Life On Mars, BBC1

by | Jan 10, 2006 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

It’s a winner – with an inventive twist on conventional cop dramas and a great lead in John Simm, the 2006 Detective Chief Inspector in Manchester who is run over and wakes as a mere Detective Inspector in 1973.

What was good about it?

• There’s a bit of Doctor Who, a bit of The Sweeney, a touch of The Professionals and lots of mind-melting complications as Simm’s character Sam Tyler frets about being thrown back 33 years in time while trying to track down a killer (a tank-top wearing grebo who plays vinyl records really loud). It’s an interesting premise, pulled off in a Lost-like manner with lots of humour and attention to detail by writers Tony Jordan, Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham.

• A nifty back alley chase scene to start things off and a fine slo-mo leap over a desk towards the end

• John Simm is always great to watch, bringing quiet intensity to his roles. With a brain-hurting paradox to get his head around, his Sam Tyler is an intriguing character.

• Philip Glenister as violent, boozing DCI Gene Hunt – he’s not quite The Sweeney’s Regan, more The Shield’s Mackay with his “screw morality-catch the villain” police tactics. And he eats ‘oops for dinner.

• Humour such as “Where’s my PC terminal?” “Who? You want a constable up here?” and “I need a Virgin mobile.” “Don’t you start that sexy business with me, young man.”

• Liz White as the sweet WPC Annie Cartright, who is treated as eye candy by the detectives, apart from Tyler who values her loose grasp of psychology.

• Music by Cream and The Who

• The then-and-now comparisons game:

Then: wing collars, flares leather jacket; Now: stylish suits

Then: Ford Cortina Ghias and Rovers ; Now: jeeps

Then: sexism (women are just “skirt”); Now: women in senior positions

Then: 27p was worth nicking ; Now: 27p isn’t worth picking up

Then: Green Shield Stamps ; Now: credit cards

Then: police used hunches ; Now: police use DNA profiling and forensics

Then: patterned orange wallpaper ; Now: bland neutral colours

Then: a kick in the nuts; Now: psychiatric evaluation

Then: phones with a dial; Now: mobiles

Then: an eight-track system in the car; Now: an iPod on the dashboard

Then: police on bicycles or in panda cars with real sirens ; Now: police whizzing around in powerful cars with horrible sirens

Then: piles of crumpled files; Now: computerised records

Then: two weeks to process fingerprints; Now: instant information

Then: the test card came on when TV had nothing decent to show; Now: TV carries on long after it has run out of anything decent to show

What was bad about it?

• Tyler’s ‘what’s going on?’ desperation was a sometimes overblown, with lots of face bashing, anguished looks and hysterical shouting.

• Nelson the cheery Rasta publican is obviously the Huggy Bear of the piece, but he didn’t really ring true.

• Once the novelty factor has worn off, it may be tough for the writers to maintain our interest and avoid preposterousness.

• The first record Sam bought was Cars by Gar Numan

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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