LIFE ON MARS
Sam Tyler - John Simm
Gene Hunt - Philip Glenister
Annie Cartwright - Liz White
Ray Carling - Dean Andrews
Chris Skelton - Marshall Lancaster
OTHER LIFE ON MARS SERIES
Life On Mars US
SPIN OFF SERIES
Ashes to Ashes Series 1
Ashes to Ashes Series 2
OTHER TIME TRAVEL SHOWS
In a new version of Mark Twain's 'A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur' a policeman from the 21st Century (ie today) gets transported back in time following a blow to the head. Used to all the technological paraphenalia of crime detection, he feels like he's back in the Dark Ages, and in a way he is.
Somebody really liked THE SWEENEY in the old days; a gritty, though not always believable, show about hard coppers getting the hard criminals. They liked it so much, they wanted to make it all over again, but there was no way that the kind of attitudes prevalent at that time (sexism, racism, just about every other-ism) would be acceptable to modern audiences, so on was bolted the science fiction conceit of time travel.
Has Sam really gone back in time or is he mad or is he hallucinating from his hospital bed? It really doesn't matter because that's not what the show is primarily about. The show is about a copper and his boss, a modern man learning the ways of the master and teaching him a thing or two along the way as well. It's blessed with great writing, great characters and a cast that are able to make it all come together as well.
For the most part, this is a cop show, and a damned good one at that. Only in the first and last episodes do the science fiction elements really impinge. Still, really good drama is hard enough to find, so let's not carp on about it and just enjoy a really good show.Top
Episode 1 - First broadcast 9th January 2006
Sam Tyler is a detective who has just apprehended a vicious killer to find that his whole case against him has come crashing down around his ears. His girlfriend tries to convince him that she has a hunch about the case, but he rejects her ideas until she gets kidnapped by the killer. Shaken by this turn of events, he is even more shaken up when he is hit by a car and finds himself transported back to 1973, demoted and living in a job where fingerprint matches take a fortnight to come back from the lab. Not sure whether it's real, whether he's mad or whether he's in a coma and imagining it all, he is forced to deal with the appearance of a killer that shows remarkable similarities to the one that has his girlfriend in the present.
If you've seen the Penelope Cruz film OPEN YOUR EYES (it's spanish) or the english language remake VANILLA SKY then you will immediately recognise whole chunks of this opening episode of the new BBC drama show. The scene where Sam is teetering on the edge of a high building deciding whether to leap or not is ripped straight out of those films.
The science fiction of Sam's time travelling (however it is acheived) is not, though, I think the heart of what this show is going to be all about. Whilst Sam's reactions in finding his new situation are really well realised and well-acted by John Simm, the real aim of the show appears to be the depiction of an old Sweeney-style police show. You can't make one of those these days, so the sci-fi time travel twist legitimises it. You're not doing a racist, sexist cop show like they used to be, but throwing just such a show into stark contrast with today's world through the eyes of the main character. It's a clever ploy, though somewhat transparent.
The crime story is not exactly deep, but then this is an origin story with a lot of other stuff to get jammed into the hour's running time. The only characters that make any impact other than Sam's is Gene Hunt (his new boss who feels as at home thumping his own men as beating up suspects) and WPC (an appealing performance from ).
It will be interesting to see how this series develops in the future, but the opening episode, whilst slick enough, does not convince.Top
Episode 2 - First broadcast 16th January 2006
The team bag a vicious armed robber, but can't make the charges stick without framing him, something that Sam will have nothing to do with. The criminal walks free and carries out another robbery, this time leaving one of the station cleaners in a coma. Hunt is furious and clashes with Sam to the point of punching each other out. Then Annie, who is babysitting a witness gets into trouble.
It's clear now that what this show really wants to be is The Sweeney-lite. That won't fly in this day and age, so the sci-fi conventions are added on to allow the framing device to justify the show. That's OK because it is still a pretty good drama, even if the characters are a bit two-dimensional at times (the boss is a bruiser with a sense of humour, there's a downtrodden but bright wpc, a thick as a plank junior officer etc).
There are some clever jabs at how policing was done in the 70s and how much reliance is put on forensics and other scientific methods today, but other than that it's a simple police procedural, but one that is well done. The theme of intolerance towards disabled people is laid on a bit thick.
From the voices that Sam is hearing, it is clear that he is in a coma in the present, so is his presence in the past merely his imagination or something more concrete? The scene in which his life support breaks down, all the hospital lights going out, is pretty chilling.
