Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Second Coming, The (2003)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Second Coming, The (2003)
Red Productions for ITV, tx. 9 & 10/2/2003
2 x 90 min, colour
DirectorAdrian Shergold
Executive ProducersNicola Shindler
 Russell T. Davies
ProducerAnnie Harrison-Baxter
ScriptRussell T. Davies
PhotographyDavid Odd

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (Steve Baxter); Lesley Sharp (Judith Roach); William Travis (Dave Morris); Ahsen Bhatti (Peter Gupta); Mark Benton (Johnny Taylor)

Show full cast and credits

When ordinary Mancunian Steve pronounces himself the son of God, he has to contend with more than the scepticism of his close friends. But Steve seems to be serious, and his friends - and the world - are forced to come to terms with the real implications of the Second Coming.

Show full synopsis

The Second Coming is an example of the 'high concept' drama which is so rare on British television. It was a particularly bold commission for ITV, which, as the most mainstream of Britain's commercial broadcasters, has tended to play safe in its drama programming over recent years. The project had previously been declined by both Channel 4 and the BBC, on whose channels it might have seemed a more comfortable fit.

A story about faith in the face of indisputable divinity might also seem an unlikely project for the avowed atheist Russell T. Davies. Davies, however, is no stranger to provocative subjects, and the theme of the extraordinary emerging from the mundane can be seen in much of his work. That the premise works on-screen is due in part to this grounding of the fantastical story in the drab normality of the real world. Setting it in Manchester helps: the north of England has an association in television and film with grubby reality and the Manchester region is familiar to generations of ITV viewers from Coronation Street (1960-). The setting, then, uses television shorthand for authenticity in ways that would have been impossible in other metropolitan environments, such as London.

Davies' deft characterisation of Stephen Baxter's friends (or disciples) and other Manchester inhabitants also helps to make the story believable. These are ordinary people, and their diverse reactions to Baxter's revelation ring true. Although the whole world is affected, we see and hear this only briefly via television news bulletins - an economic means of conveying information which also helps convince that the story takes place in the real world - and the concentration on events in Manchester around Stephen and his friends makes The Second Coming a human drama, rather than a more easily pigeonholed science-fiction piece.

ITV's courage in scheduling the drama in prime-time was rewarded with good viewing figures, and critical reaction was highly positive. There were, however, some extreme reactions, with Davies appreciating the irony of having received death threats from Christians. The drama's ending is perhaps its most controversial, and, inevitably, disappointing, aspect. That humanity can only redeem itself through the killing of god is a bold idea, but the suggestion that this would end religion, and therefore religious conflict, is surely a naïve atheistic pipe dream. Even so, The Second Coming remains one of the 2000s' defining and most thought-provoking pieces of television.

Oliver Wake

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Second coming foretold (3:16)
2. The First Miracle (4:09)
3. 'Heaven is empty' (3.41)
4. Armageddon (3.00)
5. Pete's death (2.56)
Son of Man (1969)
Bhatti, Ace (1970-)
Davies, Russell T. (1963- )
Eccleston, Christopher (1964-)
TV Drama in the 2000s