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Ashes to Ashes is a Britishmarker science fiction/police procedural drama television series, serving as the sequel to Life on Mars.


Ashes to Ashes tells the fictional story of Detective Inspector Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes), a police officer in service with Londonmarker's Metropolitan Police. After being shot in 2008, Drake awakens in 1981 - 27 years in the past. The programme's plot is similar to that of its predecessor Life on Mars, which tells the story of Sam Tyler, a police officer who travels back in time with similar circumstances.

While back in time, the central plot mystery to both the character and audience is whether Drake is dead or alive.

Continuity with Life on Mars

As with Ashes to Ashes predecessor, the show's name originates from a David Bowie song from the era in which the programme is set. In the case of Ashes to Ashes, this is the 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes".

During the opening scenes of the first episode it is revealed that Alex Drake is a police psychologist who has been studying Sam Tyler's suicide and the records of his life in his 1973 world, as seen in Life on Mars.

Upon being shot during a hostage situation in 2008, Drake awakens in 1981, where she is horrified to meet Gene Hunt who was mentioned in Sam Tyler's case notes. As Drake has read the report of Sam Tyler's reality, she knows that telephones and radios carry messages from the present day to her and how she can see hallucinations of those that she loves.

During the course of the first series, it is revealed that Sam Tyler returned to Manchester in 1973 after committing suicide in 2006. Tyler spent a further seven years in this alternate timeline, before crashing his car while pursuing robbery suspects, with his body never being recovered.

Production and transmission

Throughout the first series, Ashes to Ashes was broadcast weekly on Thursdays on BBC One at 9:00PM, with the episodes directed by Jonny Campbell, Bille Eltringham and Catherine Morshead. The second series was broadcast on Mondays at the same time and duration of one hour.

Filming for the second began in 2008, broadcasting in the United Kingdom on 20 April 2009. The second series takes place six months after the first in 1982 during the Falklands War. A third and final series of Ashes to Ashes has been commissioned for 2010.

The programme premeried on Americanmarker television on 7 March 2009, available on both cable and satellite. The second series was to begin broadcast on 2 May 2009, but instead has been postponed.

In Australia, Series 1 of Ashes To Ashes commenced on 10th August 2009 on ABC1. Series 2 commenced airing on 5th October 2009 on ABC1 and finished on 23rd November.

In Portugalmarker, the show is currently being broadcast on Fox Life on a double episode night.


Episode guide

The first series had eight episodes and was 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 was written by freelance writer Mick Ford. The series deals with Alex trying 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 Leslie Scarman's attacks upon the police. Alex is haunted by the Clown from the music video of David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes", in a similar way to how the Test-Card Girl spoke to Sam Tyler in "Life on Mars". In the last episode it is revealed that the clown is her father.

The second series is set in 1982, against the political background of the Falklands War. Again the second series has eight episodes. The first episode of the series was written by Ashley Pharoah, and deals with the cover-up of a police officer killed in a nightclub. As the series progresses, Alex's comatose body is found in present day 2008. As Gene finds himself confronting a corrupted force, Alex begins receiving a string of phone calls from a man called Martin Summers, another patient at the hospital Alex has been moved to. Summers proves to be a formidable adversary, his actions eventually lead to a shocking murder and the most tense confrontation yet between Alex and Gene.


The soundtrack features contemporary songs by Britishmarker 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 and OMD, as well as the 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".

A CD soundtrack, Ashes to Ashes, from the first series of the show was released on 17 March 2008. A CD soundtrack, Ashes to Ashes - Series 2, from the second series of the show was released on 20 April 2009. An official website was created to promote it


Based on overnight returns, The Guardian reported that audience figures for the 7 February 2008 broadcast of the first episode, in a 9:00 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 against the opposition.

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

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.

The fifth episode, broadcast 6 March 2008, attracted 6.6 million viewers according to overnight returns. With this episode, The Daily Telegraph stated that "Ashes to Ashes stepped out of the shadow of Life on Mars."

After 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."

After the final episode of series 1 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 deserves a second series.

Entertainment news website Digital Spy praised the show's return with cult editor Ben Rawson-Jones describing the opening episode as "greatly promising" in his review.

The second series has been nominated for The TV Dagger at the 2009 Crime Thriller Awards. Keeley Hawes and Philip Glenister have received nominations in the Best Actress and Best Actor categories respectively.

Depiction of the early 1980s

As with the parent series, there are anachronisms. At least one, however, is intentional: the Audi Quattro was not available in right-hand drive in the United Kingdommarker 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. Philip Glenister admitted that the production was aware of this and said, "But who cares? It's a cool car." He has jokingly speculated that Hunt probably got it as a dodgy German import.

Series two

The first episode of the second series aired on 20 April 2009 and was watched by 7.01 million viewers. In a departure from the previous series, 1980s background music (some of which had been used during the episode) was available in full to viewers on digital TV in the UK and could be accessed by using the red button immediately after the show. This innovation consisted of clips of some of the featured groups from Top of the Pops, The Old Grey Whistle Test and other 80s BBC TV music programmes, each introduced by Philip Glenister in his guise as DCI Gene Hunt (with gently insulting and politically incorrect remarks appropriate to his character), and were on a loop of four or five songs, available only for the remainder of the evening of transmission.

Series three

It has been confirmed that a third and final series of Ashes to Ashes will be produced. Filming of the 8 60-minute episodes began in late 2009, and it will be broadcast in 2010. Philip Glenister, speaking on the BBC One Breakfast TV programme on 8 June 2009, announced that the third series will be the last. Producers have revealed the climax of the third series will reveal who the character Gene Hunt really is.

In an interview with SFX, series co-creator and executive producer Matthew Graham stated that he is considering making a 3D episode for the show's third series.

The third series has been confirmed to be broadcast in HD.

Keeley Hawes confirmed in an interview that with series 3 the show moves on to the year 1983.

DVD Releases

Title Region 2 Region 4 Episodes
Ashes to Ashes: The First Series 5 May 2008 1 October 2009 1-8
Ashes to Ashes: The Second Series 13 July 2009 7 January 2010 9-16


  2. Ashes fires back for second series - Media Guardian, 27 March 2008
  3. Ashes burns up the opposition, The Guardian, 8 February, 2008
  4. A perfectly smooth change of gear, by Robert Hanks, The Independent, 8 February, 2008. Retrieved 08 02 2008.
  5. 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
  6. Back in the Day when PC meant Copper by David Belcher, The Herald, 8 February, 2008
  7. In praise of Ashes to Ashes, by Matthew d'Ancona, The Spectator, 8 February 2008
  8. Let's do the time warp again, by Rachel Cooke, New Statesman, 7 February, 2008
  9. Ashes to Ashes, TV review by Andrew Billen, The Times, 16 January 2008
  10. NewsNight Review, 7 February, 2008, on BBC iPlayer, duration 35 minutes, requires Windows XP or Windows Vista
  11. Almost 1m viewers desert Ashes to Ashes, The Guardian, 15 February, 2008
  12. The Guardian: Up from the ashes, 7 March 2008

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