Ashes to Ashes (TV series)

Ashes to Ashes

Ashes to Ashes title sequence
Genre Time travel
Police procedural
Created by Matthew Graham
Ashley Pharoah
Starring Philip Glenister
Keeley Hawes
Dean Andrews
Marshall Lancaster
Montserrat Lombard
Daniel Mays (Series 3)
Composer(s) Edmund Butt
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 3
No. of episodes 24 (list of episodes)
Producer(s) Kudos Film and Television for BBC Wales with Monastic Productions
Running time 60 minutes
Original network BBC One (2008–2010)
BBC HD (2010)
Picture format PAL 576i (2008–2009)
1080i (2010)
Original release 7 February 2008 (2008-02-07) – 21 May 2010
Preceded by Life on Mars
External links

Ashes to Ashes is a British science fiction and police procedural drama television series, serving as the sequel to Life on Mars.[1]

The series began airing on BBC One in February 2008. A second series began broadcasting in April 2009. A third and final series was broadcast from 2 April to 21 May 2010 on BBC One and BBC HD.[2]


Throughout the first series, Ashes to Ashes was broadcast weekly on Thursdays on BBC One at 9:00 pm, with the episodes directed by Jonny Campbell, Bille Eltringham and Catherine Morshead. Filming for the second series began in 2008, and began airing on 20 April 2009 in the same timeslot. The second series takes place six months after the first, set in 1982 during the Falklands War.[3] They were shot on Super 16 film and mastered in 576p standard definition.[4]

A third and final series was commissioned, and filming of the final eight 60-minute episodes began in late 2009, premiering on 2 April 2010.[5][6] This final series was shot in Super 16 again but telecined and mastered for high definition.[7] In an interview with SFX, series co-creator and executive producer Matthew Graham stated that he was considering making a 3D episode.[8] Once again, the series moved on a year, this time to 1983.[9] Philip Glenister, speaking on the BBC One Breakfast TV programme on 8 June 2009, announced that the third series would be the last.[10] Producers revealed the climax of the show would reveal who the character of Gene Hunt really is.[11] The third series concluded on 21 May 2010.

Depiction of the early 1980s

As with the parent series, there are anachronisms. At least one is known to the cast and crew: the Audi Quattro was not available in right-hand drive in the United Kingdom in 1981, only in left-hand drive. The car shown in the TV series is the 1983 model, with slight changes to the headlights and other features.[12] Philip Glenister admitted that the production was aware of this and said, "But who cares? It's a cool car."[13] A number of songs used in the series were also out of time, such as Japan's "Ghosts" in series one, Duran Duran's "Is There Something I Should Know? in series two, and "Two Tribes" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves in series three (although the latter was originally released in 1983, the version played was from 1985). Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" was released in 1983, but it features prominently in episode 3.2, set four months before the release; similarly, Ray Carling says in episode 1.2 that Bobby Moore "was in that movie, Escape to Victory", which was not released until a fortnight after the episode was set. News events of the three depicted years are used as backdrops to the stories: the 29 July 1981 royal wedding, the 1981 start of the London Docklands Development Corporation's work and Lord Scarman's contemporaneous enquiry, the April 1982 liberation of the Falkland Islands, the 9 June 1983 general election, the 21 November 1983 damage to the Blue Peter Garden, and (in flashback), the 2 June 1953 coronation of the Queen.



The series tells the story of Alex Drake (played by Keeley Hawes), a police officer in service with the London Metropolitan Police, who is shot in 2008 by a man called Arthur Layton and inexplicably regains consciousness in 1981.[14]

The first episode of the series reveals that, in the present day, Drake has been studying records of the events seen in Life on Mars through reports made by Sam Tyler after he regained consciousness in the present. Upon waking in the past she is surprised to meet the returning characters of Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) and Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster), all of whom she has learned about from her research, the trio having transferred from the Manchester setting of Life on Mars (Manchester and Salford Police) to London.

Tension between Drake and Hunt is built through the unsatisfactory explanation of Sam Tyler's absence and the perceived underhandedness and shoddy work of Hunt in contrast to the methodical, ethical and thoroughly modern Drake. Continuing the theme of Life on Mars, throughout the series, it is ambiguous to both Drake and the audience whether the character is dead or alive in the present day and to what extent her actions influence future events.


