Shiny Shelf


Ashes to Ashes & Life on Mars

By Mags L Halliday on 24 May 2010

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

A couple of years ago Philip Glenister, TV’s Gene Hunt, swore he “wouldn’t do bloody ‘Tin Machine’” so it’s best to assume that the new arrival at the end of ‘Ashes to Ashes’ will never get their own series.

I’d like to assume that anyway, as we see them arrive from Hunt’s perspective and not their own, but it’s preferable to have a promise that this really is the end of the franchise.

I like ‘Ashes to Ashes‘. Not as much as ‘Life on Mars‘, and I’ve outlined why before. I’m sticking to my view that it is lipgloss: a pretty sheen but somewhat messy. The concluding episode was positioned very much as ‘the answer’ to what had been happening in both series: was it a dream, were they mad or had they really travelled in time?

‘Life on Mars’ had an ending that implied Sam Tyler was dreaming or mad, either way he chose to kill himself in order to return to the 1970s. So the revelation in ‘Ashes to Ashes’ that all the police at Fenchurch East are dead wasn’t really that surprising. I’ll admit I tended to use ‘limbo’ rather than ‘purgatory’ as a term for where they were. After all, the characters needed to resolve something to move on which is rather more in keeping with the theological roots of the words.

Also, neither series demonstrated any religious leanings before the last episode turned Jim Keats into the devil, complete with the temptations of Club Tropicana. The ending makes sense – if you’ve watched ‘Ashes to Ashes’ in isolation. But the reintroduction of the Railway Arms as Heaven and Winston as Saint Peter throws it out. Yes, Winston was prone to cryptic comments in ‘Life on Mars’ but we saw the pub interior each week in a conscious echo of shows like ‘The Sweeney‘. It wasn’t a place you only got to enter if you’d been redeemed in some way: it was part of the fabric of the world Sam chose to return to when he threw himself off a office block.

That the copper with half his face blown off was Gene Hunt is also unsurprising. It was the most obvious solution. The only surprise in the ‘death tapes’ of the regulars was that Shaz had been killed during the mid-90s. The tapes themselves were a return to the original premise of ‘Life on Mars’, each echoing an old British police series. So Shaz was ‘The Cops’, Chris was ‘The Gentle Touch’ and Ray was ‘The Professionals’. Ending with the closing sequence of ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ was a nice touch.

Unlike the end of ‘Life on Mars’, ‘Ashes to Ashes’ ends without a shocking surprise. It ends with an acceptance of fate, not a denial of reality. And that’s why it’s the prettier, more shallow younger sister to the first show.


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