Review: Ashes to Ashes 1×4

Homage to Darkness


How’d that happen? I wasn’t intending to do episode by episode reviews of Ashes to Ashes, but here I am, reviewing it. Probably won’t happen next week, but who knows?

New theory, boys and girls. Forget Life on Mars. This isn’t Life on Mars in the 80s. This isn’t an attempt to look at changes in policing over the last couple of decades as I thought yesterday – or if it is, it’s a bad one. This is an attempt to do an episode by episode pastiche of individual crime shows of the 80s.

Life on Mars only had The Sweeney (and maybe Special Branch) to have a go at, and was all about changes in procedure and attitude. Ashes to Ashes is all about a TV-addicted woman who wants to be in an 80s detective show, probably Moonlighting

Help me with this theory since it’s on slightly shaky ground. These are the shows I think Ashes to Ashes has been sending up so far

Episode 1: The A-Team, Miami Vice or at the outside Riptide
Episode 2: Anyone?
Episode 3: Prime Suspect I (which was 1991 admittedly)
Episode 4: Edge of Darkness

I’ve come to this conclusion because last night’s episode was the biggest homage to Edge of Darkness that the world has yet seen.

When a worker at a secret government nuclear facility is murdered, Alex smells a conspiracy. 

Was it any good?
As I mentioned a while ago, the Ashes to Ashes
 team have been trying to emulate the shooting style of Edge of Darkness for some time. If I recall correctly, though, Edge of Darkness (in common with Bird of Prey I and 2, Wipe Out, and movies like Blue Thunder and War Games) also had the green teletype credits. That should have been another clue.

Last night, they just went totally extreme. A character called Martin Kennedy: would that perhaps be a slight nod of the head to Troy Kennedy Martin, the writer of Edge of Darkness? Then there’s the book that contains a secret list of old underground stations (Edge of Darkness), the nuclear theme (Edge of Darkness), the spies monitoring the good guys (Edge of Darkness) and the government base whose levels are named after underground stations (Edge of Darkness). We even had Alex going into her younger self’s bedroom and finding secrets (I won’t refer you to the relevant scene in Edge of Darkness because it would have unpleasant connotations).

Point. Made.

So that’s the new theory.

If you’re after head nods to other TV shows, though, the secret project was Artemis. The show’s set in 1981. Artemis 81, anyone? And of course Keely trying to explain front tailing was a big nod to Spooks probably (heaven help her if she’d had to explain rotating front tails), although that’s more of a meta-nod.

So that’s my theory. Make of it what you will. 

I actually quite liked last night’s episode. It needed a little more plot, but was far better than last week’s. Alex was pretty much a waste of space as usual: her idea of police work seems to simply involve chatting to lots of people (which it is in some ways, I guess) and shouting but once we detach ourselves from the idea of Ashes to Ashes being a police show and move it to being a detective show, that’s pretty much all detective shows are (cf Shoestring) so we shouldn’t grumble too much. I’m getting exceedingly bored of her mummy issues though.

It was also the first episode that had anything like the feel of the time: the first episode’s yuppies, coke and Walkmans theme didn’t feel especially 1981 (more 86/87); Royal Wedding and Docklands mingled with suicide bombers? Na; prosies being disrespected by police? Timeless. But socialists and nukes? That’s pure early 80s.

Incidentally, glad to see I was vindicated in my assumption that beardy weirdy bloke was Alex’s godfather. Turns out he’s a serial godfather. Maybe he’s Alex’s dad as well… A psychologist with an Electra complex – how entertaining and appropriate.

Further thought: anyone think that the clown looks rather a lot like Alex’s supposed dad but without glasses – and with lots of white make-up? I can’t see the Dad listed in the credits.

  • I’d been thinking before that while Life on Mars had some very clear targets (The Sweeney was such an iconic show that everyone immediately got the references), Ashes to Ashes has a bit of a problem, because there really wasn’t an iconic 80s cop show that anyone took seriously. Juliet Bravo? The Gentle Touch? Dempsey & Makepeace, for God’s sake? So it really doesn’t have any choice but to jump genres around.
    It definitely had Edge of Darkness all over it, though it could have done with some waily Clapton-esque guitar just to nail the atmosphere. I can’t tell you how relieved I was that it was a diary hidden up the chimney. Unfortunately, it was Edge of Darkness as it would have been if TKM had taken about half an hour to write the script. How come Gene gets in to the secret base with shonky ID, but Alex gets in with nothing whatsoever? And how did Ray, Chris and Shaz (out of uniform) get in at all? Are we supposed to let them off because it’s all in Alex’s head and she doesn’t think she can die in her fantasy?

  • You know, for once, I wrote a list of all the things I was going to mention in this review and I clean forgot to include “how the hell did the others get into the base?”, even though my head was reeling from it, too. Not sure how that happened. Daft, hey?

  • MediumRob

    Now you mention it, the more I think about it, the more I reckon you’re right and the set up, at least, is Dempsey and Makepeace: street-wise maverick blue-collar cop paired up with posh, rubbish book-wise female cop. But they’re not sending up the scripts which would be impossible with the semi-serious set-up of Ashes to Ashes – plus why bother when Pulaski already did it so well? So I’m guessing they’re sending up the scripts of other shows instead.
    Suspect the fake ID made with glue was a nod to something like The A-Team or Simon and Simon.

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