Ashes to Ashes: Season 1, Episode 2

I had a hard time believing that Ashes to Ashes could be as good as Life On Mars. In one sense, it can’t be; Mars was the first version of the show, so all of the “uniqueness” and “innovation” went with the original show. Once Mars was completed, the idea was no longer “new”, so anything that followed it would lack that originality. But this Thursday’s episode of Ashes to Ashes was simply incredible.

In a nutshell, the episode revolved around a property developer. The developer has big plans, you see. He wants to knock down much of the crumbling remains of East London and replace it with gleaming new skyscrapers. As you might imagine, the people that live in East London aren’t too keen on being kicked out of their homes to make way for new offices and condos for London’s financial elite. And one of those residents begins threatening the developer… with dynamite! The developer initially scoffs at the idea of police protection, but DCI Gene Hunt is insistent: this is the week of the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Di, and the last thing the Metropolitan Police want is any bombs going in London:

“I’ll not have the aristocracy of this country blown to smithereens on my watch.”

Once the developer finds a fake bomb planted “as a warning” in his DeLorean, however, he changes his tune about police protection. Our time traveler, DI Alex Drake, goes out on a date with the him… partly because he requires police protection, but also because she has a bit of a crush on him.

And thus, my favorite scene of the episode: the couple go out to dinner, then make their way to a nightclub. At first, the camera pans around to show people dancing. The couple could, in fact, be in any nightclub anywhere in the world (well, any nightclub anywhere in the world… in 1981). But then the camera pans around to show our happy couple walking into the club and pausing at the coat check. Alex takes off her coat, looks at the coat check attendant, is taken aback for a second, then gets a goofy smile on her face. “Thanks, George!” she says:

Ashes to Ashes (Blitz 1)

Ashes to Ashes (Blitz 2)

If you’re not a fan of the British music scene in the early 1980s, you can be forgiven for not understanding why this scene is so priceless. The “George” manning the coat check is none other than a pre-Culture Club Boy George, and the nightclub is Blitz. Blitz was ground zero for the New Romantic movement in the early 80s. Many of my early favorite bands were New Romantics, acts like Duran Duran, Visage, Ultravox, ABC, Japan and Adam & The Ants. All of the guys from Spandau Ballet were regulars at Blitz, as was Pete Burns of Dead or Alive. The door at Blitz was rigidly controlled by Steve Strange, who also was rising to fame at the same time as the lead singer of Visage (in fact, Visage is onstage during this scene playing their “their newest single”, a little song called “Fade to Grey”! And yes, that’s the real Steve Strange on the stage (but an actress playing Princess Julia).

The scene highlights something I haven’t really mentioned about Mars and Ashes to this point: at times, the shows can be damn funny! I’ve probably made the shows seem deadly serious to this point, and much of the time they are. They’re about people ripped from their loved ones and out of their element, traveling through time. So yes, there’s a lot of pain involved. But there’s humor aplenty in both shows, especially when someone mentions something about the future we already know. The gruff but lovable Gene Hunt declares in Mars, for instance, that “there will never be a woman prime minister as long as I have a hole in my arse!”

Ashes differs from Mars on three levels, though.

Although I “miss” the 1973 of Mars – or at least the carefree, “smoke anywhere you want, drink at your desk” times – the 1981 setting of Ashes really hits close to home with me. If I could go back in time, I’d probably go back to London sometime between 1975 and 1980. You can bet your ass I’d go to Blitz, too! So when I watch Ashes, it’s almost with a longing, as if I too want to go back to 1981 and see all the things I missed back in 1981 because I was 9 years old and couldn’t get into nightclubs… or go to the record store by myself… or do much of anything, really. ‘Cos I was 9.

Ashes also has a reality streak running through it that Mars didn’t. I don’t know if the “property developer” from this episode actually existed, but I do know that many old neighborhoods in East London were knocked to the ground to make way for new construction in the Docklands area. This was all spurred on by the highly controversial London Docklands Development Corporation (which was formed in… 1981!). The LDDC was frequently seen as being in favor of elite property developers over local residents, so much of this episode, especially the bitterness from the locals – rings true. Of course, Mars had some of this, but it wasn’t nearly as front and center as it is in Ashes.

