ASHES TO ASHES - Series 3: Episode Seven / Review


Gene (to Alex): 'Bugger off. I'm grieving'

Alex: 'What are you doing tonight?'
Gene: 'I'm going to a revival of The Caretaker at the Royal Court.'
Alex: 'Are you!'
Gene: 'No.'

Gene: 'Right then. We'd better go and split some skulls for Viv.'
Alex: 'Mmm. How touched he'd be.'

Shaz: 'You need to stand up for yourself, Chris.'
Ray: 'Oh, yeah. And police officers will fly.'

Gene: 'Can I please have a bit o' peace and BASTARD quiet!'

Shaz: 'And where you in the bathroom too?'
Two African Women: 'Yes'
Shaz: 'Musta been one a hell of big bathroom'

Shaz: 'Chris must take control of his own destiny. He's in denial.'
Ray: 'De-nile? Int that a river in Egypt?'

Ray: 'I'm not saying I agree with apartheid but just take a look at the rest of Africa. A set of corrupt murderers. I mean, it's like Liverpool but with sunshine and elephants.'
Shaz: 'You're the most intolerant, prejudiced man I've ever met Ray.'
Ray: 'Bet you say that to all the boys!'

Gene: 'Scrub up well, Bols'
Alex: 'You don't look so bad yourself'

Alex: 'Things falls apart, the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world'
Gene: 'That Pam Ayres?'
Alex: 'W. B Yeats'

Gene: 'All we are is difference, Bolly'

Alex: 'Just the bill please.'
Gene: 'You're a feminist, you can pay half.'

Alex: (to Gene) 'Get yer coat. You've pulled.'

Gene: 'You dare to disobey me.'
Chris: 'I didn't join the police force, guv, to be a party to state murder.'
Gene: 'You joined the police force to wipe my arse, Skelton.'

Alex: 'I don't believe that Gene Hunt killed Sam Tyler.'
Keats: 'How did you come to that conclusion?'
Alex: 'I asked him.'

Gene: (to Alex) 'I don't care what Jim Keats thinks. I care what you think. If you don't believe me, what's the point.'

Now there's a thing. Notice how the 'Previously' part of the pre-titles ended on the image of the stars as Abide With Me gradually faded up over the soundtrack? Those religious motifs keep coming thick and fast in yet another superb episode of Ashes To Ashes. A moment of sombre reflection then as the mourners sing said hymn at Viv's funeral. Except Viv doesn't quite want to go it seems as the coffin gets stuck and the curtains won't close as it departs. It takes Gene, wonderfully silhouetted against the church window (more of that 'angel of light' imagery again) to sort the mess with the curtains out ('Sorry, Viv') much to the amusement of Chris. There's that little look that Alex has over her shoulder at Jim Keats too as the scene blends mordant humour and an uneasiness about Viv's death.

As the hymn comes to an end, the camera cuts to the portrait of Viv. A burst of flames is superimposed or reflected in the glass of the photograph. More of the fiery imagery, suggestive of the flames of hell and the flames that consume Viv's body and send him on his spiritual journey too. After all, he made mistakes and paid for them with his life and both Gene and Jim are sorting out those deaths between them, aren't they? At the wake, in Luigi's, Gene pointedly remarks, 'I remember when we were evicted from paradise and sent down to this Southern shit hole, Viv came over and shook me hand and said he was sorry, but all Northerners looked the same to him'.

A neat in-joke as reversal to the casual racism that Gene and Ray throw about in their dealings with the ANC members later in the episode, including mispronounciation of African names, the white officers doing impressions of the film Zulu ('pathetic, aren't they' observes Shaz to Alex), and Gene's suggestion to Tobias that British prisons would enjoy a 'bit of African rough'. All this shameful behaviour is then hilariously countered by Alex in her interrogation with Tobias: 'This may sound trite but I argued against apartheid at my school's in house debating society. Very nearly won. does sound a bit trite', and summing up decades of white liberal colonial guilt in one fell swoop with, 'I know what you're doing. You're creating a conversational vacuum that you think my white liberal guilt will fill with inane chattering and banalities almost completely without punctuation and coherent syntax, thus taking the heat off what we're supposed to be really talking about.'

