Ashes to Ashes

Season 1 Episode 1

Episode 1

Aired Thursday 9:00 PM Feb 07, 2008 on BBC
out of 10
User Rating
113 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

DI Alex Drake is taken hostage and shot, and wakes up in a brothel... in 1981. Rescued in a police raid, she quickly recognises DCI Gene Hunt and his team from detailed reports made by DCI Sam Tyler about his own trip to 1973.

Gene is determined to address London's growing drugs problem, and has targeted city playboy Edward Markham as the brains behind the operation. Alex suspects Arthur Layton, the man who kidnapped her in 2008. Could Layton be the key to her return to her own time?moreless

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  • Martian fossil missing the chemistry of Life.

    Philip Glenister's 70s dinosaur and John Simm's thoroughly modern copper were the chalk and cheese that made Life on Mars work - with Sam (John Simm) seduced and repelled by Gene's direct but insensitive methods.

    Spin-off Ashes to Ashes promised its leads would sizzle like Muldor and Scully or Hayes and Addison. But Gene (Philip Glenister) and Alex (Keeley Hawes) don't sizzle, they snipe, reheating Mars's old debates, even if—in psychological profiling—it's over a new topic. And reprises by Marshall Lancaster (as Chris) and Dean Andrews (as Ray) only concentrate the savour of last night's leftovers.

    Yes it was a hoot seeing the gang again; as it was watching machine guns blaze across the Thames like something out of the A-team or Dempsey and Makepeace. But this was pastiche, with none of the chemistry that made Life on Mars so alive.moreless
  • See? This is why democracy is overrated.

    Go to any review page on this site about Ghost Whisperer, Supernatural, Charmed or any other sugar coated filth and you'll see a deluge of rave reviews and 10.0 scores. Come here, to the pilot episode of Ashes to Ashes, which is just a hair below its prequel and still a good head and shoulders over anything European TV (or any other, for that matter) is currently presenting and it's filled with mixed reviews.

    That's all good, of course, if you care to read it right. It means us spectators of Ashes to Ashes are a discerning crowd, expecting excellence and brilliance from it. Dumbass teenage girls settle for dumbed down paranormal studs. We want the best.

    And, to be fair, the best it is. The newly cast Keeley Hawes is a blast to watch, has amazing range and comedic timing, two skills absolutely required for her part (and sorely missing from the promotional material of the US remake of Life on Mars). Returning cast have nicely tweaked their characters and Gene Hunt is still Gene Hunt.

    I guess some of the heat (relatively speaking, of course) is coming from the absence of beloved character Sam Tyler and of the "bait & switch" mind-bending enigma of the first series. Alex is not wondering whether she is in a comma at all, she knows she is bleeding to death after being shot, trying to hold on. It might hurt the pilot episode, but I'm sure being open about it will pay off, preventing the disappointment at the lack of a final twist in Life on Mars, and opening the door for a surprise reveal that can actually succeed, without the burden of expectation.

    Overall, it's a great start to a great series and I'll be coming back for more in the future.moreless
  • Dead In 1981? Written by Matthew Graham Directed by Jonny Campbell

    Gene (to Alex): "Blimey. If that skirt was hitched any higher I could see what you had for breakfast".

    Nowadays a successful series can afford to do a spin off. Spooks might have missed the mark a little with Spooks: Code 9 but if Doctor Who can have success with both Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, then who is to say that Life On Mars can't with Ashes To Ashes?

    Trading 2006 in, it's the year 2008 and this episode opens up with Alex Drake's precocious kid Molly thinking Sam Tyler was a nutter. Personally I think police officers should leave files away from prying eyes but perhaps Molly did have a little point given that Sam chose to stay in Gene's world after fighting so long to get out of it.

    However the conversation does steer more towards Molly's birthday until Alex is dragged into a hostage situation all because a nutter named Arthur Layton specified that she should be there. It hits the right level of intrigue and while Alex is making a decent attempt to reason with Arthur, he's muttering about knowing her parents.

    Making matters worse he also takes Molly hostage at one point and for a brief second, Alex nearly thinks her daughter has been killed. Luckily for her, Molly is fine but sadly the locks in her car aren't much cop when Arthur is able to sneak in and take her captive a couple of minutes later.

    With Sam Tyler he had the annoyance of being hit by a car to send him back in 1973. Alex gets a far more violent method of time travel when Arthur tires of her attempts to reason with him and shoots her in the head. As much I do like Alex, there's a little part of me that doesn't entirely resent Arthur for shooting her. Of course because this is supposed to be an entirely different show, it makes sense for Alex to land in a different time and London 1981 is as good as any. Alex on the other hand mightn't be as appreciative given that her attire resembles a hooker's and she's automatically blamed by the sleazy Edward for a brothel being searched by the police.

