BBC1 - 14th February 2008 - 9.00pm
"Welcome to Blitz"
Ah, Blitz. Steve Strange. Ah, bless.
And with one hefty stroke, all lingering doubts have now evaporated about 'Ashes'. Last week, I wasn't sure about the 'Miami Vice' pastiche and the slapstick moments and felt it didn't quite get the tone right. This week, I'm now pretty sure that whilst they are going for low comedy, and that isn't to its detriment at all because this episode was extremely funny, there is also some very, very clever stuff being layered in here that gives the story a darker edge.
In the second episode we finally get into the stride of this series and Keeley Hawes steps up to the mark and gives a confident and memorable performance. Yes, Alex is supposed to be irritating with her knowingness of her situation but this arrogance is starting to get undercut by her real doubts about her sanity, her judgement and her skills. Hawes gamely juggles all of this meta-textuality confusion for the character ( 'Morning, imaginary constructs'), the love-hate relationship with her mother, the nightmares and the pithy one-liners with great skill here and is definitely becoming more appealing in the role. Her interaction with "Gene" is much more assured in this episode and hints at a developing 'will they - won't they' frisson. And of course, Glenister is superb as Gene and is less of a caricature and more like his old self here, completely epitomised in the snooker hall sequence with its riff on 'The Long Good Friday'.
Many viewers are still complaining that there are a lot of inaccuracies if the year is 1981 (the Delorean, PacMan mugs, Presto shopping bags etc). I think we should assume that this is a version of 1981 in Alex's head. This series is not about time travel, we must be clear from the outset, and is about the state of someone's subconscious either in a coma or close to death. As I argued previously, our memories of a period will not match exactly what we originally experienced of 1981. Alex's world is a folk memory construct that then allows for all the idiosyncracies, the joyful surrealism and the seediness of an era that signaled a complete sea-change in British life. So, I suggest you all roll with the punches and just enjoy the show.
There is so much to like about this episode, from the in-joke about Gene driving through a load of cardboard boxes (or not), the bum-stamping initiation ceremony in the Met that leads to the 'right on' discussion with Alex's mother, the deep joy of the scene at Blitz with the real Steve Strange on stage performing 'Fade To Grey' and Chris being revealed as a New Romantic, the snooker interrogation scene that gives a new meaning to the saying 'potting the ball', the sad irony of the Charles and Di wedding, the terrifying notion that Alex put the idea of becoming a suicide bomber into a young man's head, the 'Escape To Victory' joke and an exploding dog. What is not to like?
Ashley Pharoah's script was layered, packed with smart lines, great character moments and introduced what I would hope is a developing storyline - Alex's relationship with her mother and how she might prevent her death as a way of getting back to the present (e.g regaining consciousness). I think that's a novel twist on some of the ideas that were briefly touched upon in the parent series 'Life On Mars' but that here suggests it is to be a deeper part of the narrative. Amelia Bullimore was excellent as the straight laced Caroline Price and I hope we see more of her. Granted, the plot isn't exactly complex again, but it certainly had a bit more meat on its bones that the first episode. Considering it commented on the Docklands development disenfranchising the local populace, cocked a snook at the Thatcherite vision of England as Arcadia, got a bit of police procedural in there and an examination of terrorism, doing it with tons of drama and wit, then that's a pretty packed bit of writing.
Add to this Jonny Campbell's dream-like direction, a superb selection of songs on the soundtrack meshing with very appropriate incidental music and a wonderfully arch opening title sequence and I do believe we have a winner. Get your theories at the ready, readers, as I do believe you're going to need them. Class this as 'appointment to view'.
Episode One review
- Freelance writer and film and television researcher (for hire).
He has contributed to a number of books and websites about British archive television and cinema as well as recent television series including work for Moviemail, Frame Rated and Arrow Video. Publications include I.B Tauris's 'Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour - A Critical
Celebration of the Matt Smith and Steven Moffat Era' (2013) and 'Doctor
Who - The Pandorica Opens' (2010).
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