‘Life on Mars’ blogging: Episode 1

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode… or unless you don’t care if it’s spoiled for you. this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love)

Getting a later start on this than I anticipated, but here we go…
So Life on Mars begins, and it looks so very, very modern, so very of-the-moment:

The cops look like they could as well be lawyers or accountants

or any other specialist, they’re dressed just-so. And their office is just as crisp, just as clean and shiny:

The Brits have made a stand in recent years in televised stories about the modern police that, while the plots may be gritty and the characters may be deeply flawed, are, in style, slick, smart, and sophisticated. Prime Suspect. Trial and Retribution. MI-5. And Life on Mars looks, at first, to be another show like that. Police work is not just a job, it’s a profession: a skilled vocation demanding education and dedication. (Whether that’s true or not isn’t at issue: it’s how the work has been presented of late.) The police are meticulous

interrogations are calm and orderly

with the suspect accompanied by his lawyer, his shrink, and his social worker. There are many i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed, and not a one of them is missed.

It doesn’t seem odd or strange until we wake up, with DCI Sam Tyler, in 1973. The culture shock of the time traveler isn’t just that suddenly a Jeep is a military vehicle instead of an upscale SUV, or that an iPod has been replaced by 8-track. It’s the aura of decay and neglect that Sam finds himself staring at (apart from, of course, the fact that he’s staring at anything at all, other than, perhaps, paramedics and an ambulance). It’s the profound ugliness of everything surrounding him. We are stunned along with Sam

to see how dreary 1973 looks

though that’s surely not precisely how it would have looked to 1973 eyes, we can assume: the 1973ians certainly don’t see their world as dreary. It’s just that it’s so radically different, to our eyes. And the ugliness is not so much in the appearance of the world but in its attitudes. The absolute bloody brilliance of Life on Mars is that we see it all through Sam’s perspective, Sam who shares our 21st-century mindset. LoM would not have worked on anywhere near the same scale of depth or intensity as merely a cop show set in the early 1970s. It’s in how the show is a sort of reverse science fiction that it becomes so astonishing, so surprising, so mindblowing. When we look back at old SF that has looked ahead to the future, it’s often amazing how little it got right, which technologies and cultural changes it missed that have altered the world beyond the recognition of someone from 1930, 1940, 1950.

And when Sam looks at 1973 (and we along with him), he sees the things that the 1973ians would almost certainly not have any idea would be about to change, and so radically, in so short a time: The decline of cigarette smoking. The rise in power and authority of women. And, specific to the work of police, the importance of forensics, of the ideas that criminals and victims have rights, or even that there are methodical, scientific ways that the work of solving a crime can be done.

The more I think about LoM, the more impressed I am with the basic concept of it, at the daring of it: It is simply downright audacious a notion, to send a 2006 cop back in time to show us how fundamentally the world has changed in so short a time. Back to the Future did this, but it made the temporal culture shock funny; Quantum Leap played with temporal culture shock once in a while, but then would almost instantly leap away from it. There hasn’t been anything even remotely like Life on Mars before.

And yet… there’s nothing cartoonish about any of this. There’s nothing simple about it. It’s not “1973 neanderthal and unenlightened, 2006 good and noble and mature.” Part of why LoM is so appealing is that there’s an energy to life in 1973 as depicted here, for all its many drawbacks (certainly for me as a woman!). The music sure as hell is way better than the music today. And though Sam accuses his 1973 boss, DCI Gene Hunt, of being “some thug [who] crawled out of some dark little pit in the back of [his] mind,” that’s not true. Gene is a man of his time, given easily to violence and alpha-male intimidation

but he’s not an unthinking brute. When Sam asks for Annie’s help to psychologically profile the killer the 1973 cops are after — she’s got a BA in psychology, after all — the guys in the squad room hoot and leer and only reluctantly pay attention… and when Annie is done with her quite insightful analysis, Ray (a real neanderthal) has only this to say: “Forget the mind reading act, let’s get down to the striptease.” But Gene has been paying close attention, and is not derisive. He may know that he cannot fully embrace the idea of a “plonk” contributing significantly to an investigation, lest it bring down derision on him from the men he’s supposed to be leading, but he’s open to the idea.

