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Ashes to Ashes 1.1

February 8th, 2008 (12:49 am)

I was sorry to see that so many Life on Mars fans seem to have disliked the first episode, because I think that this opened out the Genesphere rather well. The most obvious change from the world we saw in Life on Mars is that Gene, Ray, Chris and co have existences beyond that experienced directly by the trauma-suffering fantasiser. The implications will doubtless be explored further; the audience is being encouraged to think of this world as Gene's (and Philip Glenister is billed above Keeley Hawes in the credits). Has Alex done her research, one wonders - are Gene Hunt, Ray Carling, Chris Skelton in long-term hospital beds, or graves, somewhere? A commentator on the former Outpost Gallifrey forum's Ashes to Ashes thread (registration required) suggests that the Geneverse is Purgatory, where Gene is a presiding angel/demon, and all the other police characters are dead or almost so. Note the careful structuring of the dialogue where Ray explains how Sam disappeared, explaining how he seemed to have run out on his colleagues but came back and saved the day, and then stayed seven years, a significance that Alex Drake misses.

Looking forward to seeing the opening titles next week, as those of Life on Mars - likewise introduced from episode two - helped set the tone.


Posted by: bunn (bunn)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 08:06 am (UTC)

It was never going to be Life on Mars, just because the mystery has been clarified, but a lot of fun, none the less.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 10:35 am (UTC)
Kirkcudbright Samoyed

I think that there is a new mystery - the 'communications' Alex receives are less obviously conversations by a hospital bed, for example, and we are being led (so far) to believe that Alex is dead or almost dead; and/or there is much more to '1981' than she thinks. While I think that there were occasional scenes in Life on Mars where Sam wasn't present, these were very few and far between and could be rationalised away, normally through Sam's imminent arrival on camera. Here, we see Shaz's kidnap and Alex isn't around, IIRC; and Gene is alone in his office at the end, seemingly autonomous of Alex's imagination.

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 08:13 am (UTC)
mouse in cheese

Er... I missed the significance too!

My feeling was: better than I'd feared, not quite as good as I'd hoped. Not convinced Keeley Hawes can step into John Simm's shoes, certainly not while the focus seems to be on her popstar legs and inability to keep clothing on her shoulder. I liked that Life on Mars is acknowledged, but Ashes to Ashes is consequently more self-referential, with Sam's memories of the future displaced by Alex's/our memories of the show.

What bugs me is that nobody, not even Sam, seems to have tried to track down Gene Hunt et al in the present day timeline to see what happened to them; it would be the obvious thing to do.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 10:46 am (UTC)

The most obvious awkwardness in this being a follow-up, I thought, was that the audience was expected to be on tenterhooks hoping that the heroine would get shot as soon as possible so it could be reunited with Gene, Ray and Chris. Unlike Life on Mars, where the kidnapping of Maya (lots of parallels between the first episode of LoM and this episode) was built up as if it was to be the focus of the episode, and Sam's accident came as a terrific jolt in the narrative, now we knew what was coming. Alex is our hapless surrogate now in a way that Sam wasn't.

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 02:58 pm (UTC)
paper art

Absolutely. But it was clear they couldn't simply reproduce the same kind of set-up without losing a lot of interest - more Gene Hunt on its own wouldn't be enough to sustain my interest, anyway, though I think he's one of the great TV characters of the decade. The references to Alex's parents' death the year before - the same year that Sam dies - suggest they may plan something quite different and possibly this is foreshadowed in the theme of reliving one's life; perhaps AtA will be about Alex in a way that LoM wasn't an exploration of Sam's psyche.

This show has the burden of the audience's LoM-honed expectations, so it's a three-way dialogue where LoM was more of a guessing game.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 04:27 pm (UTC)

I think that Alex's parents' deaths are actually 'this year', 1981, and I think that their deaths are the subject of next week's episode.

Making Alex a psychologist allows her the luxury of foreknowledge but also makes her more vulnerable because she thinks she should be forearmed against the environment in which she finds herself in, but isn't. She can't stop the pierrot turning up, nor can she avoid being manhandled into the police station. The look of desolation, humiliation and defeat on Keeley Hawes's face when Alex sees that a desk is waiting for her outside Gene's door was one of the most affecting things about last night's episode.

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 04:41 pm (UTC)

I missed the desk completely...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 04:49 pm (UTC)

Well, I missed the pierrot reflection on the desk during the first interview with the 1981 version of Layton, which lots of people on the forums have been going on about...

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)

We missed that one too...

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 08:33 am (UTC)
applied bollocks

I'm sorry not to be able to see this - iPlayer is still PC only, isn't it?

I like the Purgatory theory; before the end of LoM I had developed a theory that it was all about Jungian analysis, with Gene as the Shadow and Annie as the anima, and that Sam had to accept them both before he went back (please don't ask me how I thought that would work in practice!) - but that's been canon-shafted.