The eviction from paradise evokes all those connections to Milton again and the fall of Lucifer from heaven. The world of Gene Hunt is changing and Lucifer's philosophy "The mind is its own place, and in itself/ Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven" seems to describe this world and the powers of Keats and Hunt. Is Keats symbolically the gatekeeper to Hell whilst Hunt is Uriel, the regent of the sun, flame of God, archangel of salvation? Or are they interchangeable? When Gene goes off to interrogate Tsitsi, Alex advises him, 'Go easy on her. She's had a hell of life.' Gene counters with 'The very thought,' that perhaps indicates he knows what she's talking about.

Gene is clearly shocked at the loss of Viv and picks away at poor, bumbling Chris throughout the episode. We've never seen him so angry that he physically attacks his officers and he really gives Chris a very hard time, ultimately motivating him to finally stand up for himself, to have an opinion and to disagree with the 'guv'. But this is all part of the series ongoing 'test' of the main characters - with Shaz it was her lack of faith in the force and going undercover to unearth a killer, with Ray it was his inability to live up to his father's ideal and becoming a cop and not a soldier - which are all to do with 'courage of your convictions'.

The politics of the ANC and Chris' growing awareness of the situation and then letting Tobias escape are all part of the episode's test for him. The episode handles the history and background of the then militarised ANC, regarded as a terrorist organisation by the UK, the US and South Africa, rather well and reflects the harsh apartheid regime of white South Africa through the characters reactions to racist oppression (Ray can't quite get his head around the 'racism' of the situation). Tobias is a very mysterious figure throughout and that final conversation with Chris by the river at night, paralleling the similar scene with Alex and Shaz, has a bizarre supernatural element to it too.

Meanwhile as the investigation into the death of an undercover Special Branch officer working to expose the ANC terrorist cell continues, Alex is once again troubled by Keats demands to help him get Gene Hunt. Keats takes away the roll of photographic film that Alex found in the tin box with the photograph of police officer 6620 and claims that he'll develop them at division. But are we sure that the photographs he then delivers to Alex at the end of the episode are the ones that were on that film. Or has he been holding the location of the buried body since the beginning of the show? Remember, he did appear to Alex in her coma claiming to have read all the files. Has he been planting this evidence all along in order to shake Alex's faith in Gene?

Will Alex herself have the courage of her own convictions? 'We're the same, you and me,' mutters Keats as they discuss Gene's alleged guilt of Sam's death. Alex is clearly rattled by this, 'Except I don't want it to be true. So we're not he same, are we?' He reiterates her mission, 'Do what you were put here to do. Get me Gene Hunt.' This encounter results in Alex's dinner date with Gene. It's here she'll ask him the question we've all wanted answering since this series started.

Gene uses Tsitsi as leverage to uncover Tobias' involvement in the ANC cell, 'a sprat to catch a mackerel' which he thinks will be enough of a case to outwit Keats ('this is the final chapter, Bolly and in case you hadn't noticed, we're fighting for our lives' indicates that the ANC plot is so much more than it seems). He even makes up a nifty bit of civil service red tape - form APR13 - to circumvent Keats from handing Tobias over to Special Branch. It does become a little obvious that Tsitsi is actually the killer and that Tobias is covering for her, so when the bomb goes off and she's found to be the perpetrator then it's not entirely a surprise but it all makes for a gritty procedural story.

Alex is asked by Keats, 'Do you think this is a game?' as he starts to question her ability to get the truth about Gene and Sam's murder (that game theme, again). Keats has, over the last two weeks, become ever more threatening and is piling the pressure on Alex. 'Some flirty, silly little game being played out by you, me and Hunt?' He wants her take that final step and ask Gene directly. We then cut to both Alex and Gene preparing for their night out together. Curious that, as Gene washes his face, the action goes into slow motion momentarily and it's further to a visual motif that has been popping up throughout the episodes. Does it have significance?

Love the fact that Gene can't be bothered with his bow tie, is necking the Scotch back (just as Alex is necking her wine too) and polishes his crocodile shoes in preparation. An intimate sequence that gives us pause for thought about these two great characters and that this is indeed the final chapter they'll be in. Ashley Pharoah also builds up the 'Galex', as it's known, to such a breaking point during the meal and then back at Alex's flat, that it's highly amusing that they're both interrupted on the brink of a kiss by Keats delivering the photographs.

