BBC1 - 27th March 2008 - 9.00pm
'You look like a baboon's arse with a tash stuck on it.'
'Unbreakable, Bolly, unbreakable.'
'I'm everywhere Bolly. When I'm needed, I'm there.'
A rollercoaster ride to conclude a quite smashing series. Granted, the series got off to a slightly wobbly start but soon got into its stride and from episode four onwards just kept getting better and better. This final episode manages to keep a number of plot threads and themes going and many of these come to an amazing conclusion in the last 20 minutes where director Jonny Campbell skillfully puts all the pieces together from Alex's memories and delivers a tour de force of raw emotion and revelation. His use of speeding up video tape effects, which have been a trademark of the flashbacks to the car bomb explosion have a resonance here with Tim Price's last, devastating video message.
There are a number of concepts to keep the eagle eyed amongst us intrigued too and I'll get to those in a mo. However, it's also gratifying to see several threads continuing with this episode. The question of Ray's sexuality is again hinted at with his overt and befuddled homophobia towards Tom Robinson's 'Glad To Be Gay' song and Chris' amusing remark that most of the gay protestors he shared his cell with 'all looked like you, Ray'. Chris' spell as an inmate to bluff Lord Scarman's visit also continues the theme about masculinity and male power which spills over into the Gene Hunt and Evan White characters. It is arguably male power that both kills Alex's parents and simultaneously rescues her from the car bomb. This also underlines the importance of the clown/Tim Price figure and how Alex only finds redemption with her mother and rejection from her father.
That final scene between Keeley Hawes and Amelia Bullimore was superbly played, highly emotional and so very tragic when you understand that one of the ideas here is that it is Alex herself that causes the death of her own parents. She does everything to prevent an event but instead invokes deja vu. She gets shot by Layton and arrives in '1981'; attempts to return to 2008 by saving her parents, and in the course of doing so discovers the Evan/Caroline affair; she talks to Caroline so much about Molly and how the mother/daughter relationship is important that she makes Caroline realise she should spend more time with young Alex; Caroline decides to take young Alex on a trip to 'bond' with her; the trip is the catalyst for the car-bomb set off by Tim and possibly linked to Evan. Alex is the reason why they die in the end. However, as this is allegedly going on in her head then Alex may just simply be projecting this scenario onto her vague memories.
And if this is still going on in her head then where does that leave Gene? From the evidence here, in that beautiful reveal on the hillside, Gene rescues young Alex and pulls her away from the explosion. Is Gene therefore real? Does this and the scene of Gene carrying young Alex into the police station substantiate the very same scene, shot for shot, in the first episode when Gene carries the adult, protesting Alex ('I don't want to go in there!') into the same station? Or is she simply projecting her knowledge of Gene onto the situation? If Gene is real then it means he's possibly alive in the present day or she has in fact time-travelled. I never considered either 'Life On Mars' or 'Ashes' to be about time travel (a frequent mistake made by less understanding reviewers) and certainly 'Ashes' has a more religious theme, rather than a time paradox, mixed in with the coma/near-death subconscious dialogue. Gene's 'I'm there when I'm needed' line sounds very god-like and the last scene in the restaurant uncannily looks like The Last Supper. Equally, Shaz positions Alex as a Guardian Angel and this echoes the Gene as angel watching over Alex motif that's run through the series. So not time travel then...more like mind travel. Add to this some subtle reminders that Alex is waking up in 2008, similar to the dripping water scenes in the last episode, wher do see a brief shot of her face and here the sound of water and Layton's threats.
A nailbiting, gripping last half subverts the comedy capers with Scarman and Chris in the cells, which is brought to a climax with Gene's brilliant, rousing call to arms. He loves his job, his station and his men (and women) and he'll no doubt have to keep defending them. In the meantime we got the lovely gags about the trophy cabinet, solving crimes before they happen and 'care in the community'. We then are plunged into a frantic bid by Alex to prevent the death of her parents and return to 2008. It's gut-wrenching when it goes wrong, so thoroughly disturbing when Tim metamorphoses into the Clown Of Death, and Alex is on her knees howling in anguish after a fiery explosion that's eerily silent. Quite stunning television and a blaze of visual imagery that elevates that devastation to poetry.
Glenister and Hawes are once again sublime. Hawes raw and emotional in that sad little scene with Bullimore and during the car-bomb climax and then introspective and sympathetic to Gene in the dinner scene, Glenister forthright and then so subtle in that coda at the dinner table. They are certainly not playing Gene and Alex as pastiches, they are playing them as real. Dean Andrews and Marshall Lancaster provide the great gags but also Andrews also shows off some very subtle acting here too. Plus a great cameo from the ever superb Geoffrey Palmer as Scarman.
So where next? Evan is complicit in the Prices deaths, Layton is out on release, Gene might be real, the Artemis file is still in Gene's drawer, the Clown of Death still wants Alex to join his incomplete family...plenty to chew on for the second series. Roll on 2009.
Episode Seven review
Episode Six review
Episode Five review
Episode Four review
Episode Three review
Episode Two review
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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