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Series / Life on Mars (2006)

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You are surrounded by Armed Bastards. L-R: DC Chris Skelton, DCI Gene Hunt, DI Sam Tyler, DS Ray Carling, WPC Annie Cartwright

"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.

A BBC Fish out of Water crime drama which originally aired between 2006-2007 for two seasons.

Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Sam Tyler is an experienced, by-the-book police detective living in the year 2006. One day while investigating the disappearance of another police officer, he is hit by a car and wakes up in the year 1973. He is still a member of the police, but as a Detective Inspector (DI) under the command of DCI Gene Hunt, a boisterous, bigoted and borderline corrupt product of the times who relies on gut instinct and merciless brutality to fight crime.

Now Sam has to get used to a policing world with no DNA profiling, no computers, no Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and little respect for modern-day ethics or procedure. The most rational explanation is that he's in some kind of coma from his injury, as hallucinations from 2006 keep intruding upon the world. But Sam's 1973 is so perfectly detailed and populated, right down to details which are surely too minuscule for him to imagine, that he could have genuinely gone back in time, or be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

It was remade into an 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 came out in 2012, sending their protagonist back before the fall of communism in 1979, followed by a second season set in an alternate 2011 where the USSR still exists. Inspired Czech sort-of remake Svět pod hlavou note  with a set up similar to the Russian one. A South Korean version aired in 2018. Reportedly, a Chinese version set in the 1990s is in the works as of 2019.

Life on Mars was followed by Ashes to Ashes (2008-10), which shared some of the cast. Although the first two series of Ashes to Ashes were largely standalone stories, the third featured numerous connections to Life on Mars, and finally explained the truth about what was happening all along, with the creators describing it as "the fifth series of Life on Mars". This means that even if you've watched the Life on Mars finale, this page still contains spoilers.

A third series, eventually titled Lazarus, was announced in April 2020; it was intended to consist of four to five episodes and have most of the cast of both Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes return, with John Simm and Philip Glenister confirmed to be reprising their roles. However, it was later revealed in June 2023 that development on Lazarus had been cancelled for financial reasons.

This show provides examples of:

  • Accident, Not Murder: In episode 1.3, a mill worker is found dead with a horrible slash across his chest after working late one night. The investigation points to a foreman with a grudge - the victim was threatening to become a whistleblower about the poor working conditions and state of the machinery, and if such things became public knowledge, it could cause the mill to shut down, with the loss of hundreds of jobs. The foreman confesses, but something doesn't add up. A close inspection of the machine next to where the victim was found reveals that it has a brand new drive belt - the other machines on the floor do not. It turns out that the belt broke, the loose end slashing the worker open. The foreman got in early the next day and covered it up by fitting a new belt and reporting the accidental death as a murder in an attempt to prevent the mill from closing.
  • Adventures in Comaland: Whenever 2007 Sam's health declines, reality goes haywire.
  • Almost Kiss: That would be Sam and Annie.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Annie and Don Witham.
  • Always Murder: Subverted in "The Stabbing", in which the "victim" turns out to have been killed by a faulty textile loom.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Did Sam kill himself to go back to 1973? Is he still in a coma? Is he in the afterlife? Ashes To Ashes would later clear up the ambiguity.
  • Anachronism Stew: Upon Sam Tyler awaking in 1973, he finds himself on a building site beneath a large advertising board proclaiming the construction of a new motorway, the Mancunian Way (a.k.a. the A57(M)). In reality, the construction of Mancunian Way was completed in 1967. According to Matthew Graham, writing in the Radio Times, the error was deliberate. "We knew that this road was built in the 1960s, but we took a bit of artistic licence". Minor historical anachronisms such as this are present throughout the series. Some were made out of artistic licence whilst others were deliberately inserted to confuse the issue of whether Sam was in a coma, mad or really back in time. Many inaccuracies were visible such as modern street furniture, cable television cabinets, satellite television dishes, CCTV cameras, LCD digital watches and double-glazed uPVC window frames, which were all unintentional. During DVD commentaries for the series, the programme makers acknowledge these as errors but also point out they are perfectly feasible, given Sam's situation. As the popularity of the series grew, the hunting of such anachronisms became a favourite pastime among Life on Mars fans.
  • 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: And maybe Enoch Powell's throwing one up Shirley Bassey.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The finale we actually got instead of the aforementioned Darker and Edgier one. Sam jumps, goes back to 1973 and saves the team. Later, he and Annie finally have the Big Damn Kiss ... at which point Gene roars up in the car and tells Sam to put her down, because they've got a case. And so they all hop in and ride off to kick more criminal arse.
  • Armed Blag: Several times, most notably in Series 1, Episode 2 and Series 2, Episode 2.
  • Artistic License – Law Enforcement: During an interview John Stalker, Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester in the early 1980s and himself a Detective Inspector in 1973, has stated that the depiction of the police "has got nothing to do with real policing in the 1970s. It could not be more inaccurate in terms of procedure, the way they talk or the way they dress. In all the time I was in the CID in the 1970s I never saw a copper in a leather bomber jacket and I never heard an officer call anyone 'guv' ... Actually, there were a few police officers in London who started to behave like Regan and Carter in The Sweeney, but that was a case of life following art, not the other way round". The journalist who interviewed Stalker, Ray King, remarks that the depiction of the police can be defended if we assume that Sam is indeed in a coma and that we are seeing his imaginary idea of 1973, filtered through 1970s police shows.
  • As the Good Book Says...:
    Gene: I'm not a Catholic myself, Mr. Warren, but doesn't it say 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?'
  • Bad Guy Bar: Of a sort. The Trafford Arms, the Manchester United pub that Sam and Gene go undercover in might count.
  • Bad Humor Truck: Gene's in no mood to share his ice cream with little kids.
  • 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.
  • Binge Montage: The lads in the Railway Arms as Sam, Gene and Annie practice working a bar in Series 1, Episode 5.
  • 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 as if she "switches off" the viewer's TV set.
  • British Brevity: Only 16 episodes total for the original show, and 24 for Ashes To Ashes.
  • Call-Back: In 1973, Annie prevents Sam from leaping off the police station roof. In 2007, he takes the plunge.
  • Cartwright Curse: Both reversed and subverted, interestingly enough.
  • 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 WPC 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.)
  • Clear My Name: Gene, in an ironic reversal.
  • Colour Wash: The colours are drenched in yellow to make the series appear 'vintage'.
  • Corpse Temperature Tampering: In one episode, Gene was a murder suspect because of the apparent time of death of the victim; however, the victim was on top of an automated heating vent, which ended up exonerating Gene.
  • Cult Soundtrack: If it was a hit in the 70's, you'll hear it on this series.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: "You so much as spit out of line, and I'll have your scrotum on a barbed-wire plate."