And we've got that quote from The Second Coming. Yeats wrote it in 1921, reflecting upon the state of the world after WW1. One interpretation of it describes how we are moving further and further away from God, from authority and law. As the world draws away from from spiritual and moral leadership everything is under strain "Things fall apart" and "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world". It suggests a tide of evil will flourish and that no one can be considered innocent.

Yeats describes the arrival of an Anti-Christ (Keats perhaps?) and the awakening of the Sphinx (Gene - the Manc lion - perhaps?) as it recognises the time has now come for Christ's return. The 'Spiritus Mundi' in the poem, meaning "the spirit or soul of the universe, with which all individual souls are connected through the 'Great Memory,' which Yeats held to be a universal subconscious in which the human race preserves its past memories" might refer to how Chris, Shaz and Ray all share the same consciousness and see and hear the same symbols e.g. the stars, Nelson in the Railway Arms. Is this quote then symbolic of the final battle between Keats and Hunt?

As this discussion continues, Tobias describes the very 'bloodtide' of which Yeats is referring to Chris. He tells him of the racial violence that he's witnessed against children, a student shot through the head ('through the eye' suggests an image analogous to that of the scarred policeman) and the promise he made to himself not to 'live my life as a dog, shivering in fear at what its master might do. Better a dead lion than a live rat. my friend.' Again, there's that lion/Sphinx imagery and Chris perhaps symbolised as the dog living in fear of his own master, Gene Hunt. It's a powerfully unsettling scene played out by Lucian Msamati as Tobias and the ever wonderful Marshall Lancaster.

And the elephant in the room is finally addressed. To her question about whether he murdered Sam, Gene reveals something quite extraordinary that opens up even more questions. 'Been acting strange for a few weeks. Sam Tyler strange was very bloody strange indeed. I asked him what was wrong. He wouldn't tell me, couldn't tell me. He said he wanted to leave. He asked me to help him fake his own death. That's why we set fire to the car and pushed it into the river. I never saw him again.' Gene allegedly asked Sam why he wanted to fake his death and was told it would be better if he didn't know. He trusted Sam despite this. Pointedly, he says that faith and trust are things that Alex hasn't learned yet. So we're left with the conundrum of why Sam had to fake his own death. Did he need to get out of the game?

We then learn that Tobias is in fact 'Joshua' and he says something very interesting too when Chris asks why he covered for Tsitsi, who murdered the Special Branch officer and dynamited the South African Embassy. 'Because I've had my life, Chris.' Is 'Joshua' a visitor to this time too? Someone placed there to ensure the transition from bombs to ballots. It's significant surely that in their riverside chat that he asks about the future that Alex predicts and that when he vanishes there is that 'soul' vocal on the soundtrack too.

Chris' night duty started out as a confession to Alex, which was conveniently interrupted by Keats - who always seems determined that those who have doubts do not get a sympathetic hearing -  and then it becomes a long, dark night of the soul where the challenge is for Chris to make his own choice about Tobias/Joshua and deny the Gospel of Gene Hunt. A bit like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemene. Marshall Lancaster gets another opportunity to shine and show us that Chris is more than the slightly soft, awkward officer and actually does have a sense of what is right and wrong about Tobias/Joshua.

We're back to the courage of your convictions again and a bit of a thrashing from Gene Hunt for disobeying an order. Quite a frightening scene that leaves you feeling that Chris has now burnt all his bridges and there is no way back for him. But 'the rat became the lion' he tells Tobias (a Greek corruption of the Hebrew for 'God is good') and as Tobias vanishes Chris returns to the fold, makes peace with Gene and has his 'Life On Mars' Nelson moment. Fantastic.

We also get the weirdness on top. The scene in the corridor when Ray and Shaz hear Nelson's cackling laughter and comfort each other (only for Chris to misinterpret it and assume Ray and Shaz have something going on and concluding, 'you're both nutters and you deserve each other') suggests that they are both now aware of other realities breaking through into theirs. Keats unwraps a packet of video tapes, huge grin on his face, and marks them up - Ray, Shaz and Chris. In the trailer for Episode Eight, he hands the tapes to each of them. What is that all about? And Chris hearing a police whistle? Is this something we'll understand in the finale?And again, look at those scenes of conflict in the office where the ceiling lights are completely off and the lighting is very low. Darkness is descending. And Luigi is shutting up the bar and going home. And then that breathtaking collective vision of Ray, Shaz and Chris where they are adrift in the stars.

