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.


  • 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.

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