When Ashes To Ashes started, there were two conflicting thoughts swimming around in my head. The first is that it would be cool, getting to check back in with Gene Genie and the gang, even if John Simm is gone! The second was — but how the hell could it possibly compare to such a brilliant show? Well, in truth, it doesn’t… yet it does.
So, what the hell does that mean? Well, Life On Mars was such a good show that any subsequent show trying to follow on, update or copy from it would just seem strange and knowingly stealing. And that is how this feels. On the other hand, taken on its own merits, forgetting all of Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes is wonderful. John Simm’s character, Sam Tyler, is barely mentioned, and only serves as a point to start the show from.
And that’s where we’ll start this review. In episode one, for those who don’t know, we meet DI Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) as she is taking her daughter Molly to school, and is called in to deal with an armed man named Arthur. After some back and forth, he disappears – only to reappear after Alex has dropped Molly off. He takes her to an abandoned ship, phones someone to let them know what’s going on, then shoots Alex in the face. Within the first ten minutes, she has been sent back to 1981. Just as she’s about to be attacked, a sporty red Quattro speeds in and Gene Hunt and co are holding guns at the would-be attacker’s head. As quick as that.
From then on, it’s all bits and bobs. People talk, get to know each other, weird things happen – like Zippy and George from Rainbow appearing in a dream talking to Molly and a clown who says “Alex” a lot. Nothing really important or exiting happens till fifteen minutes from the end of the episode, where Shaz, a police officer, gets kidnapped. Gene Hunt blows open his office door and says “Right… let’s fire up the Quattro” and the Clash kick in. From that moment on, this is solid gold television.
Unfortunately, that does still leave half an hour in the middle of the show that’s kinda boring. This episode is pretty much representative of the rest of the series. Some of it is brilliant, some is really laid back and boring, and some is just there to further the storyline. Happily though, the exiting outweighs the calm.
The show’s main crux is how Alex will get back to her daughter. There’s one thing that remains an important focus for Alex, and that is preventing the death of her parents, which looms ever closer towards the end of the series. IBetween the start and the end, some brilliant storylines include dead and attacked prostitutes leading to a fancy dress party, a man with OCD who raises money for charity and gets it stolen, and a gay couple whose involvement in gun trafficking leads to Gene and co mistakenly walking into a gay bar.
All brilliant moments, surrounded by so many more small and big ones, meaning you just have to watch, whether you’re a fan of Life on Mars or not. Like I said, it’s not all good, but when it all comes together, it works fantastically.
Not only are these all good reasons to watch, there is also all the great music, used in every single episode. Whether it was I Fought The Law by The Clash, No More Heroes by The Stranglers, Staring At The Rude Boys by The Ruts or The Prince by Madness, all the music is placed well and brilliantly found, and as it is explained in the extras “not all music from the 80s is cheesy, if you look deep enough,” and they definitely did.
Now, the extras. They are spread across every disk, even though they all bear the warning “SPOILERS, do not watch if you haven’t seen the entire series.” That seems like a strange thing to do. They only clock in at 12 minutes on the first 3 disks, so why not include them on the last disk, so that people would get to them once they have finished the series? It seems very odd. Still, though the extras are short, they do give some good cast interviews and insights into the series creation. The deleted scenes on the other hand, are just that, and probably should have been left on the cutting room floor, as they add nothing to the show, or indeed the extras. The commentaries, on the other hand, are quite insightful, and offer another dimension to the show. It’s just a shame that only episodes one and two have them, as the final episodes in the series could benefit from some.
All that’s left, then, is the menus. Now, this isn’t really that important, but they are really well-designed and I thought they were due a mention. The menu is styled to look like a video game from the era and features Gene Hunt in pixels punching people in the face and shooting guns. If only it were a real game.
So, in the end, Ashes to Ashes is good TV, and takes a bigger step forward into the word that John Simm left behind. It takes one of the best premises of TV, especially in sci-fi and tweaks it. Shows like Farscape and Star Trek: Voyager use the same premise, obviously on a grander scale, but the idea of taking someone from what they know and throwing them into the complete unknown, where every day is a new and strange adventure is never going to get tired out. Ashes to Ashes’s creators have had two years to perfect this premise to their own needs, and despite some hiccups, have prevailed yet again.