As this excellent episode spirals away from the ANC police procedural it dives straight back into completing the the major arc of the series. Did the lyrics to Spandau Ballet's True ever sound so profound in a given context? 'Be careful, Alex. Be very careful,' warns Keats as she abandons Gene and follows that pesky weather vane due North to a grave in Lancashire. Meanwhile, according to Shaz, 'it's like 1953' in Chris and Ray's heads. Why 1953? Does this tie in with Matthew Graham's final image in black and white of 'POLICE' as mentioned in this week's press coverage? As the camera pans down from a Gothic church archway to frame the three of them in the stars I think we're about to find out.

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12 Responses to “ASHES TO ASHES - Series 3: Episode Seven / Review”
  1. cracking blog as always

  2. Anonymous says:

    And we've got that quote from The Second Coming. Yeats wrote it in 1921, reflecting upon the state of the world after WW1. One interpretation of it describes how we are moving further and further away from God, from authority and law. As the world draws away from from spiritual and moral leadership everything is under strain "Things fall apart" and "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world". It suggests a tide of evil will flourish

  3. Carey says:

    Hi Frank!

    Am I alone in thinking that the star field Shaz, Chris and Ray stand before is highly reminiscent the one from A Matter of Life and Death's awiting room in heaven; as well as the opening scene from It's a Wonderful Life where the angel Clarence is given his mission to protect George Bailey? Especially in the way that the camera moves in on a collection of stars and they seem to glow.

    Or am I reading too much into something again?-)

    Whatever, a brilliant review as ever, Frank. Keep up the god work, and I hope all's well with you.


  4. Steve says:

    I note the repeated links to Alex’s ancestral quest for civil rights, which this time connects to Nelson Mandela. And, of course, Nelson (heard in voice) was the landlord of the Railway Arms.

  5. Steve says:

    Having personally experienced bizarre phenomena for real (a point that has landed me in trouble before, on the issue of LoM & A2A [I should apologise to those on the Railway Arms discussion site]) I have to ask if these fictional examples were loosely based on actual experiences. As I have noted before, PJ Hammond’s TV Sci-Fi series ‘Sapphire & Steel’ had been loosely based upon Hammond’s own experiences in a haunted castle. I believe that PJ Hammond had assumed that the ghosts were appearing through a crack in time, and that time had a mind of its own.

    Hammond created a fictional group of humanoid extraterrestrials (two of whom were Sapphire and Steel) with special powers, who were regularly assigned to Earth to do battle with the threat from sentient time. I have no reason to suppose that Hammond’s fictional version of the situation was in any way close to the reality of it. Nevertheless, there is a reality to this situation beyond the fictionalisations.


  6. S Bates says:

    Another brilliant episode. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    A thought I had was that this was all taking place in Sam Tyler's mind. After the events of LoM, Sam - realising that real life wasn't as good as his dream - lost his 'mind'. Alex, in the real world, is trying to help Sam in her role as a police psychologist. She thus appears in Sam's dream world as someone trying to find him and work out what happened to him. Gene represents Sam's sense of fighting to live and escape into the real world whereas Keats is the part of him that just wants to conform and collapse into nothingness.

    It doesn't work with all things though. For instance, I haven't a clue what the stars mean!

    A better idea might be that the dream is all Gene's (whose body is lost somewhere and needs burying to move on) and that other coppers keep finding themselves wrapped up in it when they are near death. Gene is trying to fight his way to heaven whilst the dark part of his soul (Keats) wants to pull him down to hell.

    Anyway, we should find out this Friday. Can't wait!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Well Frank, you've included quite a lot of my comments in your review this week! Being billed as the first part of a two part finale I expected more answers this week, but in true Ashes to Ashes style: they've kept us waiting to the very end!!

    Has Viv died and become a star in the sky? D.I.Drake has seen stars, but hasn't had 'a moment.' Hhmmm.

