With Doctor Who taking a sabbatical this year, genre telly on the BBC has been scarce. With the exception of Robin Hood, the Beeb’s sci-fi and fantasy schedule is really kind of bare. And, while Ashes To Ashes could be construed as either a mainstream drama, cop show or period drama, in all reality it’s a good old fashioned sci-fi show, a mix of Good Vs Evil, Quantum Leap and even the Dungeons And Dragons cartoon – with the idea that returning ‘home’ is only a fingertip away.
Last season had a sinister David Bowie clown as an id/ego protagonist that taunted DCI Alex Drake’s subconscious, leading to a great bit of plot twisting at the end that had me quite shocked and impressed. This new season of the show kicks off with familiar scenarios of Cortinas, mullets, and Spandau Ballet as we are now taken back to the heady days of 1982. And DCI Alex Drake is still in turmoil over her situation, but accepting her ‘fate’.
Without a psychological issue or harlequin’s face in sight for over a year, Alex’s role as DCI Gene Hunt’s second-in-command is one that she has come to accept, and while the sexual chemistry has been cooled a bit, the role of good cop/bad cop has been cemented. The two of them, it seems, have a mutual respect for their opposing ways of policing.
This acceptance and more relaxed atmosphere is shattered around a third of the way into the episode as Alex is visited by a vision of her daughter on TV. It happens in a nifty little homage to the early 80s that shows everyone’s favourite headmistress, Mrs McCluskey from Grange Hill, making a welcome, if brief, cameo. Added to this there are also the frequent sounds of police helicopters, waking dreams and voices from old ladies and dogs that show that, once again, things in 1982 might not be all that they seem.
Running alongside Alex’s delusions is another plot, one that deals with a major issue of the early 80s and policing in general – ‘bent coppers’. It seems that since we last saw the team there has been a sure but slow deterioration of morals in the police force, with even Ray taking the odd ‘bung’ to turn the other cheek. Leading the investigation into police corruption is a newcomer to the office, ‘Supermac’, a supposed high ranking officer in there to clear up both the streets as well as the under-handed tactics of some of his officers. And he has past ties to Gene as well as a few hidden secrets of his own.
Touching on this, and the hidden conspiracies and murders in the streets of Soho, the team are once again up to their necks in rubbish (that the beginning of the show aptly shows). And with Chris in turmoil over his feelings for Shaz, it’s really business as usual, albeit a little darker for the entire team as a case of ‘sex-games gone bad’ leads to a lot more than is first shown.
With an interesting and twisted plot that concludes itself nicely but leaves enough story for future episodes and the sinister portent that ‘we are everywhere’, this first episode proves that the show has lost none of its charm, intrigue or quality of writing.
Each character gets their chance to shine, and in Chris’ case, show a little ‘Full Monty’ profession of love, and it does feel like the old magic is back. And there’s Gene Hunt too, trying his hardest to come to terms with the 80s. With the up and coming issues of the Falklands, Princess Diana and the riots, there is a lot of interesting ground to tread, especially when it seems that somebody is out there who knows that Alex really should not be there.
Whether this character turns out to be one of the good guys or something a lot more sinister remains to be seen. But with potentially Masonic initiations, cops going bad and a whole band of gypsies to contend with next week, Ashes To Ashes remains on of the best ‘must see’ shows of the week. Welcome back…