The year is 2006, and Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler works for the Greater Manchester Police. While on a case, he is struck by a car, and wakes up in 1973, where he is a newly transferred Detective Inspector working at the same police station.
The atmosphere of Life on Mars is spot on. Weed-choked vacant lots surround derelict factories in “pre-urban revitalization” Manchester. The color brown is ubiquitous; people wear brown clothes, drive brown sedans, and live in brown houses; the town itself seems to have a dreary brown cast over it. The police station is dingy, with surplus metal desks and cabinets covered in a disarray of paperwork, filtered through a smoky haze.
Tyler frequently clashes with Gene Hunt, his superior officer, regarding their different policing methods. Where Tyler is procedurally and politically correct, Hunt uses violence, corruption, and his gut instinct to catch criminals. In spite of their differences, they come to respect each other and develop a love-hate relationship.
If this was a simple time-travel story, it would be intriguing enough for its “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” aspects. Tyler misses his cellphone and longs to search a database instead of slogging through hundreds of case files. But is it really time travel? Sometimes when the phone rings, Tyler hears a voice imploring him to fight, to return to consciousness.
John Simm is brilliant as the scrupulous and tortured Sam Tyler, as is Philip Glenister as detective-on-steroids Gene Hunt. Is Tyler mad? In a coma? Can he return to 2006? Produced by BBC, the full two seasons are available through our library; check them out and decide for yourself!