||ASHES TO ASHES
Fantasy series about a female cop thrown back in time. Sequel to Life On Mars.
24 episodes of 60 minute duration. BBC 2008 - 2010.
DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) is back but he's no longer the self-styled "Sheriff of Manchester". Flanked by his faithful sidekicks, Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) and Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster), and drawn to the action and intrigue of the London Met, Gene turns his attentions to taking on the "southern nancy" criminal scum.
However, Gene does not expect to be thrown together with sexy, intelligent, DCI Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes). Single mother to daughter Molly, Alex has rapidly risen through the ranks of the Met and, in the modern world of 2008, skilfully uses psychological profiling to capture suspects. When Alex and her daughter are kidnapped she makes a daring attempt at escape, resulting in a horrific accident.
Alex suddenly finds herself in 1981 interacting with familiar characters, not just from her own life-time, but also from the detailed reports logged by none other than Sam Tyler, which Alex has previously spent months pouring over. Alex is ripped from her current world of sexual equality and respect in 2008 and finds herself opposite an arrogant fellow DCI in a Two Tone, New Romantic Eighties London with a soundtrack of Adam Ant, Roxy Music and The Human League ringing in her ears.
Gene Hunt, the politically incorrect, loud-mouthed, sexist DCI from the hit TV drama Life On Mars, was, on the surface, an unlikely cult figure. However, the combination of his winning personality and somewhat "traditional" approach to policing helped to firmly establish him in the national consciousness.
When the highly acclaimed drama bowed out after two series, it did so at the height of its popularity. But, just because the writers and producers deemed that Sam Tyler's story had come to an end, did that also spell the end for his much-loved "guv"?
Jane Featherstone, joint MD of Kudos Film & Television and executive producer of both Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes, explained the genesis of the spin-off series. "As Life On Mars was drawing to an end, the BBC approached us and asked if we thought there could be a sequel or follow-up with the character of Gene Hunt, but a few years later," explained Jane. "We sat down and all realised that it could be brilliant to bring Gene into the early-Eighties - a fascinating time of cultural, musical and political transition."
From the start, the production team knew that Ashes To Ashes had to offer viewers a totally new journey, and say new things about the much-loved Gene Hunt. Life On Mars had offered very little information on Gene's past and personal life, making him something of an enigma.
The introduction of a female DI, Alex Drake, meant that a totally new dynamic could be created without garnering comparisons to the good cop/bad cop, "buddy" relationship experienced by Sam and Gene. "The relationship between Gene Hunt and Alex Drake was critical to Ashes To Ashes," continued Jane. "It was tumultuous, sexy, intellectual, instinctive and totally different to his relationship with Sam."
As the creative process continued, it became clear that the sexual tension between the two characters would be one of the key hooks to the series. Jane explained: "Gene has never come across a woman like Alex before and she rocks his world. How is it possible to work with someone so incredibly confident and attractive, not to mention posh and from London, and, bloody hell, a woman?! Through Alex's presence at the station, we see a different side to Gene - a more complex, gentler side, a man with dreams, hopes and fears."
Despite a new era and leading lady being added to the mix, it's wasn't all change and Gene Hunt still offered his unique take on the ghost of England's past. Beth Willis, the show's producer, said: "We thought we'd bring him to London where his northern views would come into sharp conflict with 'the southern ponces' he finds there. And, of course, he should take his A-team of Ray Carling and Chris Skelton with him."
With the series set in the early Eighties, the production team recognised a great opportunity to display the change in policing since 1973 - changes which have, perhaps, had an impact on the once supremely cock-sure Gene. Writer and co-creator Ashley Pharaoh explained: "All the research we did indicated that the police knew the Scarman Report was on its way, and they knew it wasn't going to be good news, so the threat of that hangs over the whole series. A very specific era of policing is coming to an end. I think there's a slight sense of melancholy to Gene at times - he misses the North and the old days, but he's a fighter and refuses to give up."
The next challenge was how to take Alex Drake - a police psychologist and thoroughly modern woman of the 21st century - into the world of Gene Hunt, a world she knows about only through her sessions with the now deceased Sam Tyler. Matthew Graham, co-creator, writer and executive producer for Monastic Productions, realised that the premise would have to be water-tight to work on screen: "Through Sam, Alex has learnt all about Gene Hunt, Ray Carling and Chris Skelton. Alex is called to an intense hostage crisis involving a drug dealer who shoots her in the head at point-blank range. Next thing she knows, she's in 1981."
As if waking up dressed as a prostitute in the early Eighties with Ultravox ringing in your ears isn't bad enough, Alex is forced to confront a much larger problem. Matthew continued: "Alex is horrified to discover that sharing her delusion are the very characters she heard about from Sam Tyler, in particular a certain DCI Gene Hunt! Furthermore, 1981 was the very year her parents were killed in a car bomb - is that somehow connected to her presence there?"
But, in the meantime, Alex must find a way to get on with her new boss, concludes Jane: "Alex finds that Gene is a compassionate man, fighting for justice and what he thinks is right, despite his incredibly dated views of womanhood. The result is funny, electric and surprising."
The highly-anticipated final (third) series saw Hunt and Drake, along with DI Ray Carling, DC Chris Skelton and Montserrat Lombard as WPC Sharon 'Shaz' Granger joined by Daniel Mays as Discipline and Complaints officer, Jim Keats, adding an unsettling twist to the team dynamic. This series finally unravelled many of the mysteries from the previous two series of Ashes To Ashes, as well as those first experienced by the initial time-travelling copper, Sam Tyler. Alex finally discovers why she's been sent back to the Eighties, how it all ties in with Sam Tyler, and exactly who is Gene Hunt.
Read Frank Collins' review of the series 3 finale in TV EXTRAS or click HERE
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