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Star Trek: Voyager – Ashes to Ashes (Review)

Death is inevitable and inescapable. It comes to all in time.

Death provides a sense of closure. It marks an end of a journey. It establishes a boundary that might serve as an outline of a life. Death is the high price of living, the unavoidable reckoning that waits beyond the mortal veil. Death is the final frontier, one which all cross in time. Death is the undiscovered country, from which none have returned and about which all must wonder. Sometimes death comes quickly, sometimes it lurks and stalks its prey, sometimes it is even embrace. Nevertheless, death always comes.

The sad ballad of Lyndsay Ballard.

By the sixth season of Star Trek: Voyager, the Star Trek franchise was acutely aware of its own mortality and the unavoidable nature of its own death. Ratings were in decline, and there was no reprieve in sight. The fans were growing increasingly angry with the franchise’s output, and the press was eager to turn on the grand old man of television science fiction. Ronald D. Moore had been forced to quit the franchise, and Brannon Braga would later confess that this was the point at which all of his creative energy had been exhausted.

This mortality hangs over the sixth season of Voyager. The fifth season had repeatedly fixated on the idea of Voyager as a series trapped in time, an inevitability: the thwarted suicide attempts of Janeway in Night and of Torres in Extreme Risk; the frozen ship and crew in Timeless; the multiple copies of Seven of Nine and Janeway in Relativity; the decaying and collapsing imitations in Course: Oblivion, barely registering as a blip on the “real” crew’s radar; the rejection of millennial anxiety in 11:59; even the crew’s broken counterparts in Equinox, Part I.

Mortal clay.

In contrast, the sixth season returns time and again to the idea of death and decay: the ruined empire in Dragon’s Teeth; the underworld in Barge of the Dead; the ghost story in The Haunting of Deck Twelve; the floating tomb in One Small Step; the memories of a massacre in Memorial; the dead Borg Cube in Collective; the vengeful death throes of the returning Kes in Fury; the EMH’s visit to an aging and frail relative in Life Line; the Borg heads on spikes in Unimatrix Zero, Part I. This is to say nothing of the funereal tone of Blink of an Eye.

Ashes to Ashes is perhaps the most literal articulation of this recurring theme and preoccupation, the episode that most strongly and overtly explores the sixth season’s fascination with death and decay. The episode centres on a one-time guest star, a deceased member of the crew who has been resurrected by an alien species and seeks to return to the land of the living. Inevitably, she discovers that this is not possible. Death cannot be outwitted or evaded. It always catches up.

Whose episode is it anyway?

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Gotta Have Faith: It’s a Wonderful Afterlife…

Well I guess it would be nice…

Battlestar Galactica has a lot to answer for. It seems that religious-themed endings are now in vogue again, at least for mindbending television shows of choice. Both Ashes to Ashes and Lost came to an end within days of each other last week, and both included some fairly noticeable religious themes in their finales. Has religion somehow become a non-taboo subject on mainstream television?

Go in peace...

Note: As the introduction suggests, this article will contain spoilers for the finales of Ashes to Ashes and Lost. I’m posting it about now because I figure that anybody who wanted to watch them has had the chance.
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Ashes to Ashes: Dust to Dust…

My name is Alex Drake… and your guess is as good as mine.

– Alex introduces us to the third season

Ashes and Ashes wound up last week. It seems to be the time of year for shows wrapping up. I could remark on how I’m hooked on this eclectic collection of British and American shows, but can’t find a decent Irish television show to watch week-in-and-week-out, but I’ll save that rant. It would appear that we have seen the last of the iconic Gene Hunt. And, you know what, it was nice. As nice as an attempt to give the old-fashioned politically-incorrect copper some closure could ever really be.

Gene Hunt takes some parting shots...

Note: This article will discuss the final episode of Ashes to Ashes and also has the capicity to retroactively spoil Life on Mars. You have been warned.

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Ashes to Ashes, Funky to Funky…

Caught the finale of Ashes to Ashes on the Beeb last night. It was actually quite good, all told – though it did end on the twist that I had predicted erroneously that Life on Mars would end on. Still, though the second series was a vast improvement over the first, I couldn’t help but think that Ashes to Ashes remained in the shadow of Life on Mars throughout its run. It was solidly entertaining television and one of a handful of shows I’d watch week-in and week-out, but it wasn’t really spectacular. And it had so much potential…

Here come the fashion police...

Here come the fashion police...

Update: Apparently Ashes to Ashes is to have a three-season run, confirmed by Philip Glenister on BBC Breakfast yesterday, so this article is rather premature. I’m not sure if this changes how I feel about that  brilliant  final scene, but I’ll be tuning in…

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Irish television…

Why can’t RTE produce a standard thirteen-part drama once a year? I am a huge television fan and I can’t wrap my head around it. I know they aren’t the BBC – nor should they or could they – but it’s incredibly hard to justify given that the station has possibly the best current affairs department in the world and an above-average record with comedies (though they never should have passed on Father Ted).

I flick over to the ever-reliable Beeb and I see any number of highly-watchable drama shows that run once-a-year every year – Doctor Who, Torchwood, Spooks, Hustle, Ashes to Ashes, New Tricks to name but a few. Wow. And for my irish television licence, what do I get? Raw. A show about a restaurant that is reviewing terribly. Still, we get a second season, so that’s good, right? Maybe they’ll commission a second season of something good.

(Very) Raw talent

(Very) Raw talent

We have the talent in the country – The Abbey and The Gate see to our acting talent, many of whom emigrate to find work; there’s a rapidly emerging Irish film circuit that provides the directors; we’re a nation highly respected as writers – so why hasn’t it happened yet? I have dozens of TV shows on DVD, but not one of them is Irish, save the crappy Reeling in The Years compilation RTE produced. No Irish drama. (And the show is amazing… due to rights issues, the DVD less so.)

We have room in the schedule – a disturbing proportion of RTE’s broadcasts are imports – and we also have the money, we’re just spending it wrong. Why do I need RTE to show Lost when I can see it in higher quality on Sky? What’s the point of getting Desperate Housewives on RTE when there are 101 other boland import-filled channels on my digibox? Sure, it might garner ratings and advertising revenue by acquiring exclusive rights, but what’s the point of having a state broadcaster to do that for us?

It made sense before the internet allowed us to see anything anywhere almost simultaneously. It made sense before digital made it possible for ordinary households to see anything we wanted. What is the purpose of a public-service broadcaster that doesn’t offer anything we can’t get anywhere else? Even if you could argue that Irish drama isn’t financial lucrative, there’s a reason we fund the public arts. And it’s not to see 30 Rock (awesome as it may be) a few weeks early.

Sure, you counter, RTE does original programming. I’ll give you current affairs. I love Prime Time and I want to run away and marry Brian Dobson. I’ll accept comedy like Bachelors Walk, as it is high quality entertainment. Hell, even the one off drams can be good (Whistleblower), but they can also be so bad it’s horrible (Butter Sweat). I am disgusted with the amount of crass reality television knockoffs we produce as a nation. I makes my physically sick. Sure, every other station in the world does it, but the good ones offset it with something good and smart and brave (or at least better and smarter and braver), instead of patting the audience on the head with some American sitcom.

I want to love RTE, I really do. It’s all there, ready and waiting to be used. They don’t seem to be willing to use it though. And that really ticks me off.

I’m going to go watch the BBC.