The converse is true, too. Sam is not a caricature of some sort of 21st-century overly sensitive metrosexual wimp. Sure, he cries actual tears when he’s worried about his girlfriend/fellow officer Maya, who appears to have been kidnapped by the serial killer they were hunting in 2006:

But we also see him beat up on a suspect when he has to (or thinks he does — his 21st-century cop isn’t so progressive that he won’t resort of violence):

And we see that in 1973, confusion and frustration also make him lash out aggressively. Sam is very much a man in all the ways that the world still considers a male human being to be appropriately manly.

LoM may be a bit of Back to the Future and Quantum Leap, but it’s mostly The Wizard of Oz. When we meet Sam in 2006, he’s in a bit of crisis over his work and his private life: he and Maya are obviously having trouble in their relationship, and he’s stymied in finding the killer they’re after. Maya chides him about how he “used to believe in gut feeling” and wonder “what happened”? To which Sam complains: “What use are feelings in this room?” And then he “meets” Gene Hunt, who is all gut feeling and instant action. Life on Mars to me makes the most sense as Sam’s dream about getting back to his roots, figuratively as well as literally (he’ll meet his own mother in a later episode), personally as well as professionally. This is, in this one episode, Sam’s subconscious putting together pieces of a puzzle connected between 1973 and 2006, pieces that he already has in 2006. But this is all — across all the 16 episodes of the show — about Sam reconciling what it means to be a cop, and to be the man that he is. Just as The Wizard of Oz is about Dorothy finding herself, LoM is about Sam finding himself.

It starts to come together here in the wonderful, wonderful scene in which Sam and Gene are questioning a woman who my have some vital information to their case, the scene in which Sam and Gene finally find some common ground and connect with each other.

Sam simply can’t find the right tack with her, and ends up intimidating her. But Gene knows just the right thing to say to loosen her memory. It’s not only yet another demonstration of Gene as more shrewd than he might appear at first, but it shows Sam that as well: that perhaps there’s something he can learn from Gene. This scene is a gem of an example of what television can do: it’s a brilliant piece of writing, of acting, of drama.

The depth and the breadth of the writing here makes LoM work on multiple levels, and endlessly rewards re-viewing — there’s always something new to discover, some new interpretation of Sam’s dilemma that pops up. I get a huge kick out of how Life on Mars works on the meta level of commentary on how we create and consume media. TV isn’t just a window into another reality, as it explicitly is for Sam here

through which he appears to hear the voices of, in this episode, doctors working on him and the medical machinery his injured 2006 body would seem to be hooked up to. It’s a reflection of our own reality outside the context of its own fantasy. I cannot help but see a metaphor for the illusion of the past the show itself creates in the scene in which Sam wonders at how his mind seems to be inventing this illusion. He says to Annie, “I mean, this is just…” and indicates the street scene before them with wordless amazement.

And the camera does a 360 pan around the scene, taking in all the people in 1970s costumes, the old-fashioned prams and cars and buses.

It looks like an amazing replica to Sam in precisely the same way it looks like an amazing replica to us on the other side of the screen.

It’s “just madness,” Sam concludes. (And then he’s about to “follow the yellow brick road” until his mind can’t invent any more… which would spoil the dream. And so his subconscious stops him from doing so by drawing him in to the record store, where he finds the breakthrough clue that will solve the case.)

Nelson the pub owner is another wonderful example of the show as a metaphor for itself. He is an example of the “magic Negro” stereotype

but if we take him as a construct of Sam’s subconscious, then we should probably accept that someone like Nelson would be inevitable in Sam’s dreamworld. For whatever Sam’s own biases or lack thereof are, Sam is a product of our world and a consumer of our media, so the fact that Sam would unconsciously replicate such a stereotype is itself an indictment of the stereotype. And yet, even Sam’s subconscious is hip to the bullshit of the stereotype because Nelson “reveals” to Sam — but not to the other people in the pub — that his Jamaican accent is a put-on; he actually has what sounds like a pretty basic Manchester accent; there is, in fact, nothing exotic about him. “Folks just seem happier with the other Nelson,” he “confides” to Sam… which we could read as the 1973 people in Sam’s head being unable to see through the stereotype that Nelson is, but Sam, with his 21st-century sophistication and tolerance, can.

Random thoughts on Episode 1:

• Every damn time I watch this episode, I yell at Sam to be careful, to watch out, to not step back into the road:

But he never hears me.