Posted by: zephyr (vescoiya)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 10:15 am (UTC)

If it was on the bbc you can stream onto a mac just not download the material. Sorry if i'm talking about the wrong player.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 10:20 am (UTC)

Ah, right, thanks. I'll have to see if my connection can take the bandwidth!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 10:56 am (UTC)

Downloading is coming this year, the BBC say - they are just not certain of when.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 10:55 am (UTC)

I read the OUP Very Short Introduction to Jung a few years ago, but it was written in an off-puttingly cultish tone and I remember little of it. I like the theory, though, even though it wasn't borne out by what we saw in the final episode.

My personal theory is that at the end of LoM Sam realises he's a fictional character who has been given the opportunity to choose which story to be in - what is real for him, in other words. I appreciate that this may be a craven workaround my awkwardness with the suicide issue...

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 11:06 am (UTC)

My personal theory is that at the end of LoM Sam realises he's a fictional character who has been given the opportunity to choose which story to be in - what is real for him, in other words.

Interesting. I'm personally unsure as to whether he 'really' woke up, or if that wasn't a dream-within-a-dream. In that case the choice was between two different attitudes to life - which came down to the 70s purgatory, or a simulcrum of his old life, which had been making him increasingly false to himself.

Posted by: viala_qilarre (viala_qilarre)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 08:50 am (UTC)

Life on Mars had two components that made it compulsive, other than the excellent performances of the two male leads - one was the classic cop show pastiche element, which frankly wsa enough to carry most episodes in itself, and the other was the central mystery of the conceit. I feel that the latter part has been explained away entirely, and in a disappointingly mundane way (I really disliked the LoM finale, I felt it was a big cop-out), so Ashes to Ashes starts off at a big disadvantage. During LoM we invested in the characters because we weren't at all sure that they weren't real. Now we seem pretty sure that they are not - so why bother?

That leaves the cop-show bit, and of course it may well turn out to be entertaining anyway, along those lines alone. But that left me feeling irritated every time we went into another pseudo dream-sequence. Enough of the phantom Pierrots and the Cute Child, let's just have the car chases. I liked the suggestion that Gene is beginning to feel constrained by the creeping advance of the PC brigade.

I'm afraid the heroine started to remind me of the character from Catherine Tate's show, the mystic police detective who spouts nonsense to her baffled male sidekick. She even has the same soft delivery.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 11:03 am (UTC)

The question of whether or not the characters are real, and if so what qualities of reality they possess, has been reopened, as I've indicated above... and I like both the dream sequences (which have a different content to those in Life on Mars) and the car chases. If Gene is an increasingly marginalized figure in the 1981 Met, he's increasingly reliant on acting out his own fantasies in the job, perhaps.

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 02:52 pm (UTC)
paper art

I don't think the central mystery of the conceit has been ruled out (see my reply to Parrot Knight's reply to Sally Maria below); but I do think the effectiveness of it is diluted by the fact that it is not simply itself anymore, but also something that has to acknowledge LoM. But then I loved the finale precisely for its sitting-on-the-fence quality; I saw it as preserving the mystery while providing a finale. It's obviously YMMV though.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC)

YMMV? (Is behind on acronyms)

Posted by: Adilo Creamon (the_marquis)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 05:38 pm (UTC)

"YMMV" = Your Mileage May Vary or in other words it takes all sorts and we'll all get different things out of each experience.

Frankly I'm still bemused as to what the hell was going on in LoM and I lost interest in it halfway through, did they resolve the is he dead/dying coming back and what happened to the kidnapped girlfriend?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 06:08 pm (UTC)

The kidnapped girlfriend popped up in episode six of series two, via the customary phone calls and radio broadcasts, to let Sam know that she was not going to come to see him in hospital any more, and to move on with her life. We'd been told that she was safe in the first episode of the first series.

Posted by: wrong but wromantic (sally_maria)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 10:14 am (UTC)
Danny bear

Again we agree, I thought it was a good beginning and I'm interested to see the difference and similarities between the two scenarios.

I do wonder whether the kind of changes they've had to make are the kind that alienate dedicated media fans most - for fans invested in the Sam/Gene (or Sam&Gene) relationship, any storyline that replaces that is going to struggle to win them over.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 11:10 am (UTC)

There is a significant chunk of Life on Mars fandom who are refusing to have anything to do with this series, I gather, principally because of the absence of Sam. The strength of the relationship between the two was acknowledged by the press cutting on the wall at the end, of course.

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC)

I do think that the lead actress just isn't in John Simm's league, and Alex Drake's overdone hawt chick dynamic with Gene just isn't as interesting as the rivalry/respect relationship with Sam. Partly Gene has had 8 more years to get used to lady coppers, and partly the URST thing is rather crass compared to the delicacy with which Sam and Annie's relationship was handled.

