— 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
, 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.
This series contains examples of
- Afterlife Antechamber: Gene's world is a purgatory specifically for dead police officers.
- 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)
- Astral Checkerboard Decor: The C.I.D. ceiling◊. Note the above picture.
- 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.
- Badass Longcoat: Gene Hunt often wears a trench coat in this series.
- Batman Gambit: Gene Hunt pulls this off brilliantly in the episode "Traitor" to find both the traitor and the traitor's correspondent.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Alex and Gene
Alex: Look at you. (places her hand over Gene's heart) It's beating. That's incredible.
Gene: (retaliates by grabbing Alex's breast) Fan-dabby-dozy! Now then, Bollinger knickers, you gonna kiss me or punch me?.
- Between My Legs: Gene's Crowning Moment of Awesome introduction, no less
- 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.
- Brotherhood of Funny Hats: The Masons who dominated the police force in the 1980s are portrayed this way in Season 2. Truth in Television.
- Butt Monkey: Chris reprises this role from Life on Mars, demonstrating almost zero competence as a police officer for most of the series, although he has a larger screen presence.
- Casting Gag: Elaine Downing, the head of the dating agency in 3.2 who blatantly has the hots for Gene, is played by Beth Goddard, real-life wife of Philip Glenister, who plays Gene.
- Catchphrase: Gene never seems to be able to say the word "armed" without following it up by "bastards".
- Also "Let´s fire up the Quattro!"
- Cerebus Syndrome: After a fairly fluffy first series, things started to get rather darker in the second, with the final third series veering into full-on horror at times.
- Chekhov's Watch: Jim Keats's broken watch seems like nothing when it's first alluded to in 3.1, but becomes a major plot point in the series finale.
- The whole trope is used obviously and all over the place in nearly every single episode, such as the faulty pink poofter's lighter that Chris and Ray use in 3.3.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Gene Hunt dresses in black and drives a flash red Audi Quattro, cementing his status as Anti-Hero, while Obstructive Bureaucrat Jim Keats wears all grey and gets around in a nondescript little Datsun Cherry.
- 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.
- Cool Car: Gene's Audi Quattro.
- Also in episode 1.2, the Thatcherite Wanker´s DeLorean
- Death Glare: A furious Gene Hunt fires one at Alex and Keats from his office, after DCI Litton is arrested.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: Sally in series 2 ep 1, Supermac, Martin Summers, Louise Gardiner and Viv all die in either Gene's or Keats' arms. The fact that they do proves an important plot point.
- Dirty Harriet: Alex arrives in 1981 dressed as a prostitute, and the entire station thinks she actually is one—until she produces her warrant card.
- Distaff Counterpart: As Life On Mars featured a male lead.
- Downer Ending: The series 1 finale.
- Dream Sequence: Alex's wacky dream sequences are a major part of the show. And sometimes they count as Crowning Moment of Awesome or Crowning Moment of Funny. With Crowning Music of Awesome included. For example this sequence. Or this sequence.
- Drives Like Crazy: Gene Hunt thinks stacked boxes are there to be driven through.
- ... 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.
- The Eighties
- '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.
- Et Tu, Brute?: Gene is sent into a tragic BSOD when he discovers that Chris is a traitor.
- 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.
- Fan Service Pack:
- 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.
- Game of Strip Poker, anyone?
- Chris doing a Full Monty strip
- Alex dressed as a hooker. And her Catwoman outfit.
- Chris and Shaz in their New Romantic clothes
- Shaz in a hostess uniform
- The Gratuitous Sauna Scene and the Hot Vault Scene: Semi-naked and sweaty Gene.
- Phil Glenister in semi-formal wear twice in series 3.
- Some of the extras who appear in the show too. Namely Joanne Froggatt when she appeared. Not to mention Rupert Graves as the "yummy" Thatcherite Wanker.
- 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".
- Foreshadowing: Lots and lots of it.
- Framing the Guilty Party:
- Ray does this in 1.03 because the victim is too afraid to go to court.
- Alex and Ray do it again in 1.08., although it's more like "Framing the innocent party in order to place them in a prison cell and prevent them from dying".
- Genre Savvy / Wrong Genre Savvy: Alex thinks she's in Life On Mars, this means she's right about some things and wrong about others. It confuses and occasionally insults the other characters.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Gene. Hunt.:
: His name's easy. Rhymes with my favorite word. In fact, we used to call him Hunt the-
: Yes, thank you, Chas. We still have diners in. (1.06)
Gene (As Alex walks into office): I didn't say come.