  • Decon-Recon Switch: This show and its sequel Ashes To Ashes deconstruct Seventies and Eighties British cop shows by showing that the police in those shows were brutal, prejudiced and often mildly corrupt Cowboy Cops who used lethal force with impunity, planted evidence, took bribes as "perks" and displayed a shocking disregard for suspects' rights, but they also reconstruct them by showing that all of this was done to keep the bad guys off the streets and protect the innocent.
  • Depending on the Writer: Gene's attitude to the press seems to differ depending on the episode. Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah have him tell a reporter "I'd listen to the snot in my hanky before I'd listen to you" and deride the industry as "tomorrow's chip paper". Graham later wrote the season two opener, which has him refer to the press as "bloody parasites". Tony Jordan has him naively in thrall of the tabloid press, insisting that if something was "in black and white" it was undeniable.
  • Disappeared Dad: The final episode of Series 1 has Sam meeting his just before he disappears.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Subverted in episode 1.4 when Joni Newton drugs Sam and forces herself on him as part of Steven Warren's plan to blackmail him after he refuses to be bribed. The act itself is shown as nightmarish and disconcerting, but everyone at the station assumes Sam planned to get laid, essentially blaming Sam for his own assault.
    Chris: Had a few calls for you, sir. I told 'em you were all tied up.
  • Dream Apocalypse
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Sam's habit of inviting every girl he wants to help back to his apartment, although sweet, isn't necessarily the wisest course of action.
  • Establishing Character Moment: There's this example for Gene in the first episode, which might also be an Establishing Moment for the whole series:
    Gene Hunt: They reckon you've got concussion - I couldn't give a tart's furry cup if half your brains were falling out. Don't ever waltz into my kingdom acting king of the jungle.
    Sam Tyler: Who the hell are you?
    Gene Hunt: Gene Hunt. Your DCI. And it's 1973. Almost dinner time. I'm 'aving 'oops.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Played for laughs in the following exchange with Dickie Fingers, a convicted safe-cracker who has a penchant for buggering sheep:
    Chris Skelton: Look, Dickie, a lamb!
    Dickie Fingers: What do you think I am, a nonce? note 
  • Everybody Smokes: Except Sam.
  • Evil All Along: Vic Tyler, Harry Woolf, and Toolbox & Big Bird.
    • Also, depending how you look at it, Frank Morgan.
  • Facial Composite Failure: Which inspires Sam to pull in a caricaturist as a sketch artist.
  • Fair Cop: A lot of the cast are really good looking, especially Annie Cartwright and Chris Skelton. Of course, much of the fandom is gaga for Gene Hunt, especially when he's running around in bad Speedos and pasty white skin. And if you're not too keen on Gene, there's always Sam in those open-necked shirts and those tight flares that show off his legs marvellously.
  • False Flag Operation: The series finale, episode 2-08.
    • Also happens in Series 1, Episode 5, to incite a football feud.
  • Fauxreigner: Nelson the barman, who pretends to have a natural Jamaican accent.
  • Fingertip Drug Analysis: Sam identifies heroin by taste.
  • First-Episode Twist: 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.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: The premise of the series involves Sam's trying to get to grips with, or inevitable conflicts with, the world and police force of 1973.
  • 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.
    • In early episodes he is shown to be a competent copper, who, while violence is always an option, can actually work things out, and is occasionally a step ahead of Sam. Philip Glenister did admit he was somewhat saddened by the retreat into 'Bad Cop'.
    • 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".
    • Sam doesn't escape either. In Series 1 he would occasionally let his mask slip but continues to play the 1970s copper to everyone except Annie even when he's convinced that the whole thing is a product of his imagination. By Series 2 he seemingly has thrown all such caution to the wind and, amongst other things, admits he is from the future to a man he is investigating for murder, and rants at his future mentor about everything that they have been through together despite having just met him in 1973.
  • 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.
  • Football Hooligans: One episode dealt with a murder tied to the upcoming Manchester Derby (City vs. United). At the end, a furious Sam rants at the hooligan Perp of the Week about the future of football in England, because he knows Heysel and Hillsborough will happen in the future:
    Sam: I used to go to football with my dad. United and City fans used to walk to the match together. Our next door neighbour, he had a City flag up in his window. Kids used to play together in the street - red and blue. But then people like you came along and you took it away from us.
    Peter Bond: A good punch up's all part of the game! It's about pride. Pride in your team. Being the best!