• I find it intriguing that Sam’s car in 1973

bears a marked resemblance to the one that hits Sam in 2006:

• I believe there is a reasonable argument to be made, if you buy the “it’s all a dream” theory (and I do), that all the terrific music we hear throughout the entirety of the series is actually all on Sam’s iPod:

• Right from the moment of his accident, while he’s still lying on the pavement, Sam is already dreaming of/having visions of the woods, the old-fashioned shoe

and the girl in the red dress:

They don’t mean much now, but they will later…

• I think this must be the most depressing room I have ever seen:

• God, the pub is dire, too:

• Can someone familiar with the city let me know if this is, in fact, the ugliest building in Manchester, either in 2006

or in 1973?

(The contrast between these two images highlights, too, how just adding a filter to a camera or tweaking the color postproduction — or even just shooting at different times of day with different levels of sunlight — can significantly impact how you react emotionally to what is, basically, the same subject. The first image is sunny, shiny, elegant — the sky is blue, the air is clear. The second image is drab, oppressive — the air feels thick and smoggy, and the blue of the sky is dimmer and duller.)

• When Sam asks, in the pub, for a Diet Coke, I always think of Marty McFly asking for a Tab, and then for a Pepsi Free, in the malt shop. And maybe Sam is thinking of that too, because then he says, “I’m just joking.”

• I love this moment

when Sam places his hand over Annie’s heart to try to determine if she’s real or not. Because it’s not really about him trying to figure out if she’s real — Annie’s points out that Sam is “clever enough to know that what you’re saying [about time travel or comas] can’t be true,” but actually, Sam is clever enough to know that his brain is gonna do whatever it has to do to convince him this is real, including giving Annie a heartbeat. It’s about him trying to make a connection with another person.

Part of what makes Sam Tyler instantly one of the most memorable characters in TV history is that his loneliness is so abject. When he hugs the television — through which it appears he is receiving some sort of communication from his 2006 reality — and begs, sobbing, not to be left alone in this nightmare, is one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever seen on TV. I think that’s when I fell in love with Sam for the first time (though I pretty much fell in love anew with each new episode, and I miss him desperately now that he’s gone).

• Oh my goodness, but WPC Annie Cartwright is so adorable

that I want to simply eat her up.

• No wonder Colin Raimes grew up to be a serial killer. This kid

is seriously creepy on a Village of the Damned level.

• Great quotes:

“I’m not mad. I’m not. I had an accident, and I woke up 33 years in the past. Now, that either makes me a time traveler, or a lunatic, or I’m lying in a hospital bed in 2006 and none of this is real.” –Sam

“Which part of my subconscious do you hail from?” –Sam, to Nelson

“You’re not lost, pal. You’re where you are.” –Nelson

“End! Finish!” –Sam, to the 1973 world at large (as if he were playing a video game, or were stuck on a holodeck)

“I was four in 1973.” –Sam

(next: Episode 2)

Watch Life on Mars S01 E01 online using LOVEFiLM’s streaming service.

share and enjoy
If you haven’t commented here before, your first comment will be held for MaryAnn’s approval. This is an anti-spam, anti-troll, anti-abuse measure. If your comment is not spam, trollish, or abusive, it will be approved, and all your future comments will post immediately. (Further comments may still be deleted if spammy, trollish, or abusive, and continued such behavior will get your account deleted and banned.)
notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
view all comments
Mon, Jul 19, 2010 2:55pm

The ugly building isn’t actually in Manchester, it’s the back of Stockport’s Council Offices tucked away behind Stockport Town Hall and yes it really looks like that. It looks like the 1973 officer on his bike has just come out of the underground car park there. Turn the camera round and we see Stockport Town Hall itself which isn’t actually that bad.

The really ugly stuff in Manchester’s 1973, such as the deck access flats have been knocked down, so are unavailable for filming.

Mon, Jul 19, 2010 2:57pm

“Which part of my subconscious do you hail from?” –Sam, to Nelson

Amusing from John Simm’s lips yet you are a psychological construct fell so charmlessly from Keeley Hawes’ lips.

“You’re not lost, pal. You’re where you are.”

Words to live by!

John Simm is so cool, he doesn’t even try. Which makes him so cool.

That’s Archie Punjabi – I’d go gay for Kalinda!

Annie Cartwright is brilliant, I agree. Ray is a complete dick. That never changes through 5 seasons.

Have you seen the last episode of Ashes to Ashes? It would be interesting to see you review these all over again from that perspective.

