Life On Mars
Series One and Two
Sam Tyler is a straight-laced, by-the-book cop with an uncompromising sense of right and wrong; one based on the letter of the law. To him, the police are not the other side of the coin of crime, they are the scaffolding of society. The order established by the police is to protect not only the citizens, but the rights of the criminals as well. It seems at times that Sam considers police who break the rules to be a greater threat to peace than those they seek to arrest.
One day, Sam is hit by a car and awakens in the year 1973. There, he encounters a form of policing that is the antithesis of his own, one based more on ’70s era cop shows than on the law. The officers are essentially cowboys: quick to violence and extremely lax when it comes to civil liberties.
Gene Hunt, Sam’s commanding officer in 1973, is the personification of all that is wrong with the police of his era; but that’s not to say that he isn’t a good man. He is just as concerned with the safety of the public as Sam is. The difference is that Gene believes that the ends justify the means. If it results in getting a killer off the street, then faking evidence, or beating a confession out of a suspect is a fair trade-off. As Sam says later in the series, ‘he gets results, you can’t deny that.’
The two make each other better officers. Gene learns the value of a through investigation, as his recklessness occasionally sends him down the wrong path or to condemn an innocent man; while Sam learns that ultimately, his responsibility is over life and death, and that sometimes, hesitating for the sake of procedure can have terrible consequences.
In the opening credits monologue, Sam wonders if he has gone mad, is in a coma, or has actually traveled back through time. While the series was airing, fans debated that question endlessly. The actual answer is not very surprising, as it is strongly suggested in virtually every other episode; but that’s okay because it makes sense, and conforms to all of the clues we were given during the series. Not every mystery needs a twist ending.
Each episode focuses on a crime, and generally involves a conflict between Sam and Gene’s respective methods. Divorced from modern technology and forensics, the police are for the most part left only with the old fashioned methods of interrogation and spying. This, in a way, is the root of Sam and Gene’s conflict. Gene knows that interrogation is the only effective tactic he has, and so he puts all his efforts into making them successful; but Sam knows that in the absence of objective evidence, the integrity of a confession is all the more important.
The crimes are well plotted and there is a lot of variety throughout the 16 episodes. The investigations are believable and organic. One of the nice things about the show being set in the ’70s is that the writers can’t fall back onto forensic magic tricks to deus-ex-machina their way to the climax; thus, the mysteries are solved in a logical manner that the audience can follow along with.
Life On Mars is a very stylish show, borrowing its visuals and soundtrack from the ’70s. It’s just as fun as a ’70s cop show, but features a modern writing style with more depth and intricacy. The underlying mystery isn’t shocking, the emotional journey it puts Sam on is compelling.
The Blu Rays, available only from the UK, are region free and in NTSC, which means they will play on any North American player and TV. The video quality isn’t much of an improvement over the DVDs, as the show was shot to look like a series from 35 years ago.