Life on Mars
As the brilliant creators of Futurama noted, most sci-fi portrays either a utopian or dystopian future – in response they sought to create a complex, bewildering future Earth mixed with joy and crud in equal measure.
"If Aerial Telly is without broadband for longer than 20 minutes he is automatically sectioned under the Mental Health Act and immediately placed on suicide watch."
You sense a similar motivation behind time-travel drama Life on Mars from Kudos, on something of a roll after the success of Spooks and Hustle.
Imagine a time before community policing, Inspector Morse and sensible collars. Let’s call it 1973.
DCI Sam Tyler (John Simm) suffers a car accident and gets knocked into a coma and back into the early Seventies. No mobile phones, no Internet and a Third World economy – if you ever wondered why the Seventies look so depressing this should help explain things. If Aerial Telly is without broadband for longer than 20 minutes he is automatically sectioned under the Mental Health Act and immediately placed on suicide watch.
“Hunt’s got a way with villains – if they don’t talk he gives them a slap. If he doesn’t like what they say when they talk he gives them another slap.”
Sam’s still a copper in Manchester, but it takes time to adjust to the whole time travel thing. This time he’s a Detective Inspector and he’s under DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) a northern Jack Regan.
Hunt’s got a way with villains – if they don’t talk he gives them a slap. If he doesn’t like what they say when they talk he gives them another slap. It’s old school coppering with police brutality par for the course – you half expect Ivan Dobsky, the wrongly convicted criminal from Monkey Dust, to have a cameo, bouncing around on his Space Hopper
John Simm does exasperated so well – and the resigned laughter of a madman who thinks he’s come from the future and nobody believes him comes easily to him.
He hears voices from the present day – they tell him he’s in a coma. While he desperately wants to return, he senses he was sent back for a reason. Perhaps to drag policing practices out of the 19th century?
There’s lots of authentic period misogyny with the police canteen culture producing several priceless moments. You forget that the British male archetype was once part
Robin Askwith, part Benny Hill
Bearing the brunt of much of this is WPC Annie Cartwright (Liz White) – a mild mannered psychology graduate who takes a shine to Sam. She’s his tourist guide to the decade of the three-day week and power cuts – he’s the only copper who takes her seriously.
Much of the humour comes from policing then and policing now. Forensics is in its infancy, the lessons of the Birmingham Six, the Brixton riots and Rachel Nickell case have yet to be learned. A scrote is a scrote in 1973 and we’re a long way from anything that sounds like political correctness.
Sam is perpetually bemused by the primitive nature of the policing, telling a frightened witness on the way to an identity parade "you’ll be standing behind special glass so he won’t even be able to see you" only to find the parade takes place face-to-face with the villain blowing kisses at the witness. "Special glass??" asks Hunt afterwards. Well, it seemed plausible at the time (if the time was 2006).
"A Seventies brainstorming session has come up with power cuts, proper pint glasses and assorted cultural ephemera from the era of glam-rock and industrial disputes."
The production team have plainly had a riot making this – a Seventies brainstorming session has come up with Ford Cortinas, proper pint glasses and assorted cultural ephemera from the era of glam-rock and industrial disputes.
As odd couple cop partnerships go Hunt and Tyler crackle when they’re on-screen together – there’s a terrific chemistry. There’s something approaching respect between them, some shared need to protect the vulnerable perhaps or maybe they’re just a pair of adrenalin junkies who’d be bored shitless in an ordinary job.
Either way, it’s very promising. The damned fools may have just cancelled the flawless Bodies but when they roll out quality drama like this they buy themselves immunity from the Aerial Telly shit list.
And that truly is priceless.
The best thing about it: The conflict between Hunt and Tyler.
The worst thing about it: The Seventies fashion.
The verdict on Life on Mars : Perfectly paced homage to The Sweeney.
Marks out of 10: 8