"Do you remember a guy that's been in such an early song?" -- David Bowie, 'Ashes To Ashes'

TV Well that was good wasn’t it? Life on Mars spin-off/sequel (you choose), Ashes To Ashes began tonight (in case you hadn’t noticed) and turned out to be a far clever, far more complex prospect than the earlier series. In recreating the series to continue the adventures of Gene Hunt, the producers had the rather difficult problem of the audience having already been through the emotional arc once already. We’ve been there with Sam Tyler, why would we want to live through another false lifetime with some new character? Cleverly, their strategy is to produce a character in Alex Drake who has exactly the same awareness of this world she’s dropped into as the audience. We know she’s in coma, we know it’s a psychological construct and so does she.

Some critics churlishly suggested that the problem with this opening episode is that its all set up. Isn’t that the point though? We need to see the contrast between the modern world that Alex has left behind and why she needs to return. We need to be re-introduced to Gene and the gang (I miss Annie) and the new dynamics have to be established. You have to spend a whole episode on this, otherwise you’ll be spending the rest of the series catching up. In fact, despite everything Matthew Graham’s script spent much of its time asking questions, laying in details and I’d say providing far less information than in the first episode of Life on Mars and in fact reconfigures or purposefully confuses some of the things we already knew.

With this apparent waking life, rattling around her cranium, there are details which Alex couldn’t have been aware of but which continue the story of “Gene” and colleagues from where Life On Mars left off. They tell her, for example, that Sam stayed with them for another seven years before “dying” in a car accident (no body found though leaving the way open for a John Simm cameo somewhere down the line). As in that series, we see events which are outside of her point of view suggesting an autonomous world happening which he happens to have stumbled into. Like one or two of the episodes in the previous series her actions here seemed to effect the cause of future events effectively creating the situation which sent her into the “coma”.

There are other details, such as communications with the outside world happening through similar devices, but the overall feeling is that the producers are looking to tell a far grander story, develop a more complex mythology of which Sam and Alex are victims. As with Mars, everything can be explained away with an easier resolution (its her subconscious creating everything based on what she read in Sam’s notes) but those of us with a suspicious nature might wonder if in fact there’s something far larger at play, that as suggested previously, something is being done in the far future which is having these effects on police in the present day.

All eyes were on Keely Hawes too – would she and her character be a decent replacement for John Simm and Sam Tyler? More than a match, and in fact perhaps far more interesting. Tyler was a by-the-book officer mostly seemed bewildered by his predicament only really locking horns with the guv over this methods. Drake is constantly battling against the whole thing of which Gene is just one aspect – she’s more pro-active, using her brain and detective skills to find the way home. But she works well in the ensemble too and Gene clearly likes her, especially since she gives him the horn. Hawes’s stint in Spooks was useful, but this will the series that will make her a star, emotionally articulating her bizarre predicament. Cleverly too, DI Alex Drake actually has a proper goal, not just to get home, but to return to her daughter, whose image was used to torture her throughout this episode.

The big change for some of us though is that her story is happening in a period we remember. Although my memories of the nineties are clearer, I grew up in the eighties, became a teenager then. I finally get all of the references without having to ask my parents and even though the music isn’t as good at least I can recognise most of it. Visually the series is very different, unlike Life on Mars which was to some extent a time travelling remake of The Sweeney, this is taking its cues from the period itself rather than a fictionalisation of it, often emphasizing the fact that this is (or may be) a dream with quite stark camera angles even in those scenes which are apparently the reality. Even the main issue in this episode – drugs – spoke of the period, cocaine being tossed about like candy. About the only thing which seemed out of place was the sexism – even in this early breath of the eighties was this still so strong?

Similarly, rather than taking the obvious approach of putting Gene at the centre of the action, the writers have realised that he’s best viewed through other eyes, that this is how his iconic status is sealed. In the early eighties he’s slowly becoming an anachronism, watching the policing values he upheld eight years earlier disappearing, talking about the need for evidence rather than simply manufacturing it. Wonderfully played again by Philip Glenister, he’s a different man, and in one scene glancing towards a newspaper headline clearly effected by the death of Tyler. It’ll be interesting to see if he begins to note similarities between Alex’s behaviour and his ex-partners, and actually articulates them suggesting he isn’t simply a psychological construct in their heads but someone with a proper heart beating.

In one word then, squee. Or as this reviewer puts it 'OMG OMG OMG HOW AWESOME WAS IT PEOPLE!!!!!' and as is the way of things these days, the dvd boxset is already available for pre-order.

No comments:

Post a comment