Friday 5 December 2008


Friday 5 December 2008
It's The Father Dowling Mysteries meets Rosemary's Baby this week, as Father Jacob (Martin Shaw) is called to an abortion clinic by Dr. Janice Greely (Claudia Harrison), after a heavily-pregnant old woman called Rosa (Ruth Posner) is admitted, and causes supernatural activity during an examination...

Soon after, teenage girl Zoe Dayton (Karen Bryson) arrives at the same clinic, wanting a morning after pill to prevent a pregnancy after allegedly being raped. But, unseen forces prevents Zoe taking her contraception, causing her to vomit and have convulsions. Even the less common method of injection fails, as the hypodermic syringe shatters in Dr. Greeley's hand.

Apparitions continues to find unusual ways to tackle the same topic of demonic possession. Here, Jacob suspects the possessing entities of young Zoe and elderly Rosa are "souls of the unborn". This causes him an ethical problem because, while it's theologically unclear where unborn souls go after termination, an exorcism will definitely send them to Hell. But it seems a demon who has possessed a blind ex-soldier called Simon (Adrian Bower) is counting on Jacob's inability to act in this grey-area of exorcism, so the Anti-Christ can be born without being "aborted".

It's a unique idea, less confused than last week's storyline, that also balanced Michael's (Rick Warden) supporting story much better. The homeless amnesiac is still coming under attack inside the seminary, as we discover demon-Simon knows Michael and they both served in the army together. Considering both men are, or have been, possessed by demons, I think it's safe to assume they stumbled upon something evil while on tour overseas. I wasn't sure it was wise to keep Michael on the fringe of each week's story last week, but this development shows a greater sense of direction and purpose for his character. It will be interesting to see exactly how Michael became possessed (via flashbacks, hopefully), and why he's so important as a "vessel" for the forces of darkness…

Sister Ruth (Siobhan Finneran) remains exasperating as an avid sceptic of Jacob's work and two-faced snitch to Cardinal Bukovak (even if Jacob's too canny to have the wool pulled over his eyes by her.) But it was nice to see her soften to Jacob's charms here and, towards the end, she actually witnessed something that might open her mind. I'm assuming the overall arc for Ruth is to have her standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Jacob as a believer in demon, much to Bukovac's outrage. Finneran is playing this role very nicely, making us itch at Ruth's dogmatism and scathing comments about Jacob's work. Hopefully she won't be a total Scully and fail to accept what's staring her in the face for too long.

The theme of abortion works brilliantly in this horror context, as exorcism is a form of abortion itself, and the Catholic church famously consider child abortion a grave sin. The episode also involves a group of pro-life campaigners (many of whom are disabled and might have been aborted under different circumstances), and their wheelchair-bound leader Craig (Andy Dear) had a surprising role to play as Jacob's investigation shed light on Zoe and Rosa's bizarre stories.

It's definitely hokum, but the mix of Biblical precedences, real-world parallels, pulp horror shocks, religious trivia (inverted crucifixes aren't Satanic), and memorable visuals, ensure its also very entertaining. Spooky dogs, bleeding eyes, a girl screaming the cries of unborn babies, a taxi cab murder, a boiling swimming pool… there's enough to keep you engaged on a superficial level, and enough intelligence to give your mind something to chew on.

Martin Shaw is especially engaging as Jacob, mostly for his subtle and amusingly down-to-earth temperament. In one scene, tormented Michael admits to Jacob that Satan has been talking to him. "Oh", replies Jacob, not even looking up from his desk as he ruffles documents. It's Jacob's calm, knowledgeable, indefatigable attitude that makes him a good hero; an unyielding tree in a thunderstorm, enduring the lightning strikes, listening for God in the wind, and certain of a new dawn.

4 December 2008
BBC1, 9pm

Writer: Joe Ahearne
Director: John Strickland

Cast: Martin Shaw (Father Jacob), Siobhan Finneran (Sister Ruth), Rick Warden (Michael), Claudia Harrison (Dr. Janice Greely), Karen Bryson (Zoe Dayton), Andy Dear (Craig), Adrian Bower (Simon), Jo Woodcock (Lisa Sengrath), Vernon Dobtcheff (Peitro Fonti) & Ruth Posner (Rosa Fonti)