It's not really science fiction, but it's entertaining enough.Top
Episode 3 - First broadcast 23rd January 2006
A brutal murder at the textile mill that will one day be redeveloped into the block of flats where Sam will live causes a bet to be laid between Sam and Hunt. Hunt believes he can see how did it straight off. Sam believes in proper policework. Ten quid and a party seven pack of beer is wagered.
It's obvious that Hunt's first choice isn't going to be the killer, but it is rather more complicated than the obvious alternative. The police procedural side of things moves along quite nicely, although it does get a little bit overly complicated towards the end with gun-running and armed robbery being thrown in for good measure.
The standout moment this week is the little girl appearing out of the television test signal. She was a creepily cheery little girl with a very creepy stuffed clown in real life, but when she pops up in his room and starts trying to persuade him to go to sleep and let himself go, she becomes very creepy indeed.Top
Episode 4 - First broadcast 30th January 2006
Sam comes up against one of the major gangsters in the city, a gangster who appears to have the whole police force in his pocket, not least Hunt and his men. Sam doesn't take the bribe and so the gangster sets about finding another way to control him. Sam also locates the place where he was living and meets his own mother as she was in 1973.
There's a very, very grey area in the moral mess that makes up this episode. How much is allowable? What can you let go in order to do the most good for the most people? The truth is that when you take that first bribe then you have sold your soul. The question is whether there is any redemption.
It's hard and uncompromising and absolutely not science fiction.Top
Episode 5 - First broadcast 6th February 2006
When a Manchester United fan turns up dead in an alleyway, Gene and Sam have different ideas as to what might lie behind it. Along with Annie, they both go undercover in a local pub to find out more and their investigations take them to the brutal heart of the beginnings of soccer hooliganism.
A wise man once said that football 'isn't a matter of life and death - it's more important than that'. This is another impressive police drama set against the backdrop of growing soccer violence. In terms of science fiction, though, it's a bust. Apart from another visit from the test card girl and a quick glimpse of his past self, this is just about the policework.Top
Episode 6 - First broadcast 13th February 2006
An armed man takes hostages at the local newspaper office and announces that someone is going to die at 2pm. Sam gets a message from his mother that the machines are going to be switched off - at 2pm. Sam's determined to resolve the siege peacefully with nobody, not least himself, dead.
It's a hostage siege and we've seen enough of those to have gone through jsut about every variation of the theme. It's a quality drama, tense and full of character with the added extra of a counting down clock.
The ending's a bit of a cop out though.Top
Episode 7 - First broadcast 20th February 2006
A small time drug dealer and flasher is taken into custody and put into a cell with a bad type who's going to slap him around until he is begging to tell them the name of his source. Unfortunately, when Sam and Gene come back, the man is dead and nobody seems to be telling the truth. Hunt immediately sets about doctoring statements to ensure that his people are safe, but Sam is determined to get to the truth.
So much of this series seems to be about the morality of the cops. This time around a man dies and everybody seems to be holding ranks, except Sam but as he believes the destruction of Gene Hunt's world will send him back to his own are his actions any more noble? You certainly can't fault the show for coming up with interesting moral dilemmas.
The shot of a body opened upon the coroner's slab smacks of gratuitousness, an attempt to shock for the sake of shock, something that this show certainly has no need for.Top
Episode 8 - First broadcast 27th February 2006
Sam gets involved with the 70s Tyler family once again when he finds his dad involved in a case involving a pair of brothers wanting to take over the city's crime scene. It was at about this time that his father vanished and so he sets about trying to clear the man's name so that he will stay and life will be different, waking him from his coma. Distressing images of his father killing a woman in red plague him though and he doesn't notice the day that Annie wears a red dress.
Wow, what a way to go out. This is a fabulous episode that combines brilliant character drama with a low key time paradox loop. The visions that Sam has been having flashes of since he was transported back finally make sense and lead to a confrontation in the woods that is the stuff of real drama. It's all about the characters and no plotting could be more gripping than the question of whether Sam will kill his own father, or the other way around.
Our faith is Sam is transferred to his useless, but apparently harmless, father and the moment in which they share a kick about on the green is a really touching moment. When everything is revealed and Sam's world is utterly shattered, it is brilliantly played by John Simm and you cannot help but be moved for him.
Season one goes out on an episode that is a step up from even the normal high standard. Brilliant!Top
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