— Alex Drake, opening titles (series 3 episode 1).
Spinoff from Life on Mars, which started on 7 February 2008 and concluded 21 May 2010. DI Alex Drakenote (played by Keeley Hawes, formerly of Spooks and the former voice of a certain female gaming character), the police psychologist who debriefed Life on Mars protagonist Sam Tyler, is shot and finds herself in the same world that Sam visited; only it's 1981 London and she's being stalked by the clown from David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes" music video.Now she has to figure out just what's going on. She's convinced that the world is just a construct of her subconscious created from her sessions with Sam, but there are some inconsistencies and other constants that she shouldn't even be aware of: including the presence of one Gene Hunt. Then her memories of the real world start to intertwine with the events she witnesses in 1981, creating even more doubt as to the nature of the reality she has found herself in.
Ask a Stupid Question...: Chris asks a South African freedom fighter who is revealed to have killed several police officers ten years ago in a bomb attack back home if he's frightened to be returned to South African custody, even though they both know he will be tortured to death.
Joshua: OF COURSE I'm frightened!
Arc Numbers: 6-6-20. In a bit of a Genius Bonus, has three different meanings. First, it's Gene's badge number back before he got killed. The other two are references to bible verses (as noted in the episode before the numbers first appeared, the three numbers represent book, chapter, and verse) From the book of Joshua (using one reckoning) "When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city." (what Keats claims he's going to do to Hunt's stomping grounds). However by another reckoning (where the Old and New Testament are treated as seperate books), it refers to this passage from Romans "When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness." (a reference to them all being in some sort of purgatory)
Bad Ass Driver: Gene constantly drifts and powerslides the Quattro in a ridiculously exaggerated fashion around the streets of London in almost every episode. He also barks at Alex for being silly enough to put her seatbelt on.
Big Damn Heroes : Lots of examples involving Gene Hunt (and a few with the others) with one notable boat based example at the end of the pilot.◊
Big "NO!": Alex's response to failing to save her parents.
Bittersweet Ending: The finale. Alex has helped Gene to remember who he is and what he's for, and she's been a major factor in shaking up the station and making sure that the others complete their stories; and Jim is (at least for the moment) defeated. On the other hand Alex really is dead, and will never see her daughter again; and although all of Gene's department have learned the truth about him and hold him in the highest respect, they move on and he doesn't.
Book Ends: Spanning both series. The last episode ends with Gene welcoming another time-travelling comatose using the same line he used in the Life on Mars pilot.
British Brevity: Three series of eight episodes each when it finished- about the same as one American season.
Continuity Lockout: It's possible to watch A2A without first seeing Life On Mars. It's just really, really confusing and virtually all of season 3 is nigh-incomprehensible. And not nearly as meaningful.
... or so you'd think. The one time this seeming Chekhov's Gun presents itself - fully obstructing the exit from a tunnel, the Gene Genie slams on the brakes, pulls up short, reverses back through the tunnel and takes the long way round.
'80s Hair: Alex used to provide the picture for that page.
Enemy Mime: the David Bowie-esque Pierrot (which is actually the clown from the music video for the New Romantic song "Fade to Grey" by Visage, originally portrayed by Visage lead singer Steve Strange) which replaces the Creepy Test Card Girl from Life On Mars
Epiphanic Prison: Alex has no real idea why or what the world she's arrived into is. She hopes that once she figures out where she is, she can figure out what to do to return back to her daughter in 2008.
In the finale, Alex discovers that she is dead and that, tragically, she cannot return to her daughter. She can go into heaven though.
Fair Cop: Alex in particular, but others as well. Shaz especially.
Also, some of the extras who appear in the show too. (Especially the female prison guards).
Fanservice: Alex, mainly, but also Shaz, Gene and Chris.
Flanderization: Sexism was an incidental theme in Life On Mars, but takes a front seat in Ashes to Ashes. Accordingly, the male cops' sexism has been amped up to help make the point, especially in Gene's case.
