Theology: Dust to Dust

Purplefae and I recently finished watching through Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes: it was my second time and her first. As the finale approached, I had something of a revelation…

Life on Mars

Sam Tyler, Gene Hunt and the Cortina

Sam Tyler, Gene Hunt and the Cortina

Life on Mars is a UK TV show in which a young detective named Sam Tyler is hit by a car in 2006, and awakes in 1973. In his new and bewildering surroundings everyone believes him to be a recent transfer and before long he is serving as a DI under the brash DCI Gene Hunt. The larger-than-life Hunt is an old-school, sexist, brash maverick. Much of the show’s charm lies in the clash of cultures, and the two leads’ grudging mutual respect as they learn from each other’s very different policing styles. There were two seasons of Life on Mars.

There was also a US remake, but it was cancelled and wrapped up with a very different ending to the UK series.

Ashes to Ashes

Alex Drake, Gene Hunt and the Quattro

Alex Drake, Gene Hunt and the Quattro

Ashes to Ashes is the sequel series to Life on Mars. In 2008, police psychologist Alex Drake is shot and awakes in 1981. Familiar with Sam Tyler’s case, she is astounded to find herself in the world of Gene Hunt herself. There were three seasons of Ashes to Ashes.

While Ashes to Ashes never quite lived up to the outstanding Life on Mars, its finale ultimately resolves the story of both shows. If you’ve only seen Life on Mars, or its American remake (hastily finished with a different ending), you should watch through to the finale of Ashes to Ashes. It’s fantastic.

Each episode of both shows is essentially a police procedural and period drama, peppered with dramatic irony, humour and rich characters. For me the period vehicles were characters themselves, especially Gene Hunt’s beloved 1973 Cortina and 1981 Audi Quattro (‘Quattro scene!’, I would gleefully bounce as the predictable dangerous-driving sequence fired up in every episode). The locations were top-notch, too.

Throughout, the mystery of Gene Hunt’s world, and of Sam and Alex’s arrival in it is ever-present. As Sam puts it:

My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident and I woke up in 1973. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever’s happened, it’s like I’ve landed on a different planet. Now, maybe if I can work out the reason, I can get home.

As the finale approaches, this mystery builds quite deliciously. And when it came: blam. I loved it.

A revelation

One thing you shouldn’t do until you’ve finished watching all five seasons, is Google the shows. Spoilers abound! As I watched Ashes to Ashes for the second time, though, I had a look through the busy forums and wikis dedicated to the popular shows. In particular, I read a number of threads that were created as the episodes originally aired. Speculation was rampant: everyone had their own pet theories as to what the hell was going on. They constructed elaborate explanations, each seeking internal consistency for their ideas, each checking the others’ theories for inconsistencies. As new episodes brought new information, theories were revised as necessary. Those whose ideas had not been contradicted got pats on the back. And then it hit me:

They were doing theology.

Literally. They were creating elaborate explanations, most with supernatural undertones, trying to explain why and how Alex, Sam, Gene and the rest found themselves in their confusing universe. Was it real? A dream? Another world? As a kind of time-traveller myself, I had a privileged insight into the truth that the writers of the time didn’t. And I felt pretty much as I feel when I think about William Paley’s watchmaker argument, say, or Aquinas’s Five Ways. If only they knew, I thought, it ought to make sense to them.

Of course, I have no privileged insight to resolve the worries of today’s theologians. But since the track record of theology in explaining anything is so dismal, I’m not overly concerned. There’s another episode or two to come yet. Let’s wait and see.

One Comment

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