Life on Mars, BBC1

by | Feb 13, 2007 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

There didn’t seem to be as much charm as the first series – largely because it was crammed with the central conceit (is Sam Tyler dreaming? comatose? mad? part of a conspiracy?) rather than a gripping crime tale.

What was good about it?

•Philip Glenister’s Gene Hunt retains many of his neanderthal traits. He’s eager to fit up one of the local ne’er-do-wells (“We pull in someone from the we-don’t-like-you list, put their dabs on the ‘ammer. There’s loads of scum out there deserve another spell inside”) rather than actually solving a spate of vicious attacks. And he still bursts into rooms as if doors have no right to exist (“‘Ands off yer ding-a-ling. We’ve ‘ad another shout!”). On the downside, he seems to be mellowing a little and worryingly open to some of Sam Tyler’s newfangled ideas.

• John Simm is acting out of his skin as tortured Sam Tyler, dealing with the present, past and future simultaneously and somehow squeezing empathy out of the audience.

• There’s so much slickness about the production, even though the locations are grim (up north) and it is by far the brownest TV series of all time.

• Lovely Liz White’s Lovely WPC Annie Cartwright got promotion to CID.

• Sam and Gene’s Batman-like escape from certain death at the hands of two Hungarian henchmen.

• As in series one, Sam’s introduction of ahead-of-their-time policing methods always leads to superb scenes: the fingertip search of the crime scene with red-faced boys in blue (and Marigold gloves) got the detectives singing a derisory jingle: “Hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face, with mild green Fairy Liquid.” Then, the tyre-puncturing stinger meant that Sam could stay calm, and alive, as a car sped towards him.

• The period touches eg Eric and Ernie on a Keep Britain Tidy poster, that revolting Ford Cortina 2000E, music by Chicory Tip and The Three Degrees.

What was bad about it?

There was too much weirdness involving Sam’s confusing situation with pain, white noise and mysterious messages intruding all the way through. Maybe some viewers watch Life On Mars for the mystery, but its main appeal is the satire of 1970s cop shows and all the sci-fi fantasy stuff got in the way.

• The story, which involved slimy casino boss Tony Crane (Marc Warren with a bog standard northern accent), some fake currency and some nasty beatings, was never very exciting.

• Tony Crane’s brown leather overcoat with furry lapels was horrible.

• The hysterical press pack – TV Drama Cliché No 263. “Move it, you bastards!” they were told by Gene as they jumped up and down and yelled out pompous questions.

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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