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The Second Coming

01/04/2003. Contributed by Rod MacDonald

Buy The Second Coming in the USA - or Buy The Second Coming in the UK

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Rod looks at the controversial BBC TV drama that posits the question, what would the world do if the Son of God returned as a video store assistant in the North of England?

'The Second Coming' was more popular than 'Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me'. The figures are there for all to see! While the new two-part drama from Britain's ITV managed to pull in six million, the film on Channel 4 could only get half that number.

Given the substandard nature of the latter, this tells you a lot about nothing but it was refreshing to see a television company taking the chance to produce and broadcast something which would be condemned elsewhere in the world.

The Second ComingThough nowhere near as controversial as Martin Scorsese's ‘Last Temptation of Jesus Christ’, its religious nature would have caused its utter condemnation twenty years ago, mainly by people who felt obliged to do so through position in society, regardless of the fact that they'd never actually watched it.

Even today, there are places in the United States where this drama would be condemned as blasphemy and there are other places in the world where, if the Son of God referred to Allah, hundreds if not thousands would perish in brutal riots!

So whatever the opinion about the drama itself, even putting it on TV was a brave and resolute action, something which we may take for granted in this country. If ever there was a prime motivation to fight back against terrorism, maybe this is it. Where else in a world, restricted by fundamentalism, would this be allowed to occur?

This drama, which featured Christopher Eccleston as an ordinary Manchester lad who believes he's the Son of God, had a similar story line to the original Jesus in that he (and this disappointed the feminists looking for a she) came from an ordinary background and an ordinary job.

After spending forty days wandering around the Yorkshire moors, he returns confident in the fact that he is the Son of God and has a mission to perform here on earth. The precise nature of his mission is unclear. It is revealed to him within the progress of the play.

Unlike Jesus of Nazareth, Stephen Baxter - the new Messiah, takes his disciples from his own past and neighbourhood. Where Jesus may have had a problem with his own people who'd say, 'Him? The Son of God? Rubbish! I remember when he used to play with our kids and there was nothing godly about him then!', Stephen seems to have conquered the problem of familiarity.

His first miracle, which was announced on the Internet, was to fill Manchester City's football ground with a column of bright, white light, turning night into day. Impressive as this was, it's unlikely that this act alone would have had the worldwide effect it did.

It's a good enough but not an impossible miracle: the same effect could be produced by using a space mirror. However, comments such as, 'Why doesn't he feed the world's starving people?' were answered with the remark, 'We can do that ourselves without a miracle!' Very true!

The momentum continued throughout the first part of this drama. We were even introduced to devil creatures, including a fat pizza-eating guy and the chief of police. They were effective and menacing, especially the fat guy whose innocuous behaviour was transferred to something evil, just with a change of eyes and voice tone.

The problem comes when Stephen Baxter announces that he has five days to produce the 'Third Testament'. What this is, he doesn't know but thousands of people are busy trying to write it. Failure to produce this testament will result in the arrival of the Judgment Day and the end of the Earth.

The acceptance of his position as Son of God is rather incredible. Within a short space of time following the miracle, we see huge numbers of people hanging on his every word. Organised religions seem to agree that they are wrong and he is right.

Such a thing wouldn't happen: they've too much invested income and authority to be concerned with the truth! OK, we can have mass public hysteria as was witnessed in the week following Princess Diana's death but overall we are a more cynical bunch.

Politicians? Mention them and you get a metaphorical spit on the ground. Nobody really trusts them! They twist statistics and lie to your face, without ever answering the question you asked. Scientists? The general impression is that of a bunch of crazy buffoon boffins carried away with their research, divorced from reality and humanity.

Maybe they're right? After all, what have scientists ever done for us? Then we have the church which mainly bores everyone to tears. Half of them are perverts and the other half blather a load of irrelevant rubbish.

Finally, the capitalists from the multinationals, the fat cats who get golden handshakes even when making a mess of their company. They regard the rest of us as ants. We are there to be exploited or squashed. This then is the prevailing attitude of people in this country. How would they react to someone saying he was the Son of God?

Another miracle is performed when a bomb goes off in the pub in which Stephen Baxter and his disciples drink. The place is a wreck but nobody is injured! And so the first part is concluded only for us to avidly wait for the second part the following evening. It was a great disappointment.

This is a pity. Tension and excitement were built up to a high level but the Russell T Davies TV drama then appeared to be severely lacking in ideas. Having gone so far, having achieved the world, they didn't know what to do with it. They didn't know how to end the story! The second part of the drama, all ninety minutes of it, struggled to be relevant or entertaining.

Stephen Baxter's demise was a certainty from the start. We all knew he would end up being killed. Crucifixion at the hands of an angry mob? Made to do a bungee jump without the elastic - save yourself, Son of God? Battered to death by road-rage drivers?

None of this happened which was a shame. Armageddon and the four horses of the apocalypse would have been an exciting end, if a little beyond budget. (Incidentally, if the four horses come, put your money on famine - it's carrying less weight). No, what we got was a pathetic ending, a meal of pasta with rat poison and an overacted death which was recorded for all to witness.

With Stephen Baxter dead, God was dead too. Religions everywhere had no meaning and we were all responsible for ourselves. We all became better people: more caring, more generous, more selfless, more peaceful.

Thing is, do we have to go through all this to discover that God is dead?

Rod MacDonald

(c) Roderick MacDonald 2003 - opinions all rights reserved

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