Season finale: Ashes to Ashes

I'm so terribly clever

I know it’s a bit late, but I was away over the weekend and didn’t have the time to string together a review until now.

So why am I bothering? Well, there’s the fact that BBC3 jessied around the schedules again so there was no Torchwood finale to laugh at (although, given James Marsters was on Smallville this week as well, I’m not sure the TV set could have taken the resulting Marsters overload if it had been).

But I also wanted to sing you a song. It’s from that wonderful comedy show Absolutely, which should be coming out on DVD any minute now. It goes like this:

I’m clever, so terribly clever
So clever, so terribly clever…

Alex is just 24 hours from the event that changed her life: the murder of her parents in a car bomb.

She believes that if she can save her parents, she’ll get home to her daughter Molly in 2008, and so embarks on a mission to change history.

With the help of a reluctant and baffled Ray, they destroy the car she thinks her parents died in. Meanwhile, back at the station Lord Scarman pays a visit and Gene will stop at nothing to give a good impression.

Alex arrests her parents for drug possession and locks them up overnight, in a bid to keep them in her sights and prevent the newly released prisoner Arthur Layton from blowing them up. But time is running out and she cannot keep them in custody.

As Alex and Gene race to where the bomb is set to go off, it seems everything’s in place as it was 27 years ago. But will Alex’s efforts be enough to save her parents and get her back to 2008?

Was it any good? And why am I so very clever?
Well, I probably wasn’t alone in noticing it, but I did, in a very clever way, I think, point out that Alex’s dad and the clown did look a lot alike. Oh yes. I think I’m just going to sit on my laurels and bask in my own cleverness. Anyone want to be patronised or insulted for being Northern, being from a lower social class, or being born in a different age?

Yes, in case you hadn’t guessed already, I’m doing an Alex Drake impression. Aren’t I clever?

Back to the matter in hand then. Slightly disappointing as a series finale, I thought. The last couple of episodes had been really very good, with old Alex almost likeable in places and with Gene Hunt back to his former Life on Mars glory as a character you can at least respect, if not like.

But this was very much a step backwards. A small one, but a step all the same.

Alex was almost back to her unlikeable old self again: not only being reminded of her suffragette great-grandmother one moment then claiming that there’d only been 40 years of feminism the next, but then knocking any female Gene Hunt fans who might be watching right afterwards – because she’s so posh and knows best what’s good for everyone. That, on top of general abuse to people she’d constructed with her own brain.

Still, a couple of nice pink tank driving and take-charge moments from her, and you couldn’t help but feel a little glad she’d reconciled with her mum. At the very least, she won’t be able to hang round at her place next series.

The A-plot, with the final reveal of who had been behind the car bomb and why, made just about as little sense as it was possible to make. Even if you didn’t spot the resemblance between clown and dad or the lack of dad in the credits, the mere fact that the parent-obsessed Alex never exchanged more than two words with her own dad in her fantasy was surely a big clue that something was off there. But would you have guessed he was to blame based just on the clues in the plot? Probably not. It was just a little too daft, particularly for something that’s supposed to be the real-world explanation, not just a coma-dream.

It was the B-plot, with the gay rights protesters, the young Tom Robinson and Lord Scarman that was the interesting part. While Gene Hunt’s "we’re brothers, we’re policemen" speech was a little limp, it was a nice nod to some of the better Life on Mars moments when John Simm wondered to himself if his superior policing techniques hadn’t lost a little something on the way from the 70s.

Anyway, that was the end of the first series of Ashes to Ashes. A second one is on its way. When a strong writer like Matthew Graham came on board, it could be excellent. Unfortunately, there were just too many bad episodes and Alex Drake just fundamentally too unlikeable, despite her paper qualifications, for the show to be anywhere near as good as Life on Mars, even though that was by no means to perfect. Tis a shame, but maybe they’ll fix it for the second series.

  • TemplarJ

    A bit of a disappointment I agree, although the sequence leading up to the car bomb was extremely well directed. I just wonder where there is for the series to really to go, the ‘am I in a coma or a dream’ aspect isn’t gripping this time, the series still lacks the conflict of philosophy that made Life on Mars work and the whole ‘is Ray a Gay?’ sub plot should be buried in cement in a docklands development.
    Still, the legs on that Keeley Hawes, eh?

  • Heh heh. Pink tank. Oh wait. Isn’t that supposed to be a euphemism?
    (And in a perfect MINE world, is “Rullsenberg” the one who first posts a comment to Tuesday’s news? Or am I getting the party faithful mixed up?)

