Apparitions: Frighteningly Good

A new TV drama series materialises at 9pm tonight, without too much in the way of media fanfare. But perhaps that's for the best. Apparitions is the kind of thing that people will enjoy discovering. Unless, of course, they're sensitive types, in which case they'll probably be horrified and fire off scandalised e-tirades to The Daily Mail.

Back in August, you may recall I was impressed by Ben Stephenson's appearance on an Edinburgh TV Festival panel about risk in TV drama. Back then, the man who would shortly afterwards become Controller, Drama Commissioning, no doubt wished he had a promo-reel of Apparitions to show the assembled cynics, in order to stop their bleating about the Beeb playing everything safe. Because Apparitions is quite a remarkable thing for BBC One to air.

Don't worry, no spoilers, but let's just say that certain elements of Apparitions are not so much near the knuckle, as the knuckle itself, in yo' face. There are inevitably, for a series starring Martin Shaw as an exorcist, strong elements of The Exorcist and Exorcist III at play here (along with a hint of The Exorcist: The Fifth, naturellement), along with echoes of the way in which Russell T Davies handled evil in The Second Coming. But as writer/director Joe Ahearne (he who yelled "Cut! on great Doctor Who episodes like Dalek, Bad Wolf and The Parting Of The Ways - and how nice to see a TV drama largely delivered by a one-man powerhouse) has said, this is not so much a crazy gorefest as a psychological piece. Having seen tonight's first episode, I loved the way it combined the subtler, creepier approach with some real nastiness and a fearless approach to taboo subjects.

Apparitions rides a new wave of TV horror drama. This bodes well for me, and any other writer who feels most comfortable when some kind of darkness/intensity is involved. E4's Dead Set may have been a combination of two arguably outdated elements (28 Days Later-esque shaky-cam zombies and Big Brother parodies), but its mere existence was the best thing about it, transcending such quibbles. November 23 also sees the start of Survivors (pictured above), a remake of Dalek creator Terry Nation's 70s series, which also packs quite the punch and really makes me want to go for that flu jab I've been putting off.

Long may the new TV Horror Wave Of Doom continue. Certainly long enough for me to wade in and play.

BBC Apparitions press pack, including interviews with Martin Shaw and Joe Ahearne

BBC Survivors press pack, including quotes from creator Adrian Hodges


David Lemon said...

I was hoping 'Apparitions' would be good and let's hope survivors retains the original's power and doesn't descend into 'Jericho'- esque soap (I know it's a 70s Terry Nation creation but let's face it we do take our cues from US shows).
I'm developing a supernatural thing with a production company at the moment, but it's MUCH lighter in tone. Here's hoping the genre wave (or 'Commisioners no longer beging grenre-phobic) continues long enought for both of us...

Piers said...


All three of us.

Phill Barron said...

Ooh, can I get in on this optimism too?

Lee said...

And let's not forget Joe Ahearne's pedigree extends beyond directing Dr Who. He also created the utterly ace Ultraviolet. So, yes, I have very high hopes for Apparitions.

Lara said...

Oh, I'll jump on in there with this 'supernatural' optimism too...that'll suit me down to the ground - I don't think I have written much without at least a tad of spookiness creeping in somewhere!

Although I *should* have been writing, I did watch most of 'Apparitions' tonight and thoroughly enjoyed it!

Paul Campbell said...

Just caught up with it.

Buffy for grown-ups.

Good stuff. And a really tight script. I thought it was excellent.

What I loved was the way it took a basic Martin Shaw police/legal procedural... and set it in the office of the Vatican's exhorsist. Genius. ANd even more genius to get away with it.

David Lemon said...

Er, Buffy IS for grown ups!
(sorry couldn't let that one go)
I was a latecomer and initially assumed it would be 'Clueless' with the undead, but for at least four seasons it was pretty much the best written series ever (IMO- and apparently RTD's too)

rob said...

I'm so freakin' excited about Survivors.

Enjoyed Apparitions very much. Viva le genre revolution!

Paul Campbell said...

OK, so I never really watched more than a few part-episodes of Buffy.

I stand corrected.

Survivors - Can't wait either, though with some trepidation. I watched the first few episodes of the original earlier in the year, and it was painfully slow, clunky and worthy. and I remembered it as being so brilliant! Hopefully they'll have captured the brilliance and upped the pace.

John Soanes said...

Really enjoyed Apparitions - and only afterwards realised that all the supernatural stuff was framed in a human way; nosebleeds, eyebleeds, throwing stuff around, etc, but the spooksome behaviour was more about knowing things that you couldn't otherwise know, vanishing unexpectedly, that sort of thing. Think this was a good way to 'ground it', as it were.

About Me said...

Paul- sorry, didn't mean to sound like such a zealous Whedonite!

It's weird, isn't it- going back to old series you loved and finding they've dimminished over time. About the only show from my childhood that I've re-visited and enjoyed as more than nostalgia was Richard Carpenter's 'Robin Of Sherwood'.
The mullets and fx may be dodgy but it still looks gorgeous-in a cold damp misty sort of way.

Off to youtube Clannad now...

Francesca Montemaggi said...

it's a good show but has an incongruous theology, a tint of antisemitism and rampant sex-phobia. I enjoyed it though.