but also for a new acceptability amongst TV broadcasters for home produced genre programming which is currently having a rebirth in the UK.

The Second Coming won the Broadcast Magazine Award for best 2003 Drama One-Off as well as the 2003 Royal Television Society award for Best Tape and Film Editing. Adrian Shergold was nominated by The Directors Guild of Great Britain for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Television Movie or Serial and in two major categories at the BAFTA Television Awards. Bill Nighy beat Christopher Eccleston in the Best Actor category, whilst the production itself was beaten by Charles II: The Power and the Passion in the Best Drama Serial category.

The dance band Orbital sampled a section of Ecclestons' possibly most Doctorish speech on the track You Lot featured on their final album, The Blue Album, in 2004. The sampled dialogue begins as follows: "You are becoming gods. There is a new master of creation—and it's you. You've unraveled DNA. You're five years away from building your own people, and at the same time you're cultivating bacteria strong enough to kill every living thing. Do you think you're ready for that much power?"

The programme was released on Region 2 DVD shortly after transmission by Carlton Visual Entertainment and featured an audio commentary by writer Russell T Davies and director Adrian Shergold recorded on January 17th 2003 and 37 minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes.

Characters
Portrayed By
Steven Baxter
Christopher Eccleston
Dave Morris
William Travis
Peter Gupta
Ahsen Bhatti
Judith Roach
Lesley Sharp
Fiona Morris
Annabelle Apsion
Clive Saxon
John Henshaw
Eileen Saxon
Judith Barker
Frank Baxter
Peter Armitage
Father Dillane
Rory Kinnear
Johnny Tyler
Mark Benton
Jane Morris
Jazmine Franks
Stan Lynch
Steve Money
Lee Lynch
Lee Seddon
Len Chadwick
Peter Wright
Alex Morris
Jack Watson
Rabbi Shorofski
Henry Margolis
PC Louise Fraser
Angel Coulby
Chief Constable Tanner
Tim Woodward
PC Simon Lincoln
Kenny Doughty
Rachel Craig
Denise Black
Mr Streeter
David Horovitch
PC Jackson
David Prosho

The programme was written by Russell T Davies, produced by Ann Harrison- Baxter and directed by Adrian Shergold. Music was composed by Murray Gold.

Text © Andrew Screen, 2004.
Episode One
TX : 9th February 2003

Publicity : Listen carefully and yuo can hear the sound of drawbridges being raised and hatches being battened down as ITV prepares itself for waves of flak from infuriated viewer, enraged at the central premise of this two-part drama from Russell T Davies (creator of Queer As Folk), which concludes tomorrow.

Christopher Eccleston is Steven Baxter, a video-shop worker from Salford who claims to be the Son of God. Initially at least, Steve is dismissed as a madman after he spends 40 days and nights on Saddleworth Moor, and is hospitalised. But as Steve lies in his hospital bed, with a beatific smile on his face, the Pope dies. A nervous Vatican sends an emissary to familiarise himself with Steve's background, and to report back.

Meanwhile Steve's tightly knit group of friends, who have known him since scholldays, are forced to confront the fact that Steve might actually be who he claims to be. Only one, Judith (Lesley Sharp), is highly sceptical.

But Steve is a compelling presence and a spellbinding orator. After an apparent miracle, the world - via all-powerful television - gets to hear his message, prompting some dark forces to marshal themselves in an effort to stop what looks as if it could be an unstoppable progress.

This is a dense and frequently difficult drama, but the real power of The Second Coming lies in its presentation of a fractured world, and a populace desperate for any message of hope for the future. It is also hard to shake off, and may leave you with the sort of nameless unease that is the aftermath of a disturing dream. (Radio Times article by Alison Graham, February 9th, 2003).

Synopsis :
What would you do if someone you knew claimed to be the Son of God? This is the problem facing a man's friends in the first of a two=part drama from Russell T Davies, starring Christopher Eccleston, his friends fear for his sanity - but a miracle makes the world pay attention.

Notes :
The episode was originally transmitted 9:00pm to 10:35pm on ITV 1.

Episode Two
TX : 10th February 2003

Publicity : Part two of this disturbing, but bold and imaginative, drama sees Steve Baxter (Christopher Eccleston) the self-professed Son of God, at the centre of world attention. Manchester is being described as "the new Mecca" as thousands of followers descend on it to await the publication of the Third Testament. Steve is holed up in a police station for his own protection, and the handful of friends he feels he can trust - including Judith (Lesley Sharp) - eventually joins him.

The world, it seems, has gone mad, with frenzied mobs baying for answers. Steve seems as baffled as everyone else, until he makes a powerful realisation that, when released to the world, galvanises those who believe in him - and those who wish him great harm.

The Second Coming will doubtless sharply divide viewers into those who think it's pretentious nonsense and those who see it as thoroughly innovative, particularly for a mainstream channel. To the more disinterested observer, it contains strong elements of both viewpoints - sometimes The Second Coming seems in love with its own daring. But the fact remains that, in a television drama landscape dominated by formulaic cop shows, this is something very different indeed. (Radio Times article by Alison Graham, February 10th, 2003).


Synopsis :
As panic and violence take hold, Judith alone holds the key to salvation.

Notes :
The episode was originally transmitted 9:00pm to 10:30pm on ITV 1.