  • I may be in a minority of one here, but I liked Alex’s bad tempered haranguing of her imaginary constructs (I love that phrase!) I agree it probably wasn’t as strong as LOM, but then we are used to the whole idea now, whereas LOM had the advantage of being new. I actually liked Gene more in this, and I loved it at the end when he said I come when I’m needed, which rather suggested to me this is some kind of parallel universe which people fall into when they are in dire straits. I didn’t see the dad thing coming, as I was convinced it was the godfather, and I enjoyed the twist of it. I don’t think the plot here is all that important in a way – because it is the situation first Sam and now Alex find themselves in which is so interesting. Alex has an advantage over Sam in that she’s read his file, so if she’s a bit clever clever sometimes, it’s because she thinks it’s not real and all a figment of her imagination, whereas Sam was never really sure.
    I loved the tank. I loved them putting first Chris and then her parents in the cells, and I really loved Gene’s speech to Scarman, which surely comes from some Western, doesn’t it? In fact, with Gene’s cowboy boots being given much prominence throughout I wonder if there haven’t been other sneaky western hommages I may have missed…
    Anyway, I enjoyed it alot, and I related hugely to Alex’s desperation to get back to her daughter, and her feelings about her mum. I thought it was very touching when she found out her mum did love her – but then if it is all her imagination, perhaps that’s what her psyche would say to her, it may not still be true. In fact this may not be the actual answer to what happened to her parents, but her fevered coma induced version. Which is what is so fun about the whole concept of this.
    And well done on spotting the clown/dad thing. Yes you are immensely clever… I didn’t get that at all. But I would have liked to have seen more of the clown as I thought he was wonderfully spooky.

  • That would be Miss Anna. Ms Rullsenberg doesn’t get up early enough, it turns out, to be betrothed to Mr Tennant – there may be an update on that at about 12pm…

  • AnnaWaits

    What updates are there? I’m engaged and that’s it.

  • I think the show, now it doesn’t have the car bomb theme to play with (just as Life on Mars lost its parent plot at the end of the first series) will need to play with the “is she dead or isn’t she theme” more and get a good deal more creepy for it to be enjoyable next series. It might even be interesting if it’s revealed that Gene Hunt and co were real people, buried in both John Simm’s and Alex Drake’s subsconcious from their youths. Or that he’s an angel.

  • ” It might even be interesting if it’s revealed that Gene Hunt and co were real people, buried in both John Simm’s and Alex Drake’s subsconcious from their youths. ”
    They’d have to stretch a bit for that one, because if both Sam and Alex knew a ‘real’ Gene, Ray and Chris, they’d be a lot older when Alex knew them.
    “Or that he’s an angel”
    That’ll be the American remake.
    I hope they find something to do with Shaz in the second series, because there was no reason for her to exist in this one.

  • Well, eight years or so (73-81) doesn’t result, necessarily in huge ageing for everyone (cf Cliff Richard). Plus we’re talking about coma dreams, so Alex could have based her poorly remembered Gene on Sam’s description. It’s either that or she’s dead and in the afterlife, because you then have to explain why someone in one dream looks identical to someone in another dream.
    Shaz was a little bit useless. I thought she was there mainly for Alex to patronise and look down on. If you consider that Shaz is probably a figment of Alex’s imagination, you have to wonder why she created a WPC who was largely there to not do any work, mess around with the detectives, be a comedy sidekick and be saved by Alex. Bah!

  • I thought it was a bit odd that Sam wasn’t mentioned at all after the first episode, as well. Alex only knew about Gene and Co via Sam’s report, and Gene was apparently so broken up by Sam’s death that he’d moved away from his beloved Manchester and still kept a cutting about Sam on his noticeboard — and yet, with another apparently delusional time-travelling detective knocking around, nobody says ‘I had enough of this crap with Tyler!’ or ‘Sam might have been bonkers, but at least he didn’t burst into tears in front of arsey Commie briefs!’
    And nobody ever said what happened to Annie. Central part of Sam’s fantasy! Where was she?

  • I’ve tended to think through Ashes to Ashes that the main problem is that the writers aren’t as clever as the mass intelligence of the show’s fans. As with LoM where all sorts of great ideas were thrown up as possible conclusions to the series, only for Matthew Graham to come out at the end and say “He was in a coma and having a dream, we never thought of anything else”. I alos seem to remember that John Simm had to insist on a last minute re-write to introduce a touch of mystery into the final episode, all of which makes me suspect that Sam’s not being mentioned is just because that would make things a bit complicated and/or the writers just never thought about it.
    Personally I lean towards thinking that both LoM and AtoA are Gene’s coma dreams and Sam and Alex are both constructs of DCI Hunt.