Chris. In series 1 of Life On Mars, the production team gave Chris waterwings along with his swimming trunks to tone down the sex appeal. By series 2 of Ashes to Ashes, they had him being attractively postmodern to Shaz. Marshall Lancaster appears to have been working out in anticipation of more exposure in series 3.
Some of the extras who appear in the show too. Namely Joanne Froggatt when she appeared.
Flip Flop of God: Jury's still out on exactly what Keats is. According to Matthew Graham, he's either Satan himself or the Antichrist, but Ashley Pharaoh apparently didn't write him either way, just leaving it with "evil".
Heroic BSOD: Everyone gets one of these in the final episode when they finally remember who and where they really are. They accept it by the end, however.
Heroic Fire Rescue: Ray runs into a burning building when he hears a woman in there. This trope is subverted, because a fireman ends up saving both Ray and the woman from the fire.
Heroic Sacrifice / Take Me Instead: An older member of the ANC confesses to murder, despite the prospect of being deported to South Africa and executed, to protect a young woman who actually committed the crime.
Chris: Why did you cover for her?
Joshua: Because I'VE HAD MY LIFE, Chris! Hers was ahead of her!
Homage: Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" is delightfully recreated in a dream sequence at the start of an episode, with Gene and the rest of the gang as the blue-collar boys and Alex as the white bread girl. Behold
This also seems to be a homage to the dream sequences in The Singing Detective (not the awful 'Merican adaptation, the Dennis Potter original). The series as a whole shares many similar themes, and The Singing Detective was, of course, made in the.. 80s!
I Call It Vera: Gene keeps a crowbar in his office that he calls "The Search Warrant". Ray squees when asked to go and fetch it.
Joshua of the ANC in the penultimate episode, who Chris allows to flee from custody even after hearing that he killed several South African police officers with a bomb ten years ago.
Kicked Upstairs: DCI Keats is strongly implied (especially by Gene) to be a pencil-pushing, bureaucratic desk jockey rather than a "real" policeman, only achieving his rank due to his ability to investigate the police force rather than actual criminals.
Kick Them While They Are Down: Keats gives Gene a good kicking after headbutting him and throwing him through the doors of CID. The kicking shows Gene completely reverting back to his 19 year old self for a few seconds, in a moment of total vulnerability and helplessness.
Late-Arrival Spoiler: Trust us, you really need to have watched Life On Mars before you see the A2A pilot, since it ruins the ending. If you haven't, the shot of Sam's file clearly stamped "SUICIDE" - which is how LOM ended - is kind of a shock. This doesn't even take into account how confused you'll be when Season Three rolls around and the LOM references are flying right and left.
Local Hangout (but not My Local): Local Italian restaurant Luigi's, situated right across the road from Fenchurch East Station. Otherwise known as "that place that sells cheap plonk." The restaurant is featured in every episode along with copious amounts of red wine being consumed by Fenchurch East CID.
Mis Aimed Fandom: Or is it? Who's the star of this show, anyway? Seems like Drake and Hunt are actively dueling for that right; the narration, all the private introspection scenes are Drake's, but the Gene Genie acts like he's in charge (justified, perhaps, because he is,) so often and so strongly that he often winds up as the dominant character. This wouldn't be confusing if it was Law & Order, but Gene's strength of acting is strange considering Alex is supposed to be locked in her own mind. (Although the fact that even in the first season there are scenes where Alex isn't present suggest it might not be as simple as that. It isn't.) Note: Justified perhaps in that the changes in character focus through the series parralel Alex's opinion of the "dreamland." Contrast how Sam is in every scene in Life on Mars, while in season 3 of Ashes to Ashes all the main cast - including Shaz, Chris and Ray - receive independent focus without Alex in the scene.
The misaimed fandom now apparently includes the UK's two largest political parties. The Labour party was reported on the morning of 3 April 2010 to have put out an advertisement claiming that opposition leader David Cameron would 'take Britain back to the 1980s', and showing him Photoshopped on the front of an Audi Quattro a la Hunt. Within the day, the Conservatives responded with a re-Shopped version announcing 'Fire up the Quattro. It's time for change.' It's not clear why Labour (who are perceived as weak on crime) thought that likening the other guy to everyone's favourite Cowboy Cop was a smart plan.