The final episode reveals that the Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes world is a form of limbo or Purgatory, for "restless dead" police officers. These restless dead include the main characters Gene, Ray, Chris and Shaz (Montserrat Lombard), all of whom died in violent circumstances but there may be others.

The revelation of their deaths comes as a surprise to all except Gene, who knew they were all dead but who had forgotten the circumstances of his own death, due to the passage of time. All except Hunt "move on" as he takes it upon himself to act as a psychopomp or "ferryman", to all of his officers, helping them on their way to The Railway Arms (their euphemism for Heaven, filmed on location at The Horseshoe Inn, 26 Melior Street, London).

Gene returns to his office, where a newly dead officer arrives, demanding his iPhone (implying that he is from the present) and asking where his office has gone, in a very similar manner to the arrival of Sam Tyler (John Simm) in the first episode of Life on Mars. In fact, Gene's last words — "A word in your shell-like, pal" — are the same as his first words to Sam Tyler in the first episode of Life on Mars.

International distribution

The programme premiered in America on 7 March 2009, available on both cable and satellite. The second series began broadcasting on BBC America on 11 May 2010 at 10:00 pm ET.[15]

In Australia, Series 1 of Ashes to Ashes commenced on 10 August 2009 on ABC1, with the second series shown directly after. The third series commenced on 13 January 2011 on ABC1.[16]

In Denmark, series one was shown for the first time on DR2 at 19.05 each weekday evening from 25 November 2011[17] under the title En hård nyser: Kommissær Hunt and is currently (May 2012) being repeated on the same channel.

In Portugal, the show is broadcast by Fox Life, while in Latin America, the series is shown on HBO Plus.

In Italy, Ashes to Ashes is broadcast by Rai 4.

In Europe, Ashes to Ashes is broadcast by BBC Entertainment.

Episode guide

The first series, set in 1981, consists of eight episodes, written mainly by creators Ashley Pharoah (episodes 2 & 8) and Matthew Graham (episodes 1 & 7). Other writers for the series were Julie Rutterford (episode three) and Mark Greig (episodes 4 & 5), who worked on the parent series, Life on Mars. The remaining episode (6) was written by freelance writer Mick Ford. In this series Alex tries to figure out what happened to her parents, whose lives are connected to the political unrest of the time, especially Margaret Thatcher's campaign and Lord Scarman's attacks on the police. Alex is haunted by a mysterious figure who seems to be the Clown from the music video of David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes", reminiscent of the Test-Card Girl who bedevilled Sam Tyler in Life on Mars. (The clown's identity is revealed in the last episode of the first series.)

The second series of eight episodes is set in 1982, against the political background of the Falklands War. The first episode, written by Ashley Pharoah, deals with the cover-up of the killing of a police officer in a nightclub. As the series progresses, Alex's comatose body is found in present-day 2008. Gene finds himself confronting a corrupted force and Alex begins receiving a string of phone calls from a man called Martin Summers, another patient at the hospital to which she has been moved, and a key figure in the web of corruption Hunt is trying to bring down. Summers proves to be a formidable adversary, whose actions eventually lead to a murder and an extremely tense confrontation between Alex and Gene. The series ends with Alex awakening in what seems to be the present, but she is horrified to find Gene's face on monitors, pleading for help.

In the third and final series, set yet another year forward in 1983, DCI Gene Hunt, DI Alex Drake and the rest of the team all return, joined by a new addition, DCI Jim Keats, a discipline and complaints officer.[18] Alex returns to the 1980s after being brought round by Gene, and she comes to believe the 2008 she woke up in was only a dream. Her connection to the present seems weaker than before, while Hunt is trying to stop his department crumbling from within due to Keats' presence. Although Jim is ostensibly friendly with Hunt's officers, he makes no effort to conceal his hatred of Gene when the two are alone, and attempts to turn Alex against him. Prompted by the haunting of a dead policeman and visions of stars, Alex becomes suspicious of the role Gene played in Sam Tyler's death following his return to the past, and, urged on by Jim, she eventually discovers the truth of Gene Hunt, her colleagues and the world she has been transported to.


