‘Ashes To Ashes’: Series 3 Episode 8 review

So, what’s your theory? Is it all an experiment? Are Sam Tyler and Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) figments of Shaz’s imagination? Is there, indeed, Life On Mars?

Of course, if any of those are how it all turns out, we wouldn’t chuck a spoiler up in this first paragraph of this review. I mean, you can trust us.

That’s what Series 3 has all been about, right? The truth. Secrets and lies. Smoke and mirrors. And it all gets answered here. Truly, it does. There’s even a scene, late on, where Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) tells us his real name. And the best part? You already know. Of course you do. There’s been enough clues. The stars. The repeated look at the clock. And that certain, musical sting. There was even a clue with the very first line we heard Gene Hunt speak. Yes, really.

Oh, it’s good. When the last episode of Life On Mars aired, we thought it was probably one of the finest finales on British TV for a good long while. And then we saw this: right from the opening scene, it’s a knockout (partially because the first scene literally involves It’s A Knockout, with a prop costume that we’re pretty sure Phillip Glenister nabbed before production wrapped).

‘You lot belong to me’, DCI Hunt barks at his team as things fall apart. His nemesis, Jim Keats, is ready to play his cards – and a collection of revelatory BetaMax video tapes that have massive implications for everyone in the department. ‘This whole place feels different’, Chris declares. ‘I thought it was because I switched to Denim For Men, but it’s something more’. Indeed it is, with a divine reveal that feels genuinely satisfying, defining once and for all who the heroes and villains are Gene Hunt’s kingdom.

Crucially, for at least half the episode, this feels like any other week with the Ashes To Ashes team, with spitting wit from the two leads: ‘Those two should get it on or kill each other’, Shaz remarks at one point, and we particularly like Hunt’s considered response to the accusation that he’s immature.

In the end, though, it’s all about the end. Keats knows where the bodies are buried – literally – and each character is having to cope with their own – and each other’s – foibles, whether it be the Chris’ fractured romance or Ray’s inherent racism (‘It’s like you’re living in the Fifties’, Shaz tells him at one point, while Alex continues to discover the truth about living in the Eighties).

And, in the end, it’s about the truth. Glenister’s expression as Drake discovers a buried truth is a beautiful masterclass in acting, and indeed, there are many things about this episode that are genuinely beautiful, including a lovely little moment after the title credits that restates the point of the entire Life On Mars franchise. But before we get there, it’s a hugely satisfying answer to all your questions. And in case you were wondering: there’s an old friend to be seen before the final blast of Bowie. Make sure you catch it on Friday. You really don’t want this spoiled for you. Saddle up: the Hunt is on…


Airs at 9pm on Friday 21st May 2010 on BBC One.