Rhiannon Paine
Mon, Jul 19, 2010 3:31pm

Thanks so much for posting this. I’m a Californian who went to England for the 1st time in 1973, so for me, Life on Mars has an extra level of enjoyment. It depicts the warmth & heart & humor of the country that I fell in love with, but also the aspects that I had trouble with (sexism, smoking, “we’ve always done it this way”). Then, England seemed old-fashioned compared to California; today, you’re as modern as we are, and ahead in many ways. Yet some things have been lost, there as well as here. I look forward to reading your forthcoming posts — and to watching Life on Mars again.

Mon, Jul 19, 2010 3:45pm

Have you seen the last episode of Ashes to Ashes? It would be interesting to see you review these all over again from that perspective.

I’ve seen all of LoM, and I’m in the middle of my first go-round with A2A (I’m in the middle of Series 2).

I do feel that the two shows, while obviously connected, can stand on their own. I couldn’t have started writing about LoM without having seen every episode but I don’t feel like I can’t discuss it without having yet seen all of A2A. (Of course, if I feel differently once I finish A2A, I’ll let you know.)

Mon, Jul 19, 2010 3:48pm

The ugly building isn’t actually in Manchester, it’s the back of Stockport’s Council Offices tucked away behind Stockport Town Hall and yes it really looks like that.

Does it seem weird that it’s standing in for police HQ? I mean, does it ruin the illusion of the show that the building isn’t what it’s supposed to be? (It drives me crazy when movies and TV get NYC architecture wrong.)

Ken Patterson
Mon, Jul 19, 2010 4:12pm

Just came across this La Chica de Ayer It’s a taste of the first episode of the Spanish version (translated as “The Girl from Yesterday” which was 1980 pop song.)

Mon, Jul 19, 2010 4:49pm

It doesn’t ruin the illusion of Life on Mars for me, as the Greater Manchester Police do have several Divisional HQs across the Greater Manchester boroughs which are generally fairly charmless 1960s concrete office blocks, so not too out of kilter with reality. It’s the right sort of building, it’s just that I happen to know that particular one (and have parked in the car park a few times). Plus in the 1970s, the (now defunct) Greater Manchester Council did have a direct role in running the Police, so sharing municipal buildings wasn’t unreasonable then, even if I know they never shared that particular one! The Greater Manchester HQ is an even uglier thing.

For the second series I came across them filming once less than a mile from where I live. They’d filled up the area around a local park with catering wagons, trailers, lights. It was all rather impressive. I drove past about 3 hours later and there was no sign they’d ever been there!

The really jarring one for Manchester (which Life on Mars never did) is that whenever a London-based series goes to Manchester for an episode, they always end up driving round and round Piccadilly (even though you can’t actually do that nowadays), then mysteriously loop around Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground, regardless of where they’re supposed to be going. Bit like every time a film visits London, they always end up driving up The Mall and turning in front of Buckingham Palace, no matter where they were supposed to be going to (or from). Getting the general geography wrong is far more noticeable, for instance when characters go from one East End location to another via Buck House!

Now Shameless, also filmed in Manchester had to construct an indoor set after the second series because they were sick of being bricked by the youths on the local estate who were annoyed at being portrayed as living an estate full of yobs. Channel 4 had a total sense of irony failure, but eventually gave up on the multiple restraining orders and built a duplicate estate set safely away from the original location.

Mon, Jul 19, 2010 9:16pm

Have you seen the last episode of Ashes to Ashes? It would be interesting to see you review these all over again from that perspective.

I actually think that would be totally unfair to the people who haven’t seen A2A. It would be like reviewing Philosopher’s Stone from the perspective of Deathly Hallows. Not without merit, but definitely not to be done without lots of warning.

Amusing from John Simm’s lips yet you are a psychological construct fell so charmlessly from Keeley Hawes’ lips.

If I have to be the resident Alex Drake defender, I will be. I loved her and I thought she had boatloads of charm. Yes, right from the beginning. So there.

Now let’s discuss the 6th still from the bottom: Is Gene Hunt actually smiling? With teeth and everything? Not snarling, but smiling? I have been scouring my A2A collection for a shot like that – I didn’t think he had the muscles for it.

I have got to get LoM on DVD. I keep saying it’s the best complete TV series I’ve ever seen but I don’t actually own it. I’d forgotten all sorts of parallels between it and A2A, too, so I obviously need to see it again.

