Let's Do the Time Warp Again: The Decade-Hopping Police Series Successfully Makes the Jump to 1981
Cooke, Rachel, New Statesman (1996)
Ashes to Ashes
I got myself worked up into a right old state about Ashes to Ashes (Thursdays, 9pm). I was determined that it was going to be a disappointment. How could it not be? I loved Life on Mars, to which it is a kind of sequel. I also loved the Eighties. OK, I lived in Sheffield, a city where everyone apart from a few council workers and teachers was unemployed; but I was also young, in possession of the coolest pair of stretch jeans you've ever seen, and I knew where Phil Oakey hung out when he was not at home combing his preposterous fringe.
So the idea of sticking a 21st-century cop, not to mention DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) and his lumpen sidekicks, in 1981 as opposed to 1973 sounded like bliss--and that made me nervous. Even as I stockpiled Matlow's Refreshers in preparation for the big night, I kept picturing Gene with Don Johnson streaks in his hair. So unsettling. Hunt would be about as likely to use Sun-In as read The Feminine Mystique.
But it's all going to be OK, I think. The sheriff is the same as ever. He's swapped his slip-ons for snakeskin cowboy boots and the Ford Cortina for an Audi Quattro, but you know in your bones that his underpants are still coffee-coloured with a chocolate trim and that his breath still smells faintly of Bensons, booze and Vesta curry.
Sam Tyler has gone, and with him a great TV partnership. Instead, we have DI Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes), a ballsy expert in psychological profiling who read Tyler's files before she herself was shot and fell into a coma, with the result that when she wakes up in 1981, she thinks she knows what is happening to her, and how she might pull out of it and get back to Molly, her daughter.
Whenever she addresses Hunt, she puts inverted commas around his name with her fingers; he's a construct of her mind, you see. I'm not sure how this knowingness on Drake's part is going to play out over eight episodes--Sam's confusion was an essential part of the drama of Life on Mars--but Hawes is terrific. It's not only her sarky delivery that yanks you in: she looks fantastic in lip gloss and cheap paste, like she's just strolled out of a Robert Palmer video. …