Tag Archives: Sam Tyler

The Joy of Sets: Life on Mars

Schedulers can be a bit rubbish over the summer months. They seem to think we’re all going to be dining al fresco every night and in no need of decent telly. Clearly they also live somewhere where that’s possible. Malta perhaps.

So while they phone in their schedules of blandness, we sit upon our sofas listening to the rain driving against the window and wondering whether watching Lord of the Rings for the fourth time will kill the magic.

What you need gentle viewer is to get your hands on some good TV that doesn’t seem to merit repeating by the broadcasters. So, let us celebrate the glory that is the DVD boxed set…

First up: Life on Mars – a programme that was immediately rated unmissable here at Hat Towers when it was first aired in 2006.

The first 5 minutes could have come from any modern police procedural if it wasn’t for the fact that our hero DCI Sam Tyler isn’t a rule-breaking, heavy-drinking, chain-smoking maverick. He doesn’t even follow his gut anymore…

It’s a testament to both the writers and to the phenomenal talents of John Simm, that those few minutes in the 21st century provide a perfect miniature portrait of Sam before the shocking sight of him being taken out of shot (and out of this reality) by a speeding car.

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The Killing: Slow TV can be good – but not if it’s Midsomer Murders

Don’t ask me why I ended up watching Midsomer Murders last night. I managed about twenty minutes (to give Neil Dudgeon a fair chance) before I could bear it no longer and went off to read a book instead. But I was moved to put fingers to keyboard not by the race row that’s blown up around Midsomer’s Brian True-May, but by the startling contrast between Midsomer and my new favourite thing, The Killing.

Well, durr, you say, the two have nothing in common beyond both being crime fiction. But I’m looking beyond the subtitles, strong female lead, low body count (although it’s risen rapidly in the last few episodes). What strikes me is that both The Killing and Midsomer move at a pace so laid back they would have Jeremy Clarkson accusing them of being lentil-munching, sandal-wearing Grauniad readers, but one has all the tension of an episode of Cash in the Attic, while the other has been keeping me awake at night turning over countless theories as to whodunnit.

If you don’t know what The Killing is, I will attempt to condense 18 hours (yes, one story told in 20 hours, AMAZING, as Popjustice would say) without spoilering for those still catching up on iPlayer. Forbrydelsen (to give it its original Danish title, which actually means The Crime, fact fans) has followed the efforts of Faroe Isle jumper-wearing DI Sarah Lund as she tries to find the person responsible for raping and murdering teenager Nanna Birk-Larsen. It is set against (and within) the election campaign for mayor of Copenhagen and although it has plenty of dark warehouses for Lund to wander around in, there is no sexual tension with her partner DI Jan Meyer, car chases or sensationalism. Instead fans of The Killing are hooked on the small details that have emerged so tantalisingly over the past few weeks and wait with bated breath for the conclusion this weekend.

How can it be that two hours of subtitled Danish crime drama that reveals little of the detectives’ private lives and barely more of the unfolding story can zip past, while two hours in Midsomer drags by like some kind of cruel and unusual punishment?

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Ashes to Ashes (3.8): A love letter to Gene Hunt

Two questions. One, how can a mere blog do justice to a proper thrilling TV event like the conclusion of Ashes to Ashes? And, two, did you guess correctly what was going on? Actually – make that three: Did you make it through without crying? Me, neither.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in approaching this episode with some trepidation – we Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes fans have invested heavily (time, theories and emotions) over the past five years and if the writers fell at the final hurdle it wouldn’t just be disappointing now – it would devalue everything that went before (not to mention taking all the fun out of those DVD boxed sets).

I don’t know about you, but I take my hat off to Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah. They crammed the episode chock full of the things we love about LoM and A2A: the great, incomparable Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister in his finest hour yet), a daft TV reference (well done whoever made the papier mache heads of Alex and Gene for that It’s a Knockout run), wonderful Huntisms, spine-tingling tension and some serious chills too. If it wasn’t enough that we’re wrapping up five years of questions (well the most important ones anyway), we get a crime of the week too.

