"My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident and woke up in 1973. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever's happened, it's like I've landed on a different planet. Now, maybe if I can work out the reason, I can get home."
— Sam Tyler, opening titles.
BBC Fish out of Water crime drama, 2006-2007; there was a deliberate decision to end the show after two seasons.DCI Sam Tyler is a normal, by-the-book 2006 police officer. Until the day he is hit by a car and wakes up in 1973.He is still a police officer, but has been demoted to DI. Now he has to get used to a policing world with no DNA profiling, no computers and no Police and Criminal Evidence Act.The most rational explanation is that he's in some kind of coma, as messages from 2006 keep entering his head. But Sam's 1973 is so perfectly detailed, right down to details far too minute for him to imagine, that he has no idea what is going on.More to the point, the criminal who kidnapped Sam's girlfriend on the day he was run over appears to be active in 1973. If Sam apprehends him in the past, can he save his girlfriend in the future and return home?Remade into a American show, also called Life on Mars and a Spanish show called La Chica De Ayer. A Russian remake called The Dark Side of the Moon is in the works, sending their protagonist back before the fall of communism in 1979.Followed by Ashes to Ashes, which shared some of the cast. Although the first two series of that show were largely a standalone story, the third featured numerous connections to Life on Mars, and finally explained the truth about what was happening all along. This means that even if you've watched the Life on Mars finale, this page still contains spoilers.
Alternate Ending / Darker and Edgier: The original ending was to have been a cut to black, indicating Sam's death and no afterlife. Both John Simm and the producers were sad they weren't allowed to use it.
Always Murder: Subverted in "The Stabbing", in which the "victim" turns out to have been killed by a faulty textile loom.
And I'm the Queen of Sheba: While Sam, Gene and Annie are reminiscing about their lives during a hostage situation, Sam forgets himself and recounts his promotion to DCI in the modern day. Quoth Gene: "Was that the same day I became King of Egypt?"
And when Sam tries to suggest that Patrick O'Brien isn't a terrorist:
Gene: I'm not a Catholic meself, Mr. Warren, but isn't there something about "Thou shalt not suck off rent boys"?
As You Know: In the series finale, Sam is secretly taping an 'interrogation' in the lost and found. When Gene handcuffs the suspect to a chair, Sam describes for the benefit of the tape, to which Gene says 'What're you, the narrator?'
Batman Gambit: After episode seven's death-in-police-custody, Gene cracks down on Sam's attempts to find out who's responsible. Gene actually wants to find out the truth as much as Sam, but believes investigating his own squad would be "suicide for morale". Instead, he provokes Sam into working that much harder.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: The very last thing that happens in the series is that the Test Card Girl walks up to the camera, looks straight into it and reaches up as if pressing a button just to the side of the camera — making the screen go black like she "switches off" the viewer's TV set.
Celebrity Paradox: Sam makes a Doctor Who reference to Annie, so it would've needed to make sense to someone in the 70s, but John Simm played The Master in New Who. But not until the year after Sam Tyler died. Incidentally, Roger Delgado (the first actor to play The Master) died in 1973 and his last Who story, "Frontier in Space", was on in the spring of 1973, when Sam arrived. Sam Tyler was also named after New Who's Tylers. In the American version, his mother is even named Rose.
Chained to a Bed: Sam ends up like this (and naked) after standing up to a crime lord, so that they can take blackmail pictures of him. Gene, to whom Sam has been ranting about 'coppers have to be above reproach', ends up discovering him and is beside himself with glee at the sight. So much so, that he invites DC Annie Cartwright into the room. Moral of the story: don't piss off crime lords. Or Gene Hunt. (Cartwright later admits she rather liked what she saw though.)
Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Subverted—the act is shown as nightmarish and disconcerting, and everyone at the station assumes Sam planned to get laid, essentially blaming Sam for his own assault.
Chris: Someone called for you, sir. Told 'em you were all tied up.
Fair Cop: A lot of the cast are really good looking, especially Annie Cartwright and Chris Skelton. Of course, fandom is gaga for Gene Hunt, even whenespecially when he's running around in bad seventies swims and pasty white skin. And if you're not too keen on Gene's looks (*ducks fruit*), there's always Sam in those open-necked shirts and those tight flares that show off his legs marvelously.