Mon, Jul 19, 2010 9:39pm

Britain’s full of ugly old concrete.
I love the Gene Genie! In fact, I love Philip Glenister, and I really think he shines in LoM and Ashes to Ashes. His older brother is great, too.

I’m in the middle of my first go-round with A2A (I’m in the middle of Series 2).

Ooohh…it’ll be very interesting to see what you think…heh heh heh…

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 4:27am

I went to Uni in Manchester (about 10 years ago now) and there was a similarly horrific 60s concrete monstrosity in the centre of Piccadilly (a hotel, I think) in what was actually a rather attractive square apart from that. Since the IRA bomb however many years ago it was, though, they’ve really taken the opportunity to rebuild Manchester and make the most of the old buildings and things and it’s really a very attractive city, at least in the centre, now.

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 4:55am

@ AlsoKT – She improved a lot in subsequent seasons but she did suck in the first one.

What I simply meant by the first comment that you quoted was that it’s interesting when you watch LOM again from the perspective of having seen 3 seasons of A2A, especially the finale. Obviously it would be stupid just to watch the last episode of A2A first and then LOM. I would not advise anyone to do it! Wouldn’t you agree?

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 6:40am

I was a bit older than Sam in 1973 (I was 7 that year) and what struck me immediately about LOM’s vision of the time was its evocation of the sheer BROWN-NESS of the era. I had forgotten but it came flooding back. Everything was either made of wood or (much worse) made of plastic made to look like wood. Or in the case of furnishings, of plastic made to look like leather (sort of).

I loved LOM so much that it made me angry that if TV can be like that, why isn’t it more often? I agree that the concept of the programme was stunning and was used to telling effect look at what we have gained (and lost) over the years. Beyond that I think the success of LOM is down to one thing: a combination of the concept, the writing, the direction and the acting produced two of the greatest ever TV characters. You’d wait decades for characters like these and here you are with two in the same show!

Really looking forward to these blogs MAJ! I judged that my younger two children were old enough to watch the boxed sets recently and it was great to see it through their eyes, will do the same now though yours!

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 3:10pm

Oh, I got goose bumps reading this review!

I’m so glad you’ve gotten around to these. I keep telling everyone I know they have to watch LoM, but no one ever believes me.

You chose great screencaps. Sam looks so lost and bereft in the first one. The one with the pens lined up, though, it was Sam that did that. Showing his compulsiveness.

Heh. I hadn’t placed the woman in pic 12(?, the one Sam can’t get through to) as the vampire in Smith and Jones. One of the tiny things I love about watching British TV (as well as TV made in Vancouver) is seeing the same secondary actors over and over.

Wow, in that screencap, you can totally tell who the Woman in Red is. Excellent.

While I can get as obsessed with shows as anyone else, Sam really is a character who is real to me. I’ll be walking to work and something will remind me of him so strongly that I’ll feel genuine loss. I miss him. Such an amazing job of writing, acting and directing. (Not to mention the wardrobe folks!)

Ed Duffy
Ed Duffy
Tue, Jul 20, 2010 3:42pm

What a great review! Best thing I’ve read since I came here. You’ve really made me want to dig out the old DVDs now.

Stick with A2A. I found the first series a bit of a lazy knock-off, and nearly gave up on it, but it improves vastly over the course of its life. Series 3 ended up being marvellous, with a simply astonishing turn from Daniel Mays as Hunt’s nemesis, and a very satisfying and touching ending.

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 4:16pm

yeah they toned down how irritating she was in the first series. I thought the endings to series 1 and 2 of A2A were brilliant too.

That lady Sam can’t get through to is not Anne Reid. You may remember her as the woman who shagged future female gazer, Daniel Craig, in the Mother. Defo not the same woman. Hope I’m doing the same at her age.

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 4:55pm

though that’s surely not precisely how it would have looked to 1973 eyes, we can assume: the 1973ians certainly don’t see their world as dreary. It’s just that it’s so radically different, to our eyes.

Actually, I was in junior high in the 1970’s and worked some summer jobs in city offices in New York. What I remember so distinctly about every office you went into was how much of it seemed old–leftover from the 1940s–and dreary–and exactly like the police station in LoM. Of course, not every office was like that, but the 1970s were a recessionary era and municipal offices didn’t get updates or even paint jobs. Whoever said how brown it was is spot on!

