Life on Mars, the story of the time-travelling comatose Detective Inspector Sam Tyler, was arguably one of the biggest TV hits of the past couple of years. So the temptation to do a spin-off was pretty much too hard to resist. But how to continue the adventures of Gene Hunt, the 1973 Manchester “hit em first, ask questions later” hard bastard cop, when they’d ended Life on Mars fairly definitively. Or so we thought. The producers have revisited the concept with Ashes to Ashes. It’s 1981 and Gene Hunt has relocated to London (apparently more for the convenience of the actor than the plot) and has DI Alex Drake as his unwilling sidekick. This time out, it’s Alex, a police profiler and psychologist, who ends up back in 1981 after being shot in the head in the present day.
Alex has studied Sam Tyler’s case history, so she knows – or at least suspects – what’s happening to her. Trouble is, so do the audience. It all feels like so much like a retread, only this time the conceit is no mystery, and the bleak 1980s were just too recent to have the same historical interest of Life on Mars’ 1973 setting. Where the original was, well, original, the spin-off has to rely on its storylines and characters. So far, it’s pretty much “the Gene Hunt show” which suffers considerably from the lack of chemistry that Philip Glenister (above with Keeley Hawes as Alex) shared with the wonderful John Simm. Hawes does her best to imbue Alex with a sparky resilience, and it’s clear there are plans to develop a sexual chemistry between the characters, but if you know how the mother-show turned out, it’s hard to get interested in these adventures.
I’ll stick with it for now, because it’s well written and well-acted. I just can’t get emotionally invested when there seems to be only one way out of the conundrum. The 1980s surprised me – maybe Ashes to Ashes will too!
© Carole Gordon 2008
I have to admit I never saw the original. This one has caught my eye. Hope the episodes can be seen on the computer eventually.
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