First Episode Spoiler: The collision and time travel sequence occurs about ten or fifteen minutes into the first episode. Up until that point, the show appears in all respects to be a perfectly mundane (if rather uninspired) contemporary police drama. The opening credits sequence, which explicitly spells out the show's premise, is not shown until the very end of the first episode, presumably to maintain this element of surprise.
Flanderization: In Series 1, Gene Hunt is a taciturn grouch who occasionally raises his voice. In Series 2, you wonder why the veins in his temples aren't exploding from sheer rage.
Similarly, Ray becomes even more slovenly and incompetent in Series 2, despite Gene's assurance that he collars "more villains than this entire department put together."
Flashed Badge Hijack: Subverted in the first episode of Series Two. Sam is unable to move out of the way of an oncoming car. In a desperate attempt to do something, he holds up his badge, closing his eyes as he anticipates the crash. The car comes to a stop inches away. Because its tires were punctured, courtesy of Annie Cartwright's stringer stinger.
Gene: Good work, Raymondo. I'm bumping you back up to DS... only this time make it stand for Detective Sergeant and not Dog Shit!
Giving Radio to the Romans: Sam tries to introduce mid-Noughties police techniques (recording interviews on tape, surveillance, modern forensics and so forth) to coppers in 1973, as well as other radical and futuristic ideas like having a television in the pub.
Is subverted on occasion: primitive forensics and proper procedures do exist, it's just that Gene Hunt doesn't want to use them.
Historical In-Joke And a rather dark example too. In a flashback set in 1972, Ray briefly discusses the upcoming Munich games with Chris. He goes as far to say "it'll be one for the history books. Indeed.
Holy Backlight: As Sam walks towards the police building during the first episode.
Hot Scoop: Jackie Queen, the journalist Gene Hunt has a history (and a boatload of UST) with. She turns up in Ashes to Ashes as well.
Gene: Steven Warren is a bum-bandit. Do you understand? A poof! A fairy! A queer! A queen! Fudge packer! Uphill Gardener! Fruit picking sodomite!
Sam: ...He's gay?
Gene: As a bloody Christmas Tree!
I Can't Believe I'm Saying This: Sam asks Gene why they can't just fabricate evidence and "put the squeeze" on Tony Crane. Y'know, the Gene Hunt Special. In an ironic reversal, though, Gene has had a sudden attack of morals.
Gene: Because I am policing in the full glare of the public bloody eye, and the Chief Super is taking a personal interest, and we also have no flipping evidence! And I CAN'T BELIEVE I JUST SAID THAT!
I Read It for the Articles: Lampshaded by Sam, who hides his tape recorder beneath Gene's copy of Jugs. When Gene tries to snatch it, Sam professes an interest in the reading material.
Gene: You know what the really sad thing is? I believe you.
Sam Tyler: An overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding.
:Gene Hunt: You say that like it's a bad thing.
Ironic Echo: Gene's assertion that he "never fitted up anyone who didn't deserve it!", for which he gets thoroughly worked over by Sam. In the Series 2 episode "Helpless", Sam catches himself saying the exact same thing in his pursuit of Tony Crane.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ray is always making disparaging remarks about Annie, as well as minorities and women in general, but we let Gene get away with it because we like Gene.
Kick the Dog: Gene publically shames and humiliates Ray for the Billy Kemble incident, demoting him to Detective Constable and threatening to cut his heart out with a spoon if he even thinks of stepping out of line again. If that wasn't bad enough for poor Ray, Sam angrily batters Gene for being too light on him and pushes for him to be sacked!
Ray gets a Pet the Dog moment two episodes later when Gene bumps him back up to Detective Sergeant.
Lady in Red: actually a plot point in Season 1, although instead of the usual seductive undertones it's to play off a Red Riding Hood theme.
Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Gene says this almost word for word about the events of series 1 episode 7, where a suspect died of a heart attack in one of the cells, due to the actions of CID.