: Oh, I'm a modern girl, Guv, I come when I need to. (2.03)
: A foursome! It's all your Christmases come at once. (from the Sports Relief episode)
Gene: You're chirpy, Bolls. Been sitting on the washing machine again? (2.02)
- Grim Reaper: The Clown in season one. Jim Keats appears to channel him at several moments in season three.
- Until it is revealed that Keats is actually a demon, or possibly Satan
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Ray and Chris. Shaz lampshades.
- Historical In-Joke: Turns out that Gene chasing a suspect was responsible for the 1983 vandalism of the Blue Peter garden.
- Here We Go Again: Last scene of the finale, calling back to the beginning of Life on Mars.
- 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.
- If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: Played for drama in one heartbreaking scene from the third series:
Ray: You've been a good pal to me. I don't know how to say this without looking like a twat...
Chris: Go on.
Ray: Well. If you don’t make it out of here, can I have your mug? Only mine's knackered.
- Insistent Terminology: Gene keeps misrendering Alex's specialty as "psychiatry." The one time he gets it right — "psychology" — she corrects him anyway through sheer force of habit.
- Insult Backfire:
Alex: Go to hell.
Keats: [smiling] ...Alright!
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mainly Gene. Sexist, racist, misogynystic dinosaur Ray also counts.
- Karma Houdini: Ray and Gene to a lesser extent, even more so than in Life On Mars.
- 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.
- Lady in Red: Alex's first 1981 outfit.
- 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.
- Literary Allusion Title: To be more precise, a Musical Allusion Title to the David Bowie song of the same name.
- 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.
- Locked in a Freezer: Alex and Gene are locked in an air-tight room at one point (with an increasing temperature in more than one sense), and Alex is left for dead in a freezer in a later episode.
- Magical Negro: Nelson, in a cameo at the end, who is implied to be a Saint Peter equivalent.
- Mind Screw: the end of Season 2.
- The end of S1 is pretty Mind Screw-y too, the man in Alex's memories turns out to be Gene Hunt, who is supposedly a fictional construct.
- Mind Screwdriver: Just for a change of pace, the Grand Finale in Season 3 actually explains much of the weirdness.
- 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:
- Arguably the easiest way to put it is that while Alex is the main character, Gene is the central character.
- 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.
- The Mole: Chris, in episode 7.
- 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.
- Nostalgia Heaven: The entire series, apparently.
- Nothing But Hits: Averted. While the music is from the 80'snote , 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...
- Opening Narration: Unlike in Life On Mars, it changes as time goes on.
- 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.
- Psychological Torment Zone: For poor Alex it is relentless.
- 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).
- Police Brutality
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.".
- Refusing Paradise: Alex at first refuses heaven twice:
- 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!
- Satan: Keats, revealed in the Grand Finale.
- Or possibly the Antichrist: Word of God has flip-flopped.
- Arguably the Test Card Girl and DCI Frank Morgan from Life On Mars also represent Satan in different guises, as does the Clown in season 1 of the current series.
- Self-Parody: "Fire up the photocopier."
- Sequel Series: to Life On Mars.
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong: In series 2, Alex believes this is the reason that she, Sam and Martin Summers went back to years that were significant for them.
- Ship Tease: Gene and Alex. A lot.
- Happens with Shaz and Ray in season 3 a bit, as well as with Alex and Keats.
- Shipper on Deck: Shaz and Luigi for Gene/Alex.
- Shoot the Dog: Gene does it literally in Series 2. Unlike Sandra Pullman , he gets away with it.
- 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.
- Supporting Protagonist: Alex for Gene.
- The Constant: Gene Hunt is Alex's and for good reason...
- 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.
- Together in Death:
- Chris and Shaz are together in heaven
- Gene and Alex will presumably meet again in heaven when Gene is done in his duties.
- Token Minority: Viv. Luigi, a bit.
- Torture for Fun and Information: Aka The Gene Hunt Interrogation Technique, now in London:
- 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.
- Tsundere: Alex, especially in S1.
- 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.
- Villainous Breakdown: Keats in the finale, complete with Trash the Set.
- We Will Meet Again: Sung by DCI Keats / Satan in the finale.
- Will They or Won't They? - Gene and Alex.
- And as of the finale - they kiss, but that's going to be it.
- Woman in White - Some of Alex's outfits, and of course, her leather jacket from S1 and S2.
- You Cannot Change The Future:
- 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.
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters:
- 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).