Ashes to Ashes
Soundtrack album by various artists
Released 17 March 2008
Genre Pop rock
Label Sony BMG
Ashes to Ashes chronology
Life on Mars
Ashes to Ashes
Ashes to Ashes – Series 2
Ashes to Ashes – Series 2
Soundtrack album by various artists
Released 20 April 2009
Genre Pop rock
Label Sony Music
Ashes to Ashes chronology
Ashes to Ashes
Ashes to Ashes – Series 2
Ashes to Ashes – Series 3
Ashes to Ashes – Series 3
Soundtrack album by various artists
Released 12 April 2010
Genre Pop rock
Label Sony Music
Ashes to Ashes chronology
Ashes to Ashes – Series 2
Ashes to Ashes – Series 3

The soundtrack features contemporary songs by British groups of the period such as punk period survivors The Clash and The Stranglers, New Romantics such as Duran Duran and Ultravox, synthpop such as Jon & Vangelis, OMD, later period Roxy Music and The Passions' sole hit single, "I'm in Love with a German Film Star", from 1981. A scene in the second episode, "The Happy Day", set at The Blitz features Steve Strange playing himself performing "Fade to Grey" by Visage. The last episode in Series 1 ends with "Take the Long Way Home" from Supertramp's Breakfast in America 1979 album. Episode 2 also contains the classic Madness song "The Prince". The final episode of Series 3 plays out to David Bowie's "Heroes". Philip Glenister said that one of the reasons the series moved on to 1982 was due to running out of good songs and feared that they'd end up having to use Bucks Fizz's "The Land of Make Believe" (a brief snippet of the song is indeed used in the second series, as well as the same group's "Making Your Mind Up" being used in series one).[19]

A CD soundtrack, Ashes to Ashes (Original Soundtrack), from the first series of the show was released on 17 March 2008.[20] A CD soundtrack, Ashes to Ashes – Series 2 (Original Soundtrack), from the second series of the show was released on 20 April 2009.[21] A CD soundtrack, Ashes to Ashes – Series 3 (Original Soundtrack), from the third series of the show was released on 12 April 2010.[22]

During the second and third series, 1980s background music (some of which had been used during the show) was available to UK digital TV viewers by using the red button immediately after the show. Clips from Top of the Pops, The Old Grey Whistle Test and other 1980s BBC TV music programmes, introduced by Philip Glenister in his guise as DCI Gene Hunt, were looped for the remainder of the evening of transmission.

Track listings


Based on overnight returns, The Guardian reported that audience figures for the 7 February 2008 broadcast of the first episode—in a 9 pm slot on the flagship channel, BBC One—were 7 million: about 29% of viewers. The figure was "in line with the final episode of Life on Mars in April last year, though well up on the earlier show's second series debut of 5.7 million two months earlier", but The Guardian noted "the heavy publicity blitz this week for Ashes to Ashes" as a factor in its success.[23]

Critical reception to the first episode of the series was mixed,[24] with positive reviews from The Daily Telegraph,[25] The Herald,[26] The Spectator,[27] and the New Statesman,[28] and negative reviews from The Times,[29] The Sunday Times,[30] Newsnight Review,[31] The Guardian,[32] and The Observer, which criticised the episode's direction, structure, and tone (although it did praise the costumes and art direction).[33] The national free sheet, Metro, gave the episode four stars as "a vote of faith" on what it described as "a dodgy start".[34]

The Guardian reported on 15 February 2008 that, with 6.1 million viewers and a 25% audience share, the ratings for the second episode, shown on 14 February, were down by almost one million on the first, comparing overnight returns. It still did well against the Lynda La Plante police procedural Trial & Retribution, which fell to a series low on ITV.[35] The fifth episode, broadcast 6 March 2008, attracted 6.6 million viewers according to overnight returns.[36] With this episode, The Daily Telegraph stated that "Ashes to Ashes stepped out of the shadow of Life on Mars."

