When I first started watching British television a few years ago I had a look at ‘Life on Mars’ and dismissed it after the first episode. Back then I was after shiny London-based plots with good-looking heroes like Adam Carter from ‘Spooks’. There’s a lot to be said about ‘Life on Mars’ but shiny and good-looking definitely aren’t among the words I would choose to describe it. And yet, upon trying it for a second time about 1.5 years ago, I instantly fell in love with it. Or rather, with its distinctive non-shiny-ness and its flawed heroes Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt.
The series starts off in Manchester in 2006, where we meet DCI Sam Tyler (played by John Simm), a policeman with the Greater Manchester Police. After he gets hit by a car while on an investigation, he wakes up in 1973 and discovers he’s now working as a DI for the Manchester and Salford Police, the predecessor of the GMP. His DCI there is Gene Hunt (played by Philip Glenister), a foul-mouthed, boisterous old-school ‘copper’ who loves booze and Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon’. Throughout the two series of the show we see the relationship between Sam and Gene evolve from being continually at loggerheads with each other to becoming friends and comrades-in-arms. Over the course of the 16 episodes of both series the viewer is faced with the question of what really happened to Sam. Each episode starts with him saying “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?” and this conundrum is only solved in the very last episode of Series 2 (though even then his fate is open to interpretation by the viewer). However, even though the question of what happened to him is continuously addressed throughout the episodes, the main plot is really the life and work of Sam, Gene and their team at A-Division CID. It has been said by several real-life police officers who were on active duty in 1973 that the depiction pf policing in the series has nothing to do with what it was really like back then, but I’m sure the reality simply wouldn’t have made for such amusing entertainment as the made-up world of 1973-policing in ‘Life on Mars’. Of course, what with Sam being from a different time, the comic aspects of the series are stressed whenever he mentions any kind of technology to his colleagues that hasn’t been invented yet in 1973, or whenever Gene or the team make some comment about what they think will or will not happen in the future, e.g. Gene’s declaration of “There will never be a woman prime minister as long as I have a hole in my arse” in the first series or Sam trying to introduce a TV to the local pub to the indignation of everyone around.
I urge everyone with a love of good storytelling and well-written characters to watch this series. And if you do (or if you’ve already seen it), please comment and let me know what you think about it. There is also a kind of sequel to this series called ‘Ashes to Ashes’ that deals with Gene and his team at the beginning of the 1980s (minus Sam, though), which is very high up on my to-watch-list, but seeing as I’m still kind of mourning the end of ‘Life on Mars’ I haven’t had the energy to invest myself into the new world of ‘Ashes to Ashes’ yet – even considering the fact that this one IS set in London! 😉
Now, enough with the talking (or, in this case, writing). Here is my favourite fan-made video about the TV gem that is ‘Life on Mars’. Enjoy!