2006 hasn’t been that inspiring so far in terms of television, admittedly it’s only January but in order to find something worthy of killing an hour you have to travel back to 1973. Not literally of course and nor are we talking about another set of hackneyed repeats. BBC1’s Life On Mars is moving into its fifth week and so far the show has proven to be an amicable addition to the Monday night scheduling.
The story of DI Sam Tyler (John Simm), a present day copper who while in the line of duty is involved in a serious accident. Yet rather than leaving him dead said accident leaves him stranded somewhere in the early seventies. Despite shaving thirty years off his existence Tyler finds he is still a police officer recently transferred to a new precinct. Very convenient.
However this approach does save us the whole painful identity construction scenarios that shows like this are sometimes guilty of. Instead what we get with Life On Mars is a homage to all those cop shows you used to watch as a kid (or watch again now on UK Gold). Being the seventies, everybody drinks while on duty, smoke like troopers and of course how would the world keep turning without the phrase “you’re nicked”.
Despite the hint of a time travel theme within the show, any science fiction element is played down. So what you get is something that is essentially a light hearted romp through the age of beige flares and Ford Cortinas. The show does its best to highlight the colossal differences in attitudes between then and now. Especially when Sam comes up against his new boss, DCI Gene Hunt (Phillip Glenister), a character who sums up pretty much everything you would expect about a seventies copper (sexist, hard drinking, slightly tarnished but with a heart of gold etc). In order to solve the cases it often take a combination of 21st Century nouce and seventies muscle to get the job done.
Attitudes to women in the workplace are highlighted by Liz White’s character WPC Annie Cartrwright. Despite holding all the qualifications and ability to do her job she is crushed beneath the heel of sexism and inequality in the workplace. However the show doesn’t smack you over the head with a claw hammer in an effort to get any particular social message across. Sure themes and issues are raised but the show knows what it is and tends to draw the line before it crosses it.
In conclusion you’ve got a decent drama show here with a liberal sprinkling of tongue in cheek humour not to mention the subtlest hint of science fiction. Not a bad recipe in my book.
Life On Mars is currently showing on BBC1 Mondays 9.00pm.