Friday, 2 April 2010

Ashes to Ashes: I'll Be Watching You

Ashes to Ashes has a brilliant new opening line - 'I'm Alex Drake, and frankly your guess is as good as mine."

Before it was broadcast, this episode had the uber-fans who inhabit the safe-house of The Railway Arms chewing their nails in fear. A clip had been released of everyone's favourite neanderthal, Gene Hunt, restoring our comatose heroine, Alex, to consciousness with a hard slap to the face. Understandably, this provoked wide-spread horror. Thankfully, all the fears proved to be unfounded; Gene apoligzed for shooting Alex in his gruff, couldn't-care-less manner, and looked heartwarmingly pensieve at several points when her name was mentioned. Be-still my Gene/Alex shipping heart.

The previous series left viewers on a collosal cliff-hanger, after being shot in her (potential) dream world of 1982, Alex Drake was sent into a coma within a coma which saw her 'waking up' in what appeared to be 2008, her 'present'. This series - the third and final of the run - picks up exactly where the last left off, with Alex discussing her 'dreams' of the 1980s to a psychiatrist. This is somewhat ironic considering that Alex is a police psychiatrist, and is hold-no-bars when it comes to reminding others of her superior psychological training. Things get really confusing if you consider that the whole exchange with the psychiatrist is the invention of Alex's mind, for the conversation suddenly becomes a dialogue between Alex and Alex.

But let's not go into that for now.

The whole opening sequence is dizzying, mainly due to the way it was shot. The very first sight the viewer sees is an extreme low angle view of some dark, glass plated skyscrapers, which mirrors a similar shot that appeared at the start of the series. For the most part the psychiatrist's voice is disembodied, the camera lingering persistently on Alex's face. The backgrounds are kept in soft focus, and the start of the scene with the psychiatrist features Alex isolated in the midst of a pitch black backdrop that gradually gains some swathes of colour.


Alex is eventually jolted back to reality by that not-very-tender ministration of Gene Hunt. He drops a set of clothes he brought her on her stomach, ignoring the fact that was precisely where he shot her. A few very awkward dialogue scenes later, and they're back in CID looking into the case of Dorothy Blonde, a young girl who has been kidnapped for ransom. As tends to be the case with Ashes, the 'story-of-the-week' isn't particularly engaging, and borders on the forumlaic: the step-mother is deceitful, and a religious nut is swiftly proven to be the kidnapper. Ashes is best when it is focused on its characters and over-arching mysteries, and thankfully both of these strengths are displayed well here. Little Dorothy - who even wore a gingham dress - is mainly of interest on account of her name and appearance. The only missing ingredient was a pet dog called Toto.

Things have changed in CID since the previous series. DS Ray Carling is now a DI, who despite his best efforts cannot make Gene take him seriously ('if you come in my office again dressed like a maths teacher, I'll paint your balls the colour of hazelnuts and tell the squirrels winter is coming.') Chris has split up with a increasingly frustrated and resentful Shaz, who was returned to tea-duty in the wake of Alex's shooting ('you made things better then you left us ... now I'm back making bloody tea and biscuits.')


There is also a new addition to the team, in the decidedly unpleasant form of Jim Keats. Early on in the episode, he is astonishingly likable. He has large, sad eyes and Buddy Holly glasses, and looks like he was designed to be a target for school-yard bullies. He speaks in a nasally voice and makes strained attempts to be friendly, passing a bottle of wine to the cops in CID as if they have rabies. However all of this is undermined by his brief appearance to Alex as she lies comatose in her hospital bed in the first stretch of the episode. His face hovers uncomfortably close to the camera, as he addresses her urgently ('look at what he's done to you ... He did this to you and I don't want history to repeat itself.') He acts like a cross between a cryptic prophet and a stalker, and puts his sinister side on full show in a nasty confrontation with Gene at the climax of the episode.

As is to expected with Ashes, nostalgia abounds. There are references to Tandys, primitive computers, video tape and a hit-parade soundtrack that features the likes of The Eurythmics and David Bowie. The final song in the soundtrack is The Police's stalker-ballad 'Every Breath You Take,' which plays as Keats sidles up Alex while Gene looks on.

The series' creators - Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoh - have promised that this series will wrap everything up, even those mysteries left open by Life On Mars. This episode ends with Alex discovering a file on a certain Sam Tyler, and all the pieces have now been laid for a stonking series.

Next Friday, be sure I'll be watching.

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