The Second Coming Review
Steve Baxter (Christopher Eccleston) is an ordinary guy with a job in a video shop in Manchester. Then something happens. Missing for forty days, he’s found wandering in the wilderness (well, Saddleworth Moor) and claiming to be the Son of God. He can even perform the miracles to prove it, turning night into day over Maine Road stadium. As the media goes into a worldwide frenzy, Steve tells the world that there will be a Third Testament written by them, or they will face Judgement Day…
Following the Queer as Folk serials and Bob & Rose, The Second Coming was the third of the one-two-three punch which converted Russell T. Davies from a jobbing scriptwriter to one of the two leading younger TV writers in Britain. (The other one being Paul Abbott; “younger” in this context means early forties.) In a recent BBC4 profile of Davies, Mark Lawson made the point that Davies is of the first generation to grow up with TV as an large and integral part of their lives. Also, TV drama at its best – from the BBC’s Wednesday Play in the 60s to Play for Today in the 70s, and their ITV equivalents – is designed to provoke, to stir up debate. And The Second Coming is nothing if not provocative…and it went out over two nights at prime time on ITV and (as far as I’m aware) no-one complained! No doubt The Second Coming was lucky in its timing. After the furore over the BBC’s showing of Jerry Springer: The Opera, you can imagine that TV companies would be much more nervous of commissioning material that could offend Christians. And that would be a pity, as The Second Coming is Davies’s best work to date.
Davies doesn’t take the easy way out. There’s no doubt that Steve is the Son of God, and we see him perform miracles. Davies is an atheist, which does reflect on the nature of the Third Testament (which I won’t spoil for you, though thematically the serial is similar to Philip Pullman’s novel His Dark Materials, soon to be filmed). However, there’s no easy mockery of Steve Baxter. It’s a tribute to Davies’s writing that you do believe a premise that’s unlikely (or not, depending on your religious beliefs) and that the world may be about to end. At four and a half hours each, Queer as Folk and Bob and Rose are both flawed by overlength, by Davies’s own admission, both containing mid-sections which are bigger on character-layering rather than plot momentum. The Second Coming is two hours shorter (with commercials, it was transmitted as two ninety-minute episodes) and the pace doesn’t let up, driven along by Adrian Shergold’s direction and Murray Gold’s propulsive music score.
When this was made, Christopher Eccleston (who incidentally had been considered for the role of Stuart in Queer as Folk) had a strong reputation as an actor, though one specialising in overtly serious, if not dour, roles. In The Second Coming, he does get to show a lighter side that he’s used to good effect in Doctor Who. Having said that, there’s plenty of steel in Steve Baxter, no-hoper become the new Messiah. Lesley Sharp, fresh from playing Rose in Bob & Rose, is every bit as good in a less showy, but just as important, role. Judith is actually the moral centre on which the entire serial turns. There’s a very strong supporting cast, including some Davies regulars in one-scene roles and some amusing appearances as themselves from Carol Barnes, Germaine Greer, Jon Snow, Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Richard and Judy.
Being a recent TV programme, The Second Coming is presented, as you might expect, in a ratio of 16:9, anamorphically enhanced. It generally looks very good, the transfer coping well with both brightly lit and darker scenes, though there is some artefacting in the latter. Colours are solid, though deliberately not over-bright, and shadow detail is fine.
The soundtrack is, as broadcast, Dolby Digital 2.0. But change the setting on your sound system to “analogue” (Prologic) and this track really comes alive, with quite a lot of surround usage. As I say above, this soundtrack plays a large part in driving the story forward. There are nine chapter stops (four in Part One, five in Part Two). As with Bob & Rose, though unusually for a Carlton DVD, the disc is encoded for all regions rather than just Region 2. It’s also worth mentioning – Davies does, at one point in the commentary – that at least one music track on the DVD is not as broadcast, due to music rights.
The extras begin with a commentary. Davies’s commentaries, done in collaboration with at least one other person, have been good value. (This makes the apparent absence of one, let alone of any extras at all, on the Casanova DVD all the more regrettable.) This time he’s paired with director Adrian Shergold. It’s the usual entertaining listen, with both men packing in quite a lot of information in the two and a quarter hours, though Davies’s occasional luvvyishness may annoy some people.
“Deleted Scenes” and “Out-Takes” are separately listed on the menu, though by selecting the former you get to play the latter as well, 33:23 and 4:07 respectively. They are in non-anamorphic 16:9 with timecodes appearing in the black bars. It’s a pity that we don’t get a commentary by Davies and/or Shergold on these, similar to the one that Davies and executive producer Nicola Shindler gave on Queer as Folk. Look out for an appearance from Bernard Manning.
With The Second Coming, Russell T. Davies hit a peak he hasn’t reached since, artistically if not commercially. It’s one of the best British TV dramas of the last few years, on a nice DVD that can quite easily be picked up for under ten pounds.