And the truths we’ve been hankering after? Gene tells the truth about Sam in a moment you might otherwise miss – the DCI sent him to get a pint in. It brings a whole new meaning to Last Orders, doesn’t it?

The policeman who’s been haunting Alex? Poor old Gene… a green PC who thought he was Gary Cooper in High Noon and was buried in a shallow grave back in the fifties. But from the moment Gene experiences his own weird TV flashback in Keats’ office, you know your heart is really going to get broken.

Philip Glenister has been the star of the show from Day One (if you don’t believe me, read the reviews of Harvey Keitel trying to wear the Gene Genie’s cowboy boots), but, boy does he blow you away here. The look of trepidation on his face as he drives onto the farm, the terrible, un-Gene-like look on his face as Alex uncovers, first, the bones and then the awful, awful truth. The poignant story-telling in the decrepit farmhouse. Who could blame Gene for forgetting his past, and that this world is a place where coppers go to sort themselves out?

Which answers another question – Ray, Chris, Shaz – they’re all dead coppers working through their issues. But who is Jim Keats? Some sort of demon determined to wrestle some souls into hell it would seem. If there was a line where Gene explained it, we’ll have to wait for the 100-minute version of this episode on the DVD extras I guess. We can only go on the heavy symbolism (Ray, Chris and Shaz being led downstairs for their ‘transfer’) and plentiful hissing noises emanating from Daniel Mays for now. I don’t know which I found more disturbing – Keats driving the Quattro back to London or him stroking Alex in his office. Both had my flesh creeping though.

Neither matches the horror of him leaving the death tapes for Ray, Chris and Shaz though (and let’s not forget the incredible performances of Dean Andrews, Marshall Lancaster and Monserrat Lombard here) or the manic insanity as he tears down the walls of the world. For all that, I love that the team’s love and loyalty is enough to repair the world – and that Alex can restore the Gene Genie to his full powers (and in time to solve that crime of the week).

Funnily enough, for all the revelations, it was the moment that the Dutchmen ‘killed the Quattro’ that really drove home that the end was nigh. Of course, the sight of the Railway Arms – and Nelson – really started the tears falling. And as Gene’s beloved team finally move on, bickering, Alex faces her final test, Gene finally gives Keats that smack in the face and Alex at last kisses that man… well, it’s a good job the tissues were close to hand.

And then, just when you think it’s all over (in every sense), in stumbles some poor sod looking for his iPhone…

So what am I taking with me to bed now? A satisfying explanation for five years of weirdness and the stand-out performance of Philip Glenister – from the vulnerability in the farmhouse to the full-on Armed Bastard. I’m glad that the Gene Genie lives (as it were) to fight many more days – even if we won’t get to see them. Thank you Ashley, Matthew, Philip, Keeley, Dean, Monserrat and John (not forgetting the rest of the cast and crew) – you gave us something wonderful and unique. The Quattro may be dead, but Gene Hunt will live on in our hearts for many years to come.

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Ashes to Ashes (3.7): And now the end is near…

Only in Ashes to Ashes could the funeral of a white-hat character be pretty much the most cheerful moment of the episode.

When the motorised curtains fail to close around Viv’s coffin, Gene’s patience snaps and he stalks to the front of the chapel to tug them shut – and say sorry to his friend. Chris can’t help but see the funny side and stands in his pew giggling like a school boy. It doesn’t endear him to the DCI who is feeling his loss acutely.

Chris’s clumsiness at the wake has a ragged Gene snapping at him – not for the last time this episode. There are fans who weren’t impressed with Gene’s loudly proclaimed loyalty to Viv last week, perhaps they’ll be mollified by the neat little bit of backstory slipped in here – that Viv apologised to Gene when he first arrived in Fenchurch East from Manchester because all Northerners look the same to him; and that he promised to look after our Manc lion.

