Life on Mars: Part One
by Martin Conaghan, posted Jan 9th 2006 10:08PM
BBC ONE's new Monday night drama Life on Mars started tonight, starring John Simm as Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler of the Manchester Police Force, who finds himself on the trail of an elusive serial killer when his policewoman girlfriend is kidnapped.
Unfortunately, Sam is hit by a car and wakes up in 1973, and finds himself on a transfer to Manchester as a plain-old Detective Inspector -- clearly a long way from home.
The technology he normally relies on to solve crime won't be invented for another 20 years and the amoral methods of his fellow-officers are suspect, to say the least; sexism, racism and corruption are rife -- and to make matters worse, he starts picking up conversations through the television from the future, as he lies in a deep coma in his 2006 hospital bed. Or so he thinks.
Warning: Spoilers after the jump.
Life on Mars can't quite decide if it's a police drama set in the 1970s, or a sci-fi drama toying with nostalgia -- but this first episode (of eight) was nonetheless enjoyable all the same.
It felt like a cross between The Sweeney-meets-The Matrix-meets-Peggie Sue Got Married; an odd, but surprisingly entertaining combination that also managed to raise a few laughs from time to time.
Sam spent as much of the pilot episode doubting the reality of his strange circumstances, as he did trying to combat the poor detection methods of the 1970s police by using knowledge from the future; woolly criminal psychology mixed with some logical deduction and a smooth approach to interrogation all served well him in the hunt for the same killer who appears to have kidnapped his partner in 2006.
When he passes by a record shop on a Manchester High Street that he visited as a boy, the big breakthrough in the case arrives, but he's faced with the moral dilemma of burying evidence which would ensure the safety of his partner in the far flung future.
It was difficult to tell if the time-travelling/man-in-a-coma aspect of the story will be explored further in the remaining five episodes, but judging by the trail for next week's show, it looks as if Sam has accepted that he's stuck in 1973 "to make a difference" (aren't all time-travelling cops?) -- and the forthcoming episodes will feature plenty of unorthodox evidence-planting countered by sound police reasoning.
However, the important elements of a good BBC drama were all there; great acting, snappy dialogue and expert filming -- and the attention to 70s detail was impeccable, right down to the fly-collar shirts, dodgy sideburns and flared jeans.
More next week.