    It's quite that immediately Alex's life is in danger upon her arrival. Okay so Edward is far from the scariest bloke you'll ever encounter but his attack on Alex is enough to usher in the reintroductions of Gene, Chris and Ray effectively. Alex even sounded like a gushing fan girl when she realised who they were.

    Gene and company on the other hand just assumed she was a posh prostitute and failed to listen to her rant about being from another time. Alex doesn't sound quite as ranting as Sam did at first but she soon catches up to him with the constant chatter of constructs.

    More importantly it seems that just like Sam; Alex was assigned to the London station that Gene, Chris and Ray have located to. Gene isn't exactly displeased when he finds out that she's his new work colleague but Chris and Ray aren't exactly jumping for joy over the idea of a female superior. New girl Shaz Granger on the other hand seems cool with Alex's presence.

    Before I go anywhere else in this review, let's get the replacements out of the way. Apart from Alex obviously replacing Sam, Shaz, Viv and Luigi all seem to be there fill the voids left by Annie, Phyllis and Nelson. So far all the characters work really well, although it's only Shaz that seems vocalised to begin. That coupled with her attraction to Chris and we could have a new ship to back.

    Alex however isn't particularly interested in her new surroundings and naturally wants to go. She has no problem in trying to undermine Gene but unlike Sam, the worst thing she has to experience from everyone's favourite dinosaur is an inappropriate grope. To say there's a bit of sexual chemistry between Keeley Hawes and Philip Glenister is premature but I wouldn't rule it out either.

    Alex's biggest belief of getting back home is taking Arthur Layton down. The Layton in 2008 bragged about having a huge empire in the day and the Layton in 1981 is seen as little more than a minion. Gene's entirely convinced of his insignificance despite Alex trying to prove the contrary.

    Taking Chris along to investigate his place leads to a good confrontation scene, especially given that when she tried to break what was happening to her earlier on in the episode she ended with the result of being dead. Is Alex actually dead? I mean she did get shot in the head so that really should finish you off compared to a car.

    In lieu of creepy Test Card Girls, this series hits a huge success with a Bowie clown from the music video of "Ashes To Ashes". Using the clown several times throughout the episode, especially during the more subtle moments was chilling but then again, I do have a hatred towards clowns so that's my thing. It'll be interesting to see how the clown plays into Alex's ongoing struggle to get home.

    As for the drug plot of the episode, it's fairly hokum. In retrospect you could see that Edward would hand over his contracts and then try to regain control of the situation by taking Shaz hostage. Even then he came across as being incredibly weedy but it offered a glorious moment for Chris who exacted an appropriate revenge on the nasty banker. Looks like Chris isn't that cowardly after all.

    As for catching Layton, it looks like Alex is going to have to suck it up for a little longer. With a rumour intention of this series going to three seasons, Alex's mystery I definitely going to be a long one. Like with Sam, her parents are going to factor, only this time I think it's gonna be a bigger level which could be a lot of fun, provided it's done carefully.

    Dynamic wise, I can see Alex taking on a mentor relationship with Shaz like Sam did with Chris and speaking of the latter, he did look a little intimidated by her. As for Ray, despite his unabashed sexism, he does seem a little less hostile towards Alex than he did with Sam and with Gene, there's the love/hate dynamic.

    Also in "Episode 1"

    Just like with Life On Mars, this series didn't open with any credits. I don't know why some shows do that.

    Gene (to Edward, re Alex): "Today my friend, your diary entry will read: took a prossie hostage and got shot by three armed bastards".

    Is it strange that as soon as Alex went into 1981 it was the song "Vienna" and not "Ashes To Ashes" that ushered her in?

    Alex: "I can hear the wind in the tree".

    Gene: "Strewth, she's gonna break into song".

    Gene: "What were you doing in that brothel – undercover or moonlighting?"

    Alex: "Let's assume the former shall we?"

    Alex tried to get the TV to talk to her during the episode. It did towards the end when the Bowie clown addressed her as Molly.

    Zippy (to Molly): "That's right George. Forget your mum, Molly. She's never coming back".

    Alex (to Chris): "I'd like to get out of red before Chris De Burgh writes a song about me".

    In terms of looks, can I just say that Keeley Hawes rocked the more androgynous look that Alex had for a good chunk of the episode?