    Perhaps Thordy really is Sam Tyler: Gene said Sam had told him he wanted to leave, and that he never saw him again, and that he wouldn't tell Gene why. Thordy said he discovered the secret and got removed from the game. Perhaps he couldn't tell Gene or he, too, would be removed.

    It was so cool - so cool - when "Free Nelson Mandela" sparked up as the Quattro slid round the corner!! I love the scenes in the blue tinged archway, too.

    When D.I.Drake had been to see Keats, Gene was leaning over his desk, back to the door: the soundtrack was atmospheric and Shaz and Ray got together: what does it mean? It struck me as an odd little scene.

    Without singling anyone out: what a cast!! A huge Thank You to each and every one of you!!

    When Tobias met Chris, and then we heard "Soul" on the soundtrack, I wondered whether he was really there, or whether it was just an apparition or suchlike, and that in fact Tobias was elsewhere, losing his life. He did disappear, after all - unlike Louise Gardiner and Viv.

    When Chris had his 'moment' I didn't hear the Life on Mars music, but Nelson's voice instead: has Chris forfeited life on Mars due to his failures? And Luigi, being so thrilled at his cousin's death? A touch out of character - or does he know that his cousin is, in fact, not real, but a character in a game, maybe?

    Keeley looked great in the scene where Gene went to her flat, did she not? "True" playing on the stereo - after searching for the truth for all this time...."I've bought a ticket to the world....but now I've come back again - why do I find it hard to write the next line?." Well, because with Ashes to Ashes you just never know what's going to happen next! And then followed by "Victims." Excellent, I thought - and more than a few Ashes to Ashes themes woven in:

    Strange places we never see
    But you're always there
    Like a ghost in my dreams
    When you do those things
    Pull my puppet strings
    And it's sink or swim
    And I keep on loving you
    It's the only thing to do
    When the angel sings
    There are greater things
    Take a ride into unknown pleasure
    Feel like a child
    On a dark night
    Wishing there was some kind of heaven.... [edited.]

    The photos Keats handed to D.I.Drake may not be the ones from the roll of film she had found: he didn't even claim that they were; he just said he'd had them developed. The whole thing could be a set up: at 9.06 his watch stopped, and wasn't that around the time D.I.Drake saw the news clip about the body being found....and the weather vane was there? Is Keats trying to frame Gene Hunt? After all, earlier in the episode he mentioned the grave to D.I.Drake and, hey presto: a grave, turns up in the photos!

    I can't wait to find out how it all turns out, but I don't want it to end, either!!

    Grinch456 - it wouldn't allow me to verify the way I normally do :o(

  8. Steve says:

    I have absolutely no idea what the scriptwriters have actually planned for the end of this series. For this reason, whatever I might postulate here can only be on the basis of a personal concept. Looking at the following ambiguities, however, I would suggest the following: If this 1980s world had been on the same time stream as the 2008 world, then how could Martin Summers create a paradox by killing his younger self in A2A series two? As I see it, the 1980s world of A2A had to be at least an alternative reality.

    In Series one, Evan White could not have been at the scene of Tim & Caroline Price’s death without the intervention of Alex Drake. Drake had affected White’s actions. After all, Evan White had loaned his car to the Prices, and wasn’t about to go to Alex’s school. Having loaned the car to the Prices, why should Evan White concern himself about where Tim and Caroline Price drove in it? Until after the explosion, Evan White had no reason to suppose that Tim Price would enlist Arthur Leighton to help him commit suicide & murder.


  9. Steve says:

    Quote: “Is Keats trying to frame Gene Hunt? After all, earlier in the episode he mentioned the grave to D.I. Drake and, hey presto: a grave turns up in the photos!”

    That’s a lovely deduction, which might well be proved right. In fact, I would suggest that it could be a framing exercise in a virtual reality computer game. After all, Martin Summers (series two) appeared to be playing his part as if it were merely a game. Summers might have twigged that it was all just a game, and was, therefore, able to kill his younger self knowing that there would be no consequence. Indeed, the game might well include the supposed reality of 2008.

