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.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.