I’m sure it wasn’t just my heart that sank as Keats collared that roll of film from Alex – there can be no good that comes from that man. Although I’m glad to see that his taunting is water off a duck’s back to Gene now, and that Alex and Gene have the nasty piece of work a bit rattled – “Do you think this is a flirty game between you, me and Gene?” he snaps.

The rest of us are enjoying the flirty game however, as Alex ask Gene what he’s doing tonight. “Going to a revival of The Caretaker at the Royal Court,” he deadpans. When, unsurprisingly, this turns out not to be true, and Alex asks him out for dinner, the nation’s women swooned  and once again wished themselves into her red pointy shoes. Even his declaration ” Got to warn you Bolly, first date, upstairs outside only…” is sweetly endearing. But there is much to get through before we can enjoy some serious chemistry between these two.

There is poor Chris – starting to feel the pressure both from Gene and the literal disintegration of the world. Is that whistle marking the end of the game, perhaps? There is much talk of final chapters, and fighting for our lives, there is the sheer terror of Ray and Shaz as the corridor fills with unexplained noise – all ratcheting up the foreboding and tension a few more notches. Will we find out what’s in the locked red cabinets? Or are they another red herring. (Is all the red stuff a red herring ? It wouldn’t surprise me if the writers were poking a little fun at us and our many theories.)

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Ashes to Ashes (3.6): Braveheart in Paco Rabanne

With the end in sight the Ashes to Ashes team delivered a clenched fist of an episode tonight. Not even top-quality Huntisms (the rioting prisoners are “Scum de la scum – you name it, they raped it, robbed it, killed it.”; his riposte to Alex’s “I hope you’ve got a heart in there.” – “I’ve got two. Mine and some toerag’s I ate earlier.”) could pierce the darkness for more than a moment.

It was a clever move to have Viv taken hostage by the prisoners (as well as essential for the backstory to work) – he’s a sympathetic character, but one we don’t know well enough that we can second guess his reactions. So, we’re worried about him (and that football of his – I can’t help but admire the chutzpah of the writers chucking in random red herrings just to bait us – the bastards) and then there’s the mysterious Paul Thordy (the internet serves up dozens of anagrams for this – many of them faintly mucky-sounding – but none that scream out for attention. I suspect I’ve just had my chain yanked again…).

I had chills and tingles top to toe when Alex opened the cell window on Thordy (the escaped prisoner who apparently precipitated the prison riot) to be confronted by Steven Robinson doing his best Sam Tyler meets the Master impersonation… The mania was very Time Lord, but everything else – that classic Life on Mars intro (“Am I mad, in a coma….”), the intonation, the physical mannerisms, were close enough to conjure the tiniest drop of doubt. After all, we’re told Thordy is a conman and a fantasist – so he can’t be our beloved Sam, surely? When Ray and Chris go to pick him up and declare Alex would go nuts if she knew who he was, they’re alluding to the fact that Thordy was Sam’s last arrest before he died – right?

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Ashes to Ashes (3.5): Giving me the SHIVERS

Raaah… we’re back firing on all four cylinders this week. There was nothing average about last night’s episode – from Alex’s dream about the lovely Sam Tyler, to the improved quality of Gene’s one-liners (“Not going to shoot him Bols? Then let’s go and run him over…”), the look of terror on Ray’s face, Chris body-popping – when they’re good, they’re very, very good.

Life on Mars fans will remember DCI “Bastard” Litton (and Press Gang fans will remember Lee Ross). It’s a delight to watch the tension between Litton and Hunt (Alison Graham describes it beautifully as ‘like watching two polyester-clad stags’ and I just can’t do any better.) as the former turns up on the trail of Manchester comedian Frank Hardwick, accused of stealing two grand from the Police Widows’ Fund.

You can almost smell the testosterone and cheap aftershave coming off the TV screen  – despite Litton’s nasty grey ‘Next for men loafers’.