    Bizarrely, another clue might have even been incorporated into ‘Dr Who’ 2010 episode 7, entitled ‘Amy’s Choice’. In this storyline, the choice between two alternative realities turned out to be entirely bogus. Neither of these two realities turned out to be true, and appeared to be the result of hallucinogenic chemicals from alien pollen and/or of an alien with great psychic powers.


  10. Steve says:

    My hypotheses on the LoM & A2A sagas are only personal concepts, based upon a mixture of strange personal experiences and sci-fi concepts. I do not presume that my individualistic ideas will be reflected in the actual TV production. With regards to biblical quotes in A2A (which have a bizarre resonance in my own observations), I will go as to say that I do not personally consider the bible to be a religious work. I don’t assume that the bible is fully factual, but equally, I do not presuppose the bible to be completely fictional.

    I am certainly not a religious person; my own experiences tend to place the bible in a sci-fi category, wherein the ancients had been deliberately tricked by the use of advanced alien sciences. With respect to these personal viewpoints (which I do not presume to be a reflection of the scriptwriter’s concepts), I find it most interesting that Alex Drake’s first case in 1983 should happen to involve the abducted daughter of a man occupied in the home computer industry. Indeed, Dot Matrix, the name of the company, connected to the name of the abducted girl. Furthermore, I found it personally intriguing to learn that biblical studies had been intertwined in this plot.

    Given the manner by which the 1970s & 1980s where able to protrude into the 21st century, my gut instinct is to assume that all realities portrayed were equally bogus. With the addition of the test card girl and clown (LoM), followed by the clown (A2A series one), I consider it quite conceivable that all the action in A2A & LoM actually takes place inside a future computer. Such a computer would be running nothing more than a history program. I would suggest that someone has deliberately placed anachronistic characters into that program, for purely entertainment purposes.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Ah, good! It's allowing me to verify that it's me again: not sure why it wouldn't last time - must've just been a glitch in The Matrix.

    I've been thinking about Martin Summers, too. Interesting thought that both realities might be different levels in a computer game!

    Gene said to D.I.Drake, "If you don't believe me, what's the point?" In episode 4 he said, "What's the point - it's not like I'm the DCI in this district, not like anybody tells me what's going on in my own back garden." What's the point? A slighly unusual phrase given the (apparent) contexts. Hhmmm: is it more about trust & commitment; more about the rules of the game?

    I wonder if Layton was talking to Keats.

    D.I.Drake seems to get called Alex a lot more in this series - not sure if that means anything: one can never tell with Ashes to Ashes....

    Oh, well: we find out tomorrow!! I'm half excited, half grieving.

  12. Steve says:

    Dear grinch456,
    Quote: “I've been thinking about Martin Summers, too. Interesting thought that both realities might be different levels in a computer game!”

    Well, I don’t know how the storyline will really end, although I’m pretty sure that Gene Hunt will come up smelling of roses. Gene’s now a folk hero, even though he’s a fictitious cop who likes to practice anaesthetic-free dentistry on crime suspects. The goodies will have to triumph, or there’ll be a metaphorical riot.

    I had been considering the bizarre twists and turns in this case in a non-spiritual way. Given my personal experiences, I have good reasons to question the validity of spirituality. As an alternative, I apply a philosophy that is based upon the principle that you’ll “get owt f’nowt”. Magic, I postulate, is an irrational deduction. Instead, I propose that technology so advanced that it looks like magic is possible. Ultimately, however, I do realise that ashes to ashes and life on mars are purely fictional scenarios, and that anything goes for a conclusion. The concept of the Life on Mars OOBE trick was merely a vehicle to get DCI Sam Tyler back to 1973, in order to create a retro cop show; a parallel adventure to John Thaw’s politically incorrect ‘Sweeny’. But LoM was deeper than merely an OOBE, and there were curious wormholes running both ways between 1973 & 2006.

    In real life, however, natural anomalies tend not to share abstract concepts. Because A2A has been written as a parallel case, it necessarily follows abstract concepts. Events that occur along abstract lines imply intelligent manipulation. Thus, the abstract links in the A2A storyline make it exceedingly unnatural. If LoM & A2A had been genuine cases, I would be forced to conclude that both were manipulated instances. Given the related unnatural phenomena that affect all quoted time zones, all the quoted time zones are suspect. Thus, a simple solution would be to assume that both sides of A2A & LoM were false.

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