After the final episode of the first series, The Daily Mirror stated that although one or two episodes were lacking, in the end it was a satisfying finish to a series which had a lot to live up to, and deserved a second series. Addressing press complaints about the quality of Keeley Hawes' performance, Philip Glenister defended his co-star, stating, "It's a hellishly difficult thing to come into and I've seen how hard she works and how brilliant she is. To all those detractors, they're just plain wrong."[37]

Entertainment news website Digital Spy praised the show's return, with cult editor Ben Rawson-Jones describing the opening episode of the second series as "greatly promising".[38] It was watched by 7.01 million viewers.[39][40]

The second series was nominated for The TV Dagger at the 2009 Crime Thriller Awards. Keeley Hawes and Philip Glenister received nominations in the Best Actress and Best Actor categories respectively.[41]

The finale of Ashes To Ashes, which finished in 2010,[42] has been described by Dean Andrews as "genius". He explained on GMTV: "Everything is tied up. You get all of the answers from Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes."[43]

When interviewed by SFX Magazine in May 2010, Matthew Graham spoke of teasing the BBC with a third set of series called The Laughing Gnome (the title suggests a prequel set in the 1960s), and claimed that they made "the whole title page and copyrighted it and everything". He said the BBC responded well to the joke, replying "Yeah, it's commissioned!".[44]

The series three finale was watched by 6.45 million viewers.[45]

In 2012, Corgi (die-cast toys and collectable manufacturer) released a 1:43 scale model of the Audi quattro and a two piece set featuring the quattro that has been "shot-up" and Ford Granada police car which featured in a chase in one of the later episodes.

Cultural impact

In 2010, the Labour Party used an edited image of Gene Hunt on the Quattro with David Cameron's face as part of its general election campaign, with the words "Don't let him take Britain back to the 1980s".[46][47] The slogan links the Conservative leader with memories of social unrest and youth unemployment.

In response to this, the Conservatives posted a slightly modified version of the image with the words "Fire up the Quattro. It's time for Change. Vote for Change. Vote Conservative."[48] Subsequently, Kudos Productions—which owns the copyright to the Gene Hunt character—wrote to both parties requiring them to cease using the image.[49]

DVD releases

Title Region 2 Region 4 Episodes
Ashes to Ashes: The Complete Series One 5 May 2008 1 October 2009 1–8
Ashes to Ashes: The Complete Series Two 13 July 2009 5 January 2010 9–16
Ashes to Ashes: The Complete Series Three 5 July 2010 6 October 2011 17–24


