I share my views on the first season of BBC’s time travel/police procedural drama Life on Mars, starring John Simm, Liz White and Phillip Glenister.
BBC shows, outside of Doctor Who, Peaky Blinders & Sherlock, haven’t really clicked for me as well as they should have. Sure, Robin Hood and Merlin may have been mildly fun but heavily flawed, and The Musketeers was awful with By Any Means merely being okay. So I turned my attention to older, completed shows in an attempt to find some higher quality from the BBC and I was not disappointed when I gave Life on Mars a try, with the time travel/police procedural drama turning out to be one of the best shows that I’ve seen, and not just from the BBC.
John Simm (Who has played The Master in Doctor Who) is Sam Tyler, a Detective for the Greater Manchester Police in 2006. Following a road accident, Sam finds that he’s back in the 1970s – having recently transferred from a place called “Hyde”. As part of the criminal investigations department, Sam finds himself working under the command of Gene Hunt (Phillip Glenister) – but still finds himself questioning his reality. Has he gone mad, is he in a coma or has he time travelled? The questions still linger after the first season, but regardless of the fact that we may not get any answers this early on, Life on Mars still has turned out to be terrific stuff, and is well worth a watch. British viewers will probably get the best out of this and will most likely be able to spot more references to popular culture of the period, but overseas audiences will most likely find something to enjoy here as well.
John Simm is an incredible actor and one of the strongest parts of the show. Going in, my only previous experience with him was his role as the Master in Season 3 of Doctor Who, but it was refreshing to see him play a different sort of character just as well. Sam finds himself assigned to a team of corrupt, violent officers who are a far cry from the Police that he knows – and also lacks several options available to him that he had in the present day, for example – the Witness Protection Glass doesn’t exist – resulting in a comical scenario where Sam leads a witness in front of a group of criminals and they all can clearly see him.
Sam’s commanding officer is Gene Hunt, a tough, no-nonsense Detective who, played by Glenister, provides a great foil for Simm’s Tyler. The chemistry between the two leads is great, as is that between Sam and WPC Annie Cartwright, who is the only person who Sam confides in the fact that he’s really from the future. The trio of leads are developed very well over the course of the series, with the bickering between Hunt and Tyler handled very well.
Sam’s 1973 Manchester is dark, gritty and a very different place from what he now knows, and with each case having some personal link to his present day self, it’s very interesting to watch each mystery unfold. Whilst it may not be the most fast paced series ever, the quality of characters and the mystery concerning Sam’s fate makes it all the more compelling.
Are there flaws? Yes. Life on Mars may be awesome, but it’s not perfect. Episodes can feel a little too repetitive at times and it’s easy to tell why there’s only 8 over the course of two seasons. Any longer and it would just feel dragged out. However, despite this, there’s very little else where this show puts wrong.
So if you haven’t seen Life on Mars already, then you’re missing out. It’s among the best shows that the BBC has put out in years and can be highly recommended, and hopefully the strong quality can continue into the show’s second season.