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 5:15pm

The irony is that in the 1970s we were supposed to see that sort of concrete as futuristic and modern. The bit that’s out of place in 1970 (but made less visible by the colour wash) is the all-glass bit, which is much more modern (they didn’t do glass like that in the 1970s, it would have stopped us admiring the concrete).

In the 1970s we all thought that the future was white concrete. There’s a bit of Leeds which was used as s film set for SF films and tv series (including Blakes’ 7) all of the time as it was all concrete, so was the future. I think that’s been demolished by now!

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 5:35pm

Mark said:

Everything was either made of wood or (much worse) made of plastic made to look like wood.

In the process of getting my husband’s US Visa we had to go to Edinburgh for his physical, and took the Train That Time Forgot. Oh, the brown! The cigarette smoke stains on the ceiling! The brown plastic “wood” tables! The fact that you had to roll down the window to open the door from the outside! The ashtrays in the tables!

I didn’t dare use the bathroom. Both of us remarked that it could have actually been in LoM, the first episode of which we’d only watched the previous week…ah, 2005…whatta year…

Tue, Jul 20, 2010 6:04pm

Hey, I am with Mark – why can’t TV be more like this? I found out about LOM from “THe Christian Scientist Monitor” – they do a “6 picks” kind of thing and fell in love with it in the first five minutes and, trust me, that is not like me at all. I’ve seen all 16 episodes (would watch 100 if they made them) and to me it feels like a really good book – better each time you read it.

EVERYTHING about it is exceptional – how many times do you notice the lighting in a TV show? or notice how the characters are scrapping their feet across the floor? I sure don’t but I noticed it in this show.

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 7:39am

LOM is one of my top fave shows ever at this point. Never heard of the show until I surfed amazon uk and found all the great reviews for it (this wasn’t too long after it’s release on DVD there) and it blew me away. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched the set (and series 2) and got disgusted at the cuts BBC-A made (even Sam and Annie’s intro conversation was snipped at points) and never watched it there again. Waiting for the Blu-rays of both series to arrive in R2 (they are very cheap).

I’m happy they finished the show when they did instead of running out of steam down the road. This is what American TV (network TV) is not – unique concepts, intelligent and fun.

Dre in Spain
Dre in Spain
Thu, Jul 22, 2010 6:58pm

I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the sheer brilliance of the “time travel” scene, whereby it suddenly leaves 2006 and enters 1973. It is one of the most memorable, and yet understated pieces. John Simm conveys all that is going through the head of Sam Tyler. It is a mixture of sheer disbelief, horror and confusion. He has no idea what the hell is happening to him. This for me is one of the reasons why this otherwise ridiculous plot works. He genuinely puts you in the place of the character.
In addition, Sam Tyler is not a particuarly likeable person, he’s very much a person who has surpressed any human feeling. He doesn’t show anger when his legal case against the suspect suddenly falls apart, he just behaves almost like a robot, as if his emotion has been removed.
He’s not a likeable character, and yet, when he’s hugging the tv and crying about not wanting to be left alone, you realise that this is a nightmare that you would not wish on your worst enemy and you immediately understand his plight. I watched the first episode of the US version, and this is one (of the many) reasons why it fell apart. In the US version Sam wasn’t so uptight. He was still a good guy with minor personality issues. In the UK version, Sam appears to be slightly OCD (ref: the pens) and not especially personable, which I feel is why you suddenly are able to put yourself in the character’s position. He is not a nice or an overly emotional guy, yet he is terrified and you pity him, ergo, he’s not a superhuman, he’s a normal person with issues and problems, and no matter how he behaved in the past (or future!) he’s now feels absolute terror about his present (or past!). How would you feel if you suddenly had to deal with such an alien situation?
He suddenly has to deal with a major learning curve, albeit one that is slightly backwards. He has to appreciate the lack of technology, understanding and insight if he is to get along in his new world, and yet he refuses to go against his principles. Even if he is a cold fish, he still cannot go along with the misogyny that he sees in the office. It goes against his main principles. So Sam Tyler struggles, knowing that there is a brave new world of shiny computers and equal rights, and yet as we start to see, there is a compromise of feeling. He begins to respect the old way of doing things.
Sam Tyler is the poster boy of 2006 policework, up against the 1973 poster boy of Gene Hunt. Both have their faults, and yet both have their positives. Maybe it is Philip Glenister’s portrayal that has made the neanderthal Gene Hunt so appealing to men, women and police officers around the world. Gene Hunt is a rough diamond, someone who you wouldn’t immediately think as capable, but shows you that they care in the most meaningful of ways. It is Gene Hunt who becomes Yin to Sam’s Yan, that makes the show so special. In addition, the adorable WPC Annie Cartright who is intelligent and caring, and not a typical skinny sterotype love interest. She is adorable and yet very human, she has curves and delicate beauty, but she also proves herself to be more than her male counterparts (or technically superiors), with her intelligence and humanity.
In short, using the concept of the cop show, the producers were able to come up with a new version, something that celebrated the past and future, and yet castigated them both. That could show us how much we had gained and lost.
For me, Life On Mars was a heartstopping brilliant moment in TV history. Thankfully the talents of both John Simm and Philip Glenister suddenly made this rather idiotic concept into something that could be believable. Which for me shows their true depth of talent.