Magical Negro: Nelson fulfils this role, with hints he might be aware what's happening to Sam. In Ashes to Ashes, it is revealed that he's the gatekeeper to the copper version of heaven, equivalent to Saint Peter.
Meaningful Name: Gene calls Sam "Dorothy" on more than one occasion, one episode ends with Elton John's Goodbye Yellowbrick Road, and a cover of Somewhere Over The Rainbow is played in the series finale. It's surely no co-incidence that Sam meets a man named Frank Morgan.
Politically Correct History: Averted by most of Sam's new contemporaries, especially Gene Hunt. The rest of the squad, especially Ray Carling, aren't much better, with the exceptions of Annie and Chris.
"Rashomon"-Style: in 2.05, we see Bathurst's arrest retold from two different perspectives, Gene Hunt's vindictive view and Annie's more sympathetic one. Annie turned out to be much more objective—Gene had gotten too emotionally involved in the case.
Football rivalries and riots are central to one episode, just as football hooliganism was on the rise. Football rivalries and riots were very serious business in the 70s and 80s.
Also, this wonderful quote from Gene in series 1, episode 6, when Reg Cole pours Gene's flask onto the floor:
Gene: That was a single malt! What kind of monster are you!?
Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The first episode has shades of this, seeing as the murderer from the Cold Open introduction to the series gets linked to what's going on in Sam's first escapade in the 70's.
The Seventies: Manifested as seventies clothing, hair, and unfortunate blue eyeshadow.
Shameful Strip: Happens to Sam after he's slipped a mickey by a prostitute in a frame-up. He wakes up tied to a bed with Gene kicking down the door accompanied by WPC Anne Cartwright. Considering Annie's embarrassment and Gene's quip of "it's not all golf and badminton in Hyde, eh?", it's fairly safe to say Sam was naked.
Shirtless Scene: Opening of Episode 2 features a couple of PC's going after a criminal in a Speedo. Only Sam's wearing a shirt.
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Episode 7. Sam finds out the exact circumstances that lead to Kemble's accidental death due to the department's actions, but when he turns in the tape proving it to the superintendent, the superintendent immediately destroys the tape, saying that it could easily be a hoax.
It's heavily implied the superintendent is in fact a party to the cover-up (especially the bit in the toilets where he doesn't wash his hands, and Hunt exclaims "Not like you, sir").
Toolbox & Big Bird dispose of Deekat in this manner, stabbing him through a preexisting bullet wound.
Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: The lighting filter used drastically changes between 2006 and 1973 for obvious reasons. After Sam wakes up from his coma, 2006 is also portrayed as a dull, concrete and glass jungle of hell, full of soulless bureaucrats and empty suits that Sam no longer relates to - leading to the decision he makes at the very end of the episode.
Suicide Is Painless: Sam goes back to his own time, realises the Test Card F girl was right all along, and takes a running jump off the roof of the police station while Life On Mars blares triumphantly in the background.
Taking the Heat: A union leader tried to cover up a fatal industrial accident at his mill to keep it from being shut down (and his members losing their jobs) by confessing to having murdered the accident victim.
Twist Ending: The ending to series 2 episode 5, where it turns out that the father of a girl who was kidnapped after pointing the finger at a murder suspect may have committed the murder that said suspect was accused of in the first place.
Undercover as Lovers: Sam and Annie pose as a married couple to investigate a wife-swapping group. Interestingly the most UST comes not from this situation, but in the scene where they're making up a Meet Cute cover story.
Not to be done in, Gene brings a Streetwalker along as his "wife".
Wham Episode: The finale of the first series turns a lot of things on its head — Sam discovers that his father's a crime lord, and he lets him run away, thereby killing what he thought was his only chance at getting back to the present. Sam also changes the past for the first time in the series.
Which leads to a very dark inversion in the ending: when he gets back in 2007, he accidentally cuts himself during a meeting and realizes that he didn't feel it, leading to his decision to leave his 2007 life and go back to 1973.
You Do Not Have to Say Anything: Subverted. British police used a different caution in 1973 than the one Sam is used to from 2007. Sam repeatedly tries and fails to recite the 70's version, at one point coming up with the Miranda Warning.