Near Death Clairvoyance: Possible. The last thing Alex remembers before waking up in 1981 is getting shot in the head.
As confirmed by the finale, Alex has been dead throughout the whole of series 3.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: The motormouthed alternative comedian in 3.06 is unnamed but from the hair, the glasses, the suit and the confrontational leftie politics, he's very obviously meant to be the young Ben Elton; Alex even disgustedly tells him that he's going to "end up writing soft-rock musicals", a Shout-Out to We Will Rock You. This becomes a peculiar kind of in-universe "Funny Aneurysm" Moment when, moments later, he's accidentally shot, and indeed dies in hospital from his wounds.
Nothing But Hits: Averted. While the music is from the 80's, lots of it is not the biggest hits from the decade, but regular songs from the decade. Well known hits do come up occasionally, but not every single song is an iconic one from the decade.
Obstructive Bureaucrat: Snotty, weaselly DCI Jim Keats, who is in charge of "auditing" Fenchurch East CID throughout series 3. Even Gene's arch-enemy DCI Litton refers to Keats as a "pencilneck."
Oh Crap: Chris has a literal one of these in the beginning of season 2, when he discovers that the team are in sewer tunnel 69, not 96.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: London-born Gwilym Lee as Martin Summers' younger self did his best to imitate Adrian Dunbar's Northern Irish accent, but...
Series 1: "My name is Alex Drake. I've just been shot, and that bullet has taken me back to 1981. I could be one second away from life...or one second away from death. All I know is that I have to keep fighting. Fight to live. Fight to see my daughter. Fight to get home."
The series 2 one is a bit more concise: "My name is Alex Drake. I've been shot, and that bullet's taken me back in time. Now I'm lost in 1982, and all I can do is fight, and search, and stay alive. Because somehow, I will find a way home."
Series 3: "My name is Alex Drake. I was shot and found myself in 1983. Is it real? Or in my mind? Either way, I have to solve the mystery of what all this means and fight to get home. Because time...is running out."
The first episode of series 3 actually shortens it so much it borders on Lampshading — "My name is Alex Drake. And quite frankly, your guess is as good as mine."
The finale omits it entirely.
The Peter Principle: Subverted. Chris never, ever makes it past Detective Constable in either Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes, and Gene is extremely reluctant to accept Ray's long-awaited promotion to Detective Inspector in series 3. As is lampshaded several times by Alex and Keats, Gene is happy to ensure that no officer below Alex and himself is ever promoted, or handed a smidgen of individual responsibility.
Fortunately, Alex's psychological training does help her to understand what is going on.
Psychopomp: Gene's role seems to be to shepherd the souls of dead coppers who died with emotional issues to work out, give them time to come to terms with those issues and usher them on to the afterlife. Oh, and protect them from Keats, who may or may not be The Devil (or one of his minions).
Gene: One more thing, luv, about police brutality.
Jackie: What about it?
Gene: Expect lots of it.
Pretty in Mink: Alex, in her posh hooker getups and her date outfit in 3.07.
Punny Name: Maybe a Shout-Out to The Simpsons. When Alex gets Shaz to take messages for her, she takes them from Hugh Jarse and Mike Rotch, both used by Bart to prank Moe.
Redemption Equals Death - Mack in S2. It's subverted with Viv in series 3; his pained expression and the statement that police officers have to "finish the job" to be redeemed (which Viv never does) implies that Viv has ended up damned. This is further implied when Chris mentions having had a nightmare about Viv "hunched up amongst all this fire.".
At first, she wants to return to her home but then realizes she is dead.
Then, she instead asks to stay with Gene to help with his psychopomp duties, but she finally gives in and proceeds into heaven.
Gene also refuses heaven because he needs to stay and help other police officers through his purgatory.