    Gene (re Alex's psychology): "Where did you learn this hippy ****

    Alex: "Langley".

    Chris: "Near Macclesfield?"

    Edward: "Time to talk turkey".

    Gene: "Gobble away".

    Getting back to the possible Gene/Alex chemistry angle, even Ray picked up a vibe between the two of them.

    Ray (to Alex): "If you're smart, you'll know that being with the Guv is the right place to be".

    Alex: "I invented this world".

    Gene: "I invented once too – bruise free groin slap".

    Ray told Annie that Sam died in an accident a year ago, presumably before they all transferred to London. Unless we see an actual body, I live in Sam is alive and in hiding with Annie for some reason.

    Gene: "Luigi, get yourself a drink".

    Luigi: "No, Senior Hunt. I go upstairs to my room and shoot myself".

    Gene: "Good man".

    Alex: "I could kiss you".

    Gene: "Don't hold back".

    Standout music: David Bowie's "Ashes To Ashes" naturally, followed by Ultravox's "Vienna", Tubeway Army's "Are Friends Electric?" and Roxy Music's "Same Old Scene".

    Alex: "I want to go home".

    Gene: "Yeah, well your presence is required for a little bit longer by me".

    Chronology: July 1981, which according to Alex is around the same time her parents were murdered.

    Unlike Life On Mars, it's a shame that Ashes To Ashes hasn't garnered as much critical acclaim, despite the brilliant ratings it delivers. As an opening episode, everything is set up beautifully with Alex's situation is both similar and incredibly different to Sam's. I can't wait to see how this unravels.

    Rating: 9 out of 10.moreless
  • not bad.

    With Life on Mars being a suprise hit, this follow up had a lot to live upto. sadly this first episode falls just short. D.I Alex Drake, a former colleague of Sam Tyler is shot by a man that not only recognises her, but knows her parents (who are now dead) After a hostage situation she is shot and wakes up in the 80's, here she is again held hostage, but guess who comes to save the day? Gene Hunt (and Ray and Chris- also from L.O.M) she falls into a case concerning drug runners and dealers and learns of the "kingpins" true identity... a person she already knows from the future. Not a bad 1st episode but the scene where Hunt, Ray and Chris appears is very, very cheese... good job i like cheese though:)

    If you like life on Mars then give this a try its a good effort at a hard sequel/spin off, plus you do learn what happens to Sam Tyler years after he goes back to the past and why he is not around in the 80's.moreless
  • Ok fire up the sequel

    When the rumor mill went into full force towards the end of Life on Mars about a spin off I was worried that it might be a case of "trying to re-invent the wheel".

    Then moments after the credits rolled on Life on Mars Ashes to Ashes was announced. With such a striking ending how could this be followed up.

    With Ashes to Ashes they appear to have got it right and only some of the magic has been lost but the meat and potatoes are still there. Gene, Ray, Chris, period motor and scum to nick.

    The biggest worry I had was how are they going to get the lead character Alex back to the 1980's without it being to reminisant of Sam Tyler's being hit by a car. The premise was quite simple and well done, Alex Drake who studied Sam's case after he killed himself is called to a hostage situation after being asked for by name. Upon arriving is confronted by a man (layton) who knows more about her than she does about him.

    After a slightly unecessary scene with Alex's kid getting in the way Layton ends up in Alex's car they end up on a boat and it appears she is shot. When she awakes she is dressed as a hooker and its 1981.

    After meeting with Hunt and the team she tries to get back to 2008 by arresting a young Layton who is associated with drug dealers etc and possibly the key to Alex getting home.

    I have to say there are striking similarities between Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes such as scary clown to Sam's test card girl. Alex's family being part of grand scheme of it as was Sam's parents. However it appears so far that Alex is not in hospital and has been shot but is she about to die or live, hopefully like Life on Mars we will be lead in several different directions before another make you think ending.

    Overall a very well polished show, the chemistry between Hunt and Alex just does not feel right but i've got to look past life on mars. Detail to the 1980's appears to have been very well done (the odd slip here and there but who really cares). The only thing I found was Keely Hawes came accross as a busy know it all and also Philip Glinister has mellowed a bit as Gene but hopefully as the series progresses it should all fall back into place.

    I've got big hopes for this series and "fire up the quatro" is going to become a catchphrase we all start saying.