  1. "Press Office – Ashes To Ashes press pack". BBC. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  2. "Press Office – Network TV Programme Information BBC Week 13 Unplaced". BBC. 10 February 2004. Archived from the original on 24 March 2010. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  3. "Press Office – Ashes To Ashes series two press pack". BBC. 26 March 2009. Archived from the original on 26 March 2012. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
  4. Ashes to Ashes (TV Series 2008– ) - Technical Specifications - IMDb
  5. "Press Office – Press Release". BBC. 25 September 2009. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  6. "Ashes To Ashes series 3 start date confirmed". Den of Geek. Archived from the original on 22 March 2010. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  7. Danielle Nagler (23 June 2009). "Internet Blog: HD Masters Conference Keynote Speech, 23 June 2009". BBC. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
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  11. "Entertainment | Ashes to Ashes gets third series". BBC News. 8 June 2009. Archived from the original on 9 June 2009. Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  12. "Philip Glenister interview". In Gear supplement, The Sunday Times.
  13. Nathan, Sara (17 January 2008). "Ashes to Ashes: Dust to dust". The Sun. UK: News Group Newspapers. Retrieved 17 January 2008.
  14. "Ashes to Ashes – swapping the Ford Cortina for an Audi Quattro, DCI Gene Hunt rolls up his sleeves and embraces the Eighties in sequel to Life On Mars". BBC. 11 April 2007. Retrieved 11 April 2007.
  15. "Ashes to Ashes – Season 2 The highly anticipated second season premieres May 11th at 10/9c.". Archived from the original on 24 April 2009. Retrieved 3 May 2009.
  16. "Watch Now | ABC Television | Catch-up TV, Download, Subscribe or Watch Now on ABC iView". Retrieved 2012-12-07.
  17. Archived 14 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. "Press Office – Ashes To Ashes series three press pack: introduction". BBC. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  19. The Making of Series Two, Ashes to Ashes DVD documentary, 2Entertain, 2009
  20. "Music – News – 'Ashes To Ashes' soundtrack announced – Digital Spy". Digital Spy<!. 5 March 2008. Archived from the original on 28 March 2009. Retrieved 21 March 2009.
  21. "Ashes to Ashes Official Soundtrack Website". The Back in Times. Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  22. "Sony CMG Music Entertainment Limited". Sony CMG Music Entertainment Limited. 12 April 2010. Archived from the original on 22 May 2010. Retrieved 13 April 2010.
  23. Ashes burns up the opposition, The Guardian, 8 February 2008
  24. A perfectly smooth change of gear, by Robert Hanks, The Independent, 8 February 2008. Retrieved 08 02 2008.
  25. Last night on television: Ashes to Ashes (BBC1) – Cutting Edge: Who Killed the Playboy Earl? (Channel 4) by Gerard O'Donovan, Daily Telegraph, 8 February 2008
  26. Back in the Day when PC meant Copper Archived 11 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine. by David Belcher, The Herald, 8 February 2008
  27. In praise of Ashes to Ashes Archived 11 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine., by Matthew d'Ancona, The Spectator, 8 February 2008
  28. Let's do the time warp again, by Rachel Cooke, New Statesman, 7 February 2008
  29. Ashes to Ashes, TV review by Andrew Billen, The Times, 16 January 2008
  30. A A Gill (10 February 2008). "Attenborough takes on reptiles in Life in Cold Blood". Sunday Times. UK.
  31. NewsNight Review, 7 February 2008
  32. Sam Wollaston (8 February 2008). "Last night's TV". The Guardian. UK.
  33. Kathryn Flett (10 February 2008). "Fading hopes of Life after Mars". The Observer. UK.
  34. Keith Watson (8 February 2008). "Ashes To Ashes could be a slow-burner". Metro.
  35. Almost 1m viewers desert Ashes to Ashes, The Guardian, 15 February 2008
  36. The Guardian: Up from the ashes, 7 March 2008
  37. "BBC Newsbeat: Glenister defends ''Ashes to Ashes'' co-star". BBC News. 13 March 2008. Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  38. "Is 'Ashes to Ashes' back in style?". Digital Spy. 22 April 2009. Archived from the original on 29 May 2009. Retrieved 8 June 2009.
  39. "Network TV BBC Week 16 Highlights 18–24 April 2009" (Press release). BBC Press Office. Archived from the original on 5 April 2009. Retrieved 7 April 2009.
  40. Ashes fires back for second seriesMedia Guardian, 27 March 2008
  41. Allen, Kate (7 September 2009). "Coben, Cole, Atkinson vie for crime awards". The Bookseller. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  42. "Keeley Hawes Interview". Archived from the original on 6 June 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  43. "Ashes to Ashes Final Episode". Archived from the original on 17 April 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  44. "Ashes Exclusive". SFX Magazine. 22 May 2010. Archived from the original on 26 May 2010. Retrieved 31 May 2010.
  45. "Television – News – 'Ashes To Ashes' finale draws 6.5 million". Digital Spy. 9 June 2009. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  46. BBC News (3 April 2010). "BBC News – Gene Hunt poster sparks propaganda battle". London: BBC News. Retrieved 15 December 2010.
  47. Simon Walters, Glen Owen (6 April 2010). "Cameron becomes 80s TV cop Gene Hunt in new Labour campaign poster". The Daily Mail Online. London. Retrieved 15 December 2010.
  48. Roya Nikkhah (3 April 2010). "Labour's Ashes to Ashes Gene Hunt poster attack on Tories backfires". The Daily Telegraph. UK.
  49. Richmond, Shane (8 April 2010). "General Election 2010: Labour's Ashes to Ashes advert causes more embarrassment". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 11 April 2010. Retrieved 25 April 2010.

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