If you haven't caught it yet, Ashes to Ashes is a kind of sequel to 2006/7's Life on Mars. In that series, modern day cop Sam Tyler (John Simm) is knocked down by a car and wakes up in 1973. We were never sure if he was bonkers, living inside his own coma-induced imagination or whether he'd really travelled back in time. The show featured some strong drama - often based on the frequent culture clashes between 1973 and 2007 (the episode about racism was particularly good). Similar clashes between 21st century Tyler's new-man political correctness and Philip Glenister's superb mysogynistic anti-hero, DCI Gene Hunt added a spice of humour. The two series of Life on Mars were a big hit with viewers, full of wry humour and subtle nods of the head to beloved 1970s TV shows like The Sweeney and Special Branch. Gene Hunt was such a hugely popular character that we always knew that there would be a sequel ...
So when I heard that Gene Hunt was to get his own series, I cheered. What I expected was that, now that the Sam Tyler time-travel element was gone, we'd get a wonderful series of great retro-comedy dramas following Hunt's further adventures; a kind of 1970s period costume drama. What we've ended up with is a sad imitation of Life on Mars. It's a mess.
To begin with, the set-up is all wrong. Life on Mars was set in Manchester and Gene Hunt hated 'soft Southern jessies'. By 1981, everyone knew that Thatcher hated the North; the North/South divide had been strengthened and the crippling Miners' Strike was just over the horizon. And yet, inexplicably, Hunt has somehow transferred to the Met in London, as have his two sidekicks Chris Skelton and Ray Carling. One is thick, the other thicker. It was always a wonder how they got into the police in the first place ... so how did they all manage a successful transfer and stay together as a unit? It just doesn't make sense. And Hunt would never have transferred. Never.
Then, there's the fact that it's now set in 1981. It's eight years on from the orignal series and yet all of the characters look and act exactly the same. There's been no character development at all. If Skelton had been in his late 20s in Life on Mars, he'd now be early to mid-thirties ... would he really be just as uninformed about police procedure? And there are all kinds of mistakes ... the WPC uniforms have black hats when they were actually white back then. Hunt refers to the A Team ... a series that started in 1983. Some of the music is off-beam too and Hunt's car -a red Audi Quattro - wasn't actually available in right hand drive in 1981. All right, they're tiny niggling points, but they are a symptom of a greater malaise. This would never happen with Bleak House or Pride and Prejudice or even a WWII drama. Bigger mistakes exist too. The police have never been regularly armed in the UK and they take the whole of issue of firearms very seriously. Just look at the huge inquiry that resulted from the Menendez shooting. Hunt and his boys would not be armed even today and certainly wouldn't have zoomed up the Thames in a speedboat firing off machine guns willy-nilly. It's just stupid.
But the biggest mistakes lie with DI Alex Drake. When Sam Tyler arrived, he was a bemused visitor who had to fit in. He explains his sudden appearance as a transfer. When Drake arrives, she's all too aware of Tyler's story and immediately starts to analyse all about her (I love her cry of 'Good morning Constructs!' when she enters the office). The viewer is given no opportunity to warm to her or sympathise with her plight. And, she wakes up in the body of an existing DI Alex Drake who is posing as a prostitute. And there's a warrant card waiting on the desk for her ... does that mean that there was already an Alex Drake in existence? If so, where is she?
Okay, maybe I'm not giving the series a chance. Maybe the character will develop. But we are two episodes in ... shouldn't they have grabbed the viewers by now? The reviews don't seem to think so ...
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Sam Tyler must be spinning in his grave.