I do find some of the lacunae odd. In LoM there was no overt attempt by Sam to look up Gene et al in the records, which must surely have been possible and would to my mind be the obvious course of action for a Sam struggling to readjust to the grey world of 2007 to the extent of jumping off a building. This may have been done to keep some mystery for the sequel we are now watching, but it feels like a missing tooth. Now in AtA Alex has a quite detailed file about Sam's case, suggesting that the suicide is being investigated, yet nobody seems to have wondered where Sam might have got this incredibly detailed fantasy world from despite the fact that Alex's immediate assumption on finding herself in 1981 is to assume it's all coming out of her subconscious. And Annie has not been mentioned (though this may be held back for future episodes, of course).

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)

I really hope the "hawt chick" stuff fades into the background, and is replaced by something with more endurance, because I don't think that much can be done with Gene's clumsy assertions that Alex in leather with a gun gives him 'the 'orn', and the like. Gene's awkward relations with women have to be taken beyond that stage, and quickly.

You are absolutely right about the lacunae. All I know about Liz White is that she has been looked after and found a role in another series being made by Kudos; but I expect any appearance by Annie to be held in reserve, possibly to pass on an insight from Sam.

Posted by: Alice Dryden (huskyteer)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 10:38 am (UTC)
2-Way Wrist iMac

I went in thinking 'my God, this sounds like bad fanfic', and loved it.

What's with turning Gene into something out of Reservoir Dogs, though?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 11:12 am (UTC)

I still haven't seen Reservoir Dogs... but see what you mean.

If this is Alex Drake's fantasy of Gene Hunt, based on what she has learned from Sam, then perhaps we are watching bad fanfic...

Posted by: Alice Dryden (huskyteer)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 03:30 pm (UTC)
Live Ammo: Ha! Ha! Ha!

I haven't seen it either - I merely infer that it's like Gene Hunt in a speedboat with a machine-gun.

Posted by: philmophlegm (philmophlegm)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 03:07 pm (UTC)

Well I thought it was a lot of fun.

Preview in the newspaper at the weekend suggested that Ashes to Ashes would struggle to be as good as Life on Mars because so much of the appeal of the original series was in the particular setting and the music, and the music from the early eighties just wasn't as good.

Rubbish! I think apart from the music they were playing at the end, I had every single song from last night's episode in my music collection!

And Gene had a properly cool car - an Audi Quattro. Miles better than a brown Granada!

I think ultimately compared to the other people on this thread, I'm looking for different things from this series. I don't care about purgatory and psychoanalysis theories, just so long as Gene Hunt gets to look cool and hit people occasionally and there are plenty of references to things I remember from my childhood, like Zippy and Bungle (voiced by Roy Skelton no less).

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 04:33 pm (UTC)

I did think that Zippy and Bungle were used well; and it was around 1980/81 that I began to allow that some pop music was actually listenable, revising my post-move (from Nottingham, December 1976) abhorrence of all pop music; though I never really became a record buyer and music from before my own period was always more attractive. I almost downloaded 'Vienna' the other night, but there are lots of longeurs.

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 07:04 pm (UTC)
mouse in cheese

I am with you on the music -- 1981 was totally as cool as 1973-4 and I am crossing my fingers that Video Killed The Radio Star will be played soon -- but nothing in last night's episode came close to the impact of that scene of Sam staring around the 1973 cityscape to Life on Mars. And I do think the glorious simplicity of the comparing cultures -- 1973 and 2006/7 -- with Gene as the embodiment of the old ways will be diluted by the echo chamber effect of comparing the two series as well as 1981 and 2008. (Regardless of whether the viewer is actively looking for it, it's clearly in the minds of the writers.) It could be amazing, but it could just fizzle into overcomplication. Fingers crossed!

The references to things from childhood won't really do much for me though - I just about recognized Zippy but everything else had to be explained to me. (So did Camberwell Green, of course, but I suspect there will be a lot more of that in this series.) What also struck me about last night's episode is the pervasive influence of music videos of the era.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 07:36 pm (UTC)

Camberwick Green, though it was someone outside the project's confusion of the proposed title of Candlewick Green with the former London borough of Camberwell that led to the title by which the series is known.

'Video Killed the Radio Star' would be appropriate from a trans- or mid-Atlantic perspective, given its iconic status as the first song played on MTV, symbolising the shift in the music business that MTV hoped to exploit; but it might be excluded from the soundtrack as it was a 1979 release in the UK and I don't think its message had the same resonance over here as in the US.

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 07:43 pm (UTC)

Uh, I'm just covering myself with glory on this thread aren't I...

I didn't know that about Video Killed the Radio Star. In Italy it was the first song that went straight to No. 1 in the charts from appearing as a video - in 1980, I think, because there was still a lag in songs making it to Italy, back then. Or possibly the first to do so at all. Or at least that's what I remember being told at the time. On the basis of my observational and accurate recall skills as exhibited here recently, it probably wasn't anything of the sort.

Edited at 2008-02-08 07:47 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: February 8th, 2008 08:00 pm (UTC)
Kirkcudbright Samoyed

I'm sure you are right about Italy. Buggles toured Europe in 1980 promoting their album The Age of Plastic, according to Wikipedia, so the chart success in Italy that year seems credible.