Another difference is that Drake meets her mother in this episode. In Mars, Sam Tyler met his mother too, but she only appeared in a few episodes. Very little was done storywise with this, as Sam kept her at arm’s length. In Ashes, Alex and her Mom (one of those hardass, “cops are always evil and never right about anything” attorneys) go ’round and ’round with each other over the questioning of a suspect. At one point later on, the two run into each other at Luigi’s. Her Mom begins the conversation by talking about women’s rights, and how it’s a shame that some women get power then act like men when once they do. Alex, knowing she is talking to her mother, defends herself to the best of her ability, but it’s clear that her mother doesn’t approve. Eventually, her Mom says that it’s a strange coincidence that she (Alex) has the same name as her daughter. The two go on talking, and Alex’s mother ends up asking her to spy on her colleagues. At this point, Alex finally stiffens and says “No way, Never”. Alex’s mother storms off, but not before says “[t]hank God the only thing my daughter shares with you is her name. I’d be ashamed if she grew up to be like you.” Ouch.

I can’t wait until next week’s episode! If you’re not watching this show, you’re missing out on some great TV, people! If you don’t live in the UK and want to watch (but have no idea about how to go about doing so), please don’t hesitate to let me know – I’ll be glad to help!


Tenpole Tudor – “Swords of a Thousand Men”
Madness – “The Prince”
Imagination – “Body Talk”
The Flying Lizards – “Money (That’s What I Want)”
Visage – “Fade To Grey”
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – “Souvenir”
The Pop Group – “We Are All Prostitutes”
Dexy’s Midnight Runners – “Geno”
Heaven 17 – “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang”
Kraftwerk – “Neon Lights”
Jon & Vangelis – “I Hear You Now”
Dexy’s Midnight Runners – “There There My Dear”
Chas and Dave – “Gertcha”

3 Replies to “Ashes to Ashes: Season 1, Episode 2”

  1. Whereas the Geneverse 1973 in “Life on Mars” was largely “The Sweeney” re-imagined in the visual style of “Get Carter”, “Ashes to Ashes” (particularly its first series) tended to make more direct homages to a larger collection of films and television series of the era. For example, CID’s rescue of Alex upon her arrival in ep. 1 had the “For Your Eyes Only” shot of Gene from behind Alex’s legs, and the big drug bust scene began looking like a scene from “Miami Vice” and quickly became Stephen J. Cannell-esque with all of the shots landing three feet lower than their target and thus consistently impacting the ground at the enemy’s feet. Moreover, one of the three interpretations of the barge’s name, “Lady Di” (along with the obvious Lady Diana and Lady D.I. [i.e., Alex, a lady detective inspector]) is “Lady, die”; the same joke had been used on “Cheers” back then in an exchange between Carla and Diane “You really think I’m like Lady Di?” “No, I mean, ‘lady, die!'” Ep. 1 and most every one of the 24 episodes also show Alex’s black and off-white diagonally striped sofa, to which I refer you to Glynis Barber in the opening credits of “Dempsey and Makepeace”.

    In episode two, we have the clear homage to “Back to the Future” with a time-traveller riding about in the 1980s in a Delorean. The episode’s first references, however, is not to an 80s programme or film, but to ep. 3 of “Life on Mars”. Gene’s reaction to Alex’s calmness to his driving and her raised-eyebrow grin while dashing to the Isle of Dogs, refer back to Sam’s panic and Gene’s raised-eyebrow grin when speeding to the mill (Sam & Maya’s future loft apartment); this is followed by Gene *avoiding* hitting boxes with the Quattro instead of aiming for them with the Cortina.

    There is, of course, another significance to Blitz. Keep in mind that many of the performers in the video for Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” were Blitz kids.

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