Exclusive! Joe Ahearne on Apparitions

Ultraviolet creator (that’s the cool C4 vampire series rather than the bombastic film franchise) and former Doctor Who director Joe Ahearne has spoken to SFX about his new supernatural show Apparitions, due to be aired on BBC1 prime time late in January. Ahearne both wrote and directed the two-part mini-series

The show stars Martin Shaw as catholic priest who’s asked by a ten-year old girl to exorcise her father (which is a bit of an inversion of the usual exorcist story).

“The show is called Apparitions,” says Ahearne, “because apparitions in Catholic parlance basically means the Virgin Mary appearing on a hilltop and giving messages to mankind as has happened over the last 200 years in places like Lourdes. Now some people think that when the Virgin Mary appears it’s not the Virgin Mary, it’s Satan. For example, there are a lot of apparitions in a place called Medjugorje in Croatia at the moment. They’ve been going on for the last 20 years or so. And despite the fact that the local bishop is saying,’ This is bollocks, don’t listen to them!’ you’ve got these visionaries still claiming to see the Virgin Mary. And some people think that’s Satan.”

And this is a conflict Ahearne explores in the show. “What’s holy and what’s Satanic? You never quite know which is which because Satan does very good impersonations.”

He goes on to reveal: “Martin Shaw play Father Jacob and he’s one of the chief investigators at the Congregation for Causes of Saints, which means that his job is to get people like Mother Theresa or whoever canonised. The process is very long and slow. It takes decades. A lot of those figures that are being canonised are quite controversial. People like Pope Pious who was Pope in World War II who a lot of people accused of being anti-Semitic. There’s quite a lot of controversy about making him a saint because allegedly he never spoke out against the Holocaust. And the church also, they canonised a number of figures during the holocaust – priests and nuns who were executed at the concentration camps, and there have been a lot of accusations that they’ve been trying to Christianise the holocaust. Because, if you say Holocaust you don’t think of it as a place where Catholics were persecuted, would you? And that’s kind of the basis of quite a lot of what happens in the second episode.”

Ahearne also doesn’t rule out returning to work Doctor Who in the future, for which he directed five episodes of the Eccleston series, but says that it isn’t something he’s actively chasing. “I don’t know. I don’t know. There’s no particular thing behind that. It was a wonderful show and I’m still watching every episode. I think it’s fabulous. I did love working on it. The Dalek ones – that’s the kind of the TV that I live for. That’s probably the darkest they could make it and the most action orientated they could make it. I mean I read the first Dalek script and thought, ‘Wow! It’s a 45 minute chase scene basically.’ Wonderful. You never get that on TV.

“I didn’t plan to do five episodes, I was brought on to do two, then they asked me back to do another two, and then a director dropped out and I ended up doing yet another one. And five episodes was a really big chunk. It wasn’t so much a Doctor Who thing, but after I finished it, I really didn’t want to go near science fiction for a while. After that stint I had done three years of Strange, Space Odyssey and Doctor Who, which were all green screen special FX, and I just wanted to spend some time a) back home, and b) just doing people in rooms talking.

“So last year I did This Life and Perfect Parents which were just people standing in rooms talking, and now with Apparitions, I’m sort of gradually getting back into fantasy. And I’m developing stuff that is more in a Doctor Who vein. So I am coming back home. I’ve just had a bit of a holiday.”

There’ll be more Apparitions news and pictures in SFX 165 (on sale from 19 December) and after that we’ll post the full interview here on sfx.co.uk, which includes news of what those future projects are, including one about a superhero.