Gene, of course, quickly discerns that there’s more to this than meets the eye, and determines to ruin Litton’s day by catching Hardwick (the great Roy Hudd) and arresting him on trumped up charges for selling hardcore porn. Alex, disapproving turns up to arrest Hardwick for the theft instead and gets to meet Ben Elton. (Incidentally, I’d love to know exactly which facet of Elton’s personality or career pissed off the writer so much that not only did he get crunched by Gene, but fatally shot by our bad guy – my money’s on We Will Rock You.)

Kudos to the writers too, for demonstrating just how fine the line between Gene’s outrageous one-liners and Litton’s downright offensiveness is. How they have kept Gene from teetering over that line in all this time is frankly miraculous. I also liked the little line about troglodytes they gave to Shaz – “It means big, strong men from the north.”

More worrying is Keats’ offer to transfer Alex to Fenchurch East and Gene’s refusal to talk about what happened to Sam. I still have faith in the Gene Genie (I even have a theory for what’s going on now), but I worry that Alex will be lost by the end of episode eight if she doesn’t take the leap of faith that Gene describes to her.

Actually, I’m worried about them all now – the look of terror on Ray’s face at seeing the edge of the world reminded me of a great novel about near death experiences (Passage by Connie Willis – possibly the most frightening book I’ve ever read – highly recommended). And here’s my theory – they’re all dead already (or as near to dead as makes no difference in the case of Sam and Alex); Gene is the guardian angel of this world; and perhaps he despatched Sam because Sam was threatening the stability of the world. That they’re seeing stars could mean the world is coming apart again. Whatever the truth of this world is, I’m damn sure that is what Gene whispered in the ear of the bad man at the end of the episode.

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Ashes to Ashes (3.4): The early bird bags the bastard

It pains me to say that I found this episode of Ashes to Ashes distinctly average. Although average A2A is still a Himalayan mile better than a lot of TV drama.

The main focus was on the case of the week, and unfortunately I’d guessed that the undercover cop had gone to the dark side in the first fifteen minutes. The dark side being Terry Stafford (played by Peter Guiness, a man who is to crime drama casting supremos, what Terrence Hardiman is to children’s drama casting supremos looking for someone sinister).

Terry is nasty piece of work – just the kind of scum Gene thrives on bringing down – and he’s also a thorn in the side of DCI Wilson from a nieghbouring division.

Gene is less than chuffed to find Wilson running undercover cop Louise  Gardiner on his patch, and when Keats gives him the okay to start digging, Gene gets out his biggest shovel. (This scene really felt like Keats was the teacher asking Gene to show that he could play nicely with others.)

It’s not long before Gene blows Louise’s cover, pulls in Terry’s son Daniel (very much his father’s boy), and we all slowly crawl towards the inevitable shoot-out (with added prowling round a mannequin factory).

But as I said at the beginning, even average A2A  is worth watching. This week we discovered the truth behind the vandalism of the Blue Peter garden (remember that?). You’ve guessed it, it’s Gene ‘restraining’ a suspect.

Some of the best lines were almost thrown away. As Gene and Alex leave DCI Wilson’s office, we just catch the words, “Nice tits.” Alex asks if she really heard him say that, to which Gene replies, “The man’s a cripple – have a heart.” I enjoyed Gene’s “The early bird that bags the bastard” line too.

Jim (Keats) fixing it for Chris to keep his job (after Louise manipulated him into beating Daniel Stafford to a pulp in the cells) was nicely done too.

Personally, my favourite moment was Gene trying to rouse Alex from her chloroformed stupor. It’s a neat play on the viewer’s conflicted desire to see Gene and Alex kiss (and the knowledge that the whole thing will be ruined if they ever do). As he leans in to give her the kiss of life, having fiddled self-consciously with that skew-whiff tie of his, we cut to Alex’s vision of her self being buried alive, there’s a scream, and she comes back to consciousness with a jolt. Poor Gene.

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