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"We are coppers, not spies...Look at us Tinker , Tailor, Soldier T**t"
on 6 May 2008
Where Life On Mars garnered an across the board positive critical reception Ashes To Ashes has had a more mixed reception. Obviously the concept is not as fresh this time around and the whole series has a slightly contrived ambience to it. For instance even taking into account it's a series with a fantastical element what are the chances of Gene Hunt (Philip Glennister) ,Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster) and Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) all transferring from London to Manchester at the same time? Still willing suspension of disbelief is required with this series so what the hell.
The central concept is that police psychologist Alex Drake(Keeley Hawes) who is tied into the series having worked on Sam Tyler's case is shot in 2008 and wakes up in 1981 to find the same principal characters that invaded Sam,s world existing in hers. The "imaginary constructs" as she calls them must also aid her in that old sci-fi staple of changing the past in order to influence the future. In this case Drake wants to prevent her parents becoming victims of a car bombing -a consequence of their involvement in civil rights campaigning and as defence lawyers.
Mixed up with this is lots of stuff about Drake questioning her parents commitment to her with their busy professional life,s, her relationship with her uncle and her burgeoning fractious relationship with Gene Hunt. Not to mention her motherly feelings for young policewoman Shaz Granger( Montserrat Lombard)who is a kind of surrogate daughter for the one left behind in 2008.Then there is the clown from the Bowie video haunting her dreams and more worryingly her waking moments as well.
The series takes time to get going and too often the writers resort to having Hunt and co run around spouting pithy one liners- though admittedly some of these are very good. DI Drake,s awareness of her predicament also means we miss the air of bewilderment from Sam Tyler that made Life On Mars so enjoyable. The will they ,won,t they thing between Hunt and Drake is wearily predictable but thankfully is not consummated and although the series hints at the socio-political climate of 1981 ( The Blitz club scene , homophobia, the anti-nuclear movement, Princess Di,s wedding ) it too often relies on it's soundtrack to give it a period feel -often using music from the wrong era rather annoyingly. The one time it tackles the times head on is the last episode with Geoffrey Palmer playing Lord Scarman and it,s no coincidence that this is the finest episode of the series , though the electrifyingly tense and emotional conclusion to Drakes obsession with her parents death helps tremendously as well.
Keeley Hawes has come in for some stick for her portrayal of Alex Drake and it is true that she relies on her luscious pout a little too much but I feel she does invest the character with some depth and handles the big scenes well. The rest of the cast are excellent with Amelia Bullmore as Alex's mother especially good and there are some choice lines -usually from Gene Hunt though Ray Carling gets a few as well .
The DVD has audio commentary from Keeley Hawes and the shows producers for episodes one and two(Why not the whole series?), a making of documentary , a set tour and outtake scenes. Compared to Life On Mars Ashes To Ashes suffers , but take it on it,s own merits and it,s an entertaining series that gradually gets better and ends with a genuinely edgy and affecting finale. It will be interesting to see how the writers approach the dilemma of how to get Alex Drake back to 2008 for if she was sent back to 1981 to solve the mystery of her parents death then what is there left for her to do?