Sun, Aug 01, 2010 9:35am

The fact that you had to roll down the window to open the door from the outside!

I’m sure there’s still carriages like that in use. Not smokiefied ones, but I’ve had to open carriages like that before (hate them, as was always convinced I’d topple out – they’re awkward to open when you’re only just over 5 foot!)


Does it seem weird that it’s standing in for police HQ? I mean, does it ruin the illusion of the show that the building isn’t what it’s supposed to be? (It drives me crazy when movies and TV get NYC architecture wrong.)

Not really, so much of UK stuff uses other buildings – MI5 uses Freemason’s Hall, down near the British Museum. I like figuring out what they’re using where – I’m quite good at recognising some of them, even it takes me a moment (Castle Coch’s use as a German outpost in Children of Time made me chuckle as I recognised the walls, likewise its use in the Venice Vampires stuff. The only time I’ve wrinkled my nose was a Torchwood ep where they claimed to be in Aberyswyth, but the location filming was the Museum in Cathys Park – but thats only cos it was supposed to be a lecture on Physics at the Uni, and the department I remembered seeing was nothing like it… (its more akin to that shot you’ve got of Stockport).

Big geography errors irk me more, my big one – still the trip to Nottingham from Dover via Hadrian’s wall in less than a day courtesy of Prince of Thieves, or when they reference the Trip to Jerusalem Inn in the BBC version with comment about stabling behind the pub – physically impossible as said pub backs into the cliff…

Life on Mars – I really enjoyed it, although didn’t have quite the connection to the music as I was to have in Ashes to Ashes, but that’s mostly cos I wasn’t born till ’79 and therefore the A2A soundtrack is what I remember.

Sun, Aug 01, 2010 12:48pm

re geography errors: I saw “When Harry met Sally” at a Chicago theatre. Early in the film Harry and Sally meet at the University of Chicago and then leave by car to NYC.

Next scene shows them going north on the outer drive, towards Wisconson and in the exactly opposite direction from the interstate east.
The local audience burst into derisive laughter.

Sun, Aug 01, 2010 11:04pm

I just finished the last ep of LoM and am rolling around in the mind-blowingness of it all. What a brilliantly well-made show! Looking forward to more blogs, MaryAnn!

Mon, Aug 02, 2010 12:53am


I’ve seen all of LoM, and I’m in the middle of my first go-round with A2A (I’m in the middle of Series 2).

I do feel that the two shows, while obviously connected, can stand on their own. I couldn’t have started writing about LoM without having seen every episode but I don’t feel like I can’t discuss it without having yet seen all of A2A. (Of course, if I feel differently once I finish A2A, I’ll let you know.)

Yeah, you will feel differently. In fact, I’d recommend pausing these LoM blog posts, watching Ashes to Ashes in its entirety, and then starting up again. Without resorting to spoilers, I can say this: It will make a huge difference.

Mon, Aug 02, 2010 1:27am

If I stop *LoM* blogging now, it will be months and month and months before I can finish *A2A* and get back to *LoM.*

It will also mean that most readers in North America will be unable to read my *LoM* blogging, if it relies on knowledge of how *A2A* ends, because hardly anyone in North America has seen *A2A*: BBC America has a very small audience, and even BBC America has only shown through Season 2.

If I have to reconsider *LoM* in light of how *A2A* ends, I will.