Whether his role as a psychopomp is appointed by himself or by a holy power is still unclear.
Rule of Cool: inverted in a rare in-universe Lampshade Hanging of crime series' dramatically oversimplified police procedure and absence of the real-life tight regulations on violence and taking actions without a warrant (even in the 1980's), in the final episode.
Keats: [looking unbelievingly at the team's shocked expressions after removing the ceiling to a view of the stars and revealing CID to be a construct of the afterlife] Oh come on... You didn't think this was like, a real police station, did you? What!? You think that they actually worked like this!? IT'S HIS GAME!
Stopped Clock: A seemingly minor plot point. Whenever Alex asks Keats for the time, he gives her the same time: the minute she died. It later convinces her to move on to the afterlife.
Strip Poker: Ray and Chris come up with a plan involving Strip Poker to undress two buxom blonde twins, however Chris's lack of skill in Poker results in him losing nearly all of the hands as well as his own clothes.
Third Is 3D: A 3D episode was considered for the third series, but scrapped.
Time Travel: Sort of. Alex wakes up 27 years back in time, but (at least at first) believes it to all be in her head. It is later revealed that it is in fact a separate world for the souls of lost coppers.
In episode 1.02, has the the pool cue incident episode and there's also Gene throwing Mr. Bonds — a 60-something war veteran — down the stairs because Bonds thinks his son is innocent and threatens to hit Gene with a baseball bat. Ray contributes by spraying soda water into Mr. Bonds' face when he calls Alex a cow and continues to refuse to cooperate.
In episode 2.03, Gene not only eats fish and chips in front of a vegan on a hunger strike, but sticks a suspect's head down a urinal and flushes.
Episode 2.04: Threatens to pour a chemical cocktail down a photographer's throat.
Episode 2.06: Four Words — Gene and the crane. A corrupt businessman's thugs have come after both Gene and Alex, beating Gene with a baseball bat in an alley and intending to do the same to Alex if she hadn't hidden. One does not hurt women around Gene Hunt, especially women for whom he has feelings. Gene goes to find Riley, the businessman, handcuffs him to the inside of a car, and picks the car up with a forklift-crane, interrogating him about the murders they're investigating. Every time Riley denies all knowledge, Gene lowers the car nearer to the crusher. Just in time, Alex, Ray and Chris get to him with new evidence that proves Riley's innocence.
In episode 3.04, Gene chases a suspect through the Blue Peter garden.
Also in 3.04, he takes possession of DCI Wilson's nine-iron and commences whacking things off Wilson's desk unless Wilson comes clean about Louise Gardiner and the Staffords.
Turn in Your Badge: Chris takes this initiative in series 2, but despite what he's done, Gene doesn't accept it.
DCI Gene Hunt: Jail isn't your sentence, Chris. I am.
Ultimate Job Security: Not only is DC Chris Skelton generally incompetent and slow-witted, but he indulges in extreme police brutality, espionage, destroying evidence and even letting a suspected terrorist walk free without permission to do so. Despite all this, he never ever loses his job and is basically unsackable.
Also DCI Hunt, who has two senior officers both variously attempt to destroy his career and weed him out of the police force. Gene comes out on top every time.
Played straight in the series 1 finale, when Alex's parents still die in the car bomb explosion, despite the crazy amounts of effort Alex puts in to prevent it over the course of the series.
Subverted in series 2 when Martin Summers murders his younger self, causing Alex to have a mini-breakdown over her own failure to save her parents.
Younger than They Look:Despite having the appearance of a middle-aged adult, Gene is technically a nineteen-year-old boy (given that he died at that age and still retains much of his teenage mindset). It is implied that whilst in purgatory, he adopted the appearance he imagined he would have had as a seasoned adult cop.
Gene and Alex argue about Nelson Mandela, whom Gene maintains is a terrorist.
Turns up again in the penultimate episode where members of the ANC (African National Congress) turn up in the flesh, and are treated with respect by the more progressive members of the team (Alex and Shaz) and the opposite by the conservatives of their time (Gene and Ray).