    Well done BBC looks like you may have got it right.moreless
Adam James

Adam James

Edward Markham

Guest Star

Sean Harris

Sean Harris

Arthur Layton

Guest Star

Darren Machin

Darren Machin


Guest Star

Amelia Bullmore

Amelia Bullmore

Caroline Price

Recurring Role

Joseph Long

Joseph Long


Recurring Role

Stephen Campbell Moore

Stephen Campbell Moore

Evan White

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (3)

    • Shaddap You Face: Chris Skelton (and others) sing "Shaddap You Face", a novelty hit by Joe Dolce that parodies Italian English, and which reached number 1 in the UK charts on 17 February 1981, 5 months before Alex Drake arrived in 1981.

    • The episode begins with Molly Drake reading out Sam Tyler's speech from the opening credits of Life on Mars.

    • Anachronism: As revealed in the next episode, Alex travels back to Monday, 20 July 1981. In the early part of this episode, the scene that establishes the timeline clearly shows a row of posters for the single "Prince Charming" by Adam and the Ants. This was not released until September 1981, with the album being released the following month.

  • QUOTES (17)

    • Markham: Firstly, Mr Hunt, you have absolutely no evidence. Secondly, and according to this senior female officer, mirabile dictu, you were deliberately looking for a— what was it?… yeah. Fatality outcome. Blowing my head off. Ipso facto, my case rests.
      Ray: That's crap. And some of it was in Klingon.

    • Gene [ referring to his computer ]: Don't pretend you know how to fly that thing.
      Alex: There's nothing on this hard drive but the time and date!
      Gene: Pong. We've got Pong.

    • Alex: It's July 1981. It's the year my mum and dad died.
      Gene: What of, confusion?

    • Gene [ to Alex ]: Blimey. If that skirt was hitched any higher, I could see what you had for breakfast.

    • Alex: If you choose a path of destruction driven by illogical pride and delusional self-importance, you'll enjoy a mere fleeting sense of power before being… being shot and killed.
      Ray: Is it me or are toms getting smarter?

    • Gene: Spot of lunch?
      Ray: Lunch.
      Alex: Lunch? It's going on six.
      Ray: Lunchtime!

    • Chris: Dystopia. I had that once. Couldn't eat solids for a week.

    • Alex: You know I've invented this world.
      Gene: I invented something once — the bruise free groin slap.

    • Alex [ to Layton ]: You are under arrest. For drug trafficking, abduction, and for shooting me in the head!

    • Chris: So which team's which?
      Gene: Uniform, you're C Team. DI Drake, you lead the B Team… I'm the A Team.
      Alex: God have mercy…

    • Alex: I can feel the wind.
      Gene: Strewth. She's gonna break into song.

    • Alex: Oh, I could kiss you!
      Gene: Don't hold back.

    • Alex: Heh! What's so special about you [ air quotes ] "Gene"? Why is it every time a good copper goes under you show up?
      Gene: It's my after-shave, and stop wiggling your bloody fingers every time you say my name!

    • Gene: Today my friend, your diary entry will read, took a prossie hostage, and was shot by 3 armed bastards.

    • Alex [ to Gene ]: Just look at me! Look at me! I am trained to get inside the criminal mind. And now I'm stuck in my own — with you!

    • Alex: You're taller than I imagined.
      Gene: I'm bigger in every department.

    • Alex: My name is Alex Drake, I've just been shot and that bullet has sent me back to 1981. I may be one second away from life, or one second away from death. They say that as you die, your life flashes before you, all those memories and mistakes that form us. Well bring it on. My life can flash away as much as it wants because I am not going to die. I'm coming back to you, Molly.

  • NOTES (1)

    • Music featured in this episode:
      Vienna - Ultravox
      Careless Memories - Duran Duran
      Are 'Friends' Electric? - Tubeway Army
      Ashes to Ashes - David Bowie
      I'm In Love With A German Film Star - The Passions
      I Fought The Law - The Clash
      No More Heroes - The Stranglers
      Same Old Scene - Roxy Music


    • Ray: And some of it was in Klingon.
      Ray is referring to a language spoken by a race of beings in the
      Star Trek universe, first heard on-screen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

    • Alex: I'd like to get out of red before Chris de Burgh writes a song about me.
      Alex is talking about Chris de Burgh's song, Lady in Red, released in 1986, five years after this episode is set.

    • Pierrot clown: The Pierrot clown that appears throughout this series is also seen on the cover and promotional video for David Bowie's 1980 single "Ashes To Ashes".

    • For Your Eyes Only: The scene where Alex Drake first meets Gene Hunt has a shot framing Hunt between Alex's legs. This is a reference to the promotional poster for the 1981 James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only. The poster is seen later on the wall of Hunt's office.