    Sam: No it isn't! This is how it starts and then it escalates. It gets on the telly and in the press, and then other fans from other clubs start trying to out do each other. And then it becomes about hate! And then it's nothing to do with football any more! It's about gangs and scumbags like you roaming the country seeing who can cause the most trouble. And then we overreact, and we have to put up perimeter fences and we treat the fans like animals! Forty, fifty thousand people herded into pens! And then how long before something happens, eh? How long before something terrible happens and we are dragging bodies out?
  • Framing the Guilty Party: When Sam tries it, it causes Stable Time Loops of a sort he doesn't really want. When Gene tries it, Sam objects.
    • Episode 2-5 has a unique twist: Simon Lamb has had his wife and daughter kidnapped in order to get Grahame Bathurst, a teenager who was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend a few years previously, set free because the kidnapper believes him to be innocent. At one point, Simon desperately confesses to having committed the murder so that the police can set Grahame free, although the police don't believe him. It is eventually revealed that Simon was targeted because the kidnapper (the murdered girl's father) also believes him to be guilty, but this is chalked up to the kidnapper having become deranged through bottling up his suspicions. At the very ends of the episode, Sam and Gene realize an important detail which points to Simon Lamb being the actual killer, meaning that Simon attempted to frame himself earlier in the episode and the murdered girl's father's plot to kidnap Simon's family was an attempt to get the police to re-open the case.
  • Fun with Acronyms:
    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!
  • Gayngster: Steven Warren, the nightclub owner who's shown to have all the cops in his pocket in episode 1.4. His homosexuality is an open secret (although his Catholic background prevents him from being fully 'out'), which gives Gene the chance to list a number of very politically-incorrect euphemisms when he explains this to Sam, who was unaware of this (see the Hurricane of Euphemisms entry below).
  • Generic Cop Badges: The producers tried to avert this and then realised too late that Greater Manchester Police aren't the Metropolitan Police. As a result, Sam Tyler's badge is digitally genericised on the DVD release.
  • 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.
  • A Glitch in the Matrix: Images and sounds from the future are frequently shown seeping into the 70s.
  • Go Seduce My Archnemesis: Steven Warren enlists Joni Newton for this purpose.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Layla backs out of aborting her child, who turns out to be Maya in the past.
  • Good-Guy Bar: The Railway Arms.
  • The Great British Copper Capture
  • Have We Met Yet?: In Series 2, Episode 1 Sam meets Tony Crane, a killer who he was on the verge of putting away in 2006 before the accident that sent him back to 1973. Sam tries to stop him before he can commit any of his crimes, up to and including trying to get Gene to frame him, warning his future wife that he will eventually kill her and even telling Crane that he's from the future. When Crane tells everyone in CID about this conversation, they assume he's mad and have him committed to a mental asylum.
  • He Knows Too Much: Harry Woolf bumps off Dickie Fingers for this reason.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Tony Crane's slightly off-key whistling of "Bring Me Sunshine" in Series 2 Episode 1. You'll never hear Morecambe and Wise's version the same way again.
    • Not only his whistling, but his manic laughter as he tortures Sam.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Superintendent Harry Woolf.
  • Historical In-Joke And a rather dark example too. In a flashback set in 1972, Ray briefly discusses the upcoming Summer Olympics games in Munich with Chris. He goes as far to say "it'll be one for the history books". Indeed.
    • Gene Hunt also complains at one point that the station toilets are out of bog roll, and he had to wipe his backside with Franny Leenote . The Manchester City and England forward Francis Lee was still playing football in 1973, but after he retired he went into business manufacturing and selling toilet paper.
  • Hollywood Tourette's: And a Chekhov's Gunman to boot.
  • Holy Backlight: As Sam walks towards the police building during the first episode.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: Gene uses one to explain to Sam that the Villain of the Week is a homosexual.
    Gene: Steven Warren is a bum-bandit. Do you understand? A poof! A fairy! A queer! A queen! A fudge packer! An uphill gardener! A 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 Choose to Stay: In the show's finale, Sam wakes up back in 2006 and finds he can't stand being back in his old life - a glass and concrete hell full of bureaucrats with whom he can no longer relate. So he jumps off a building and presumably kills himself, returning back to 1973 in doing so.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Gene has a bottle of Scotch in his office, and when he's out on the job he has more than one Pocket Protector. On top of that, much time is spent in the pub.
  • 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.
    Sam: There's an interview with Kingsley Amis I really wanted to read.
    Gene: You know what the really sad thing is? I believe you.
  • I'm Mr. [Future Pop Culture Reference]:
    • Sam and Annie pose as "Tony Blair" and "Cherie Blair". When Gene pops up unexpectedly, Sam promptly dubs him "Gordon Brown".
    • "You know, Starsky & Hutch have got a lot to answer for..."
    • "How do you think I spend my time here, Tyler?" "Building a Death Star?"
    • During a fistfight with Gene at some point in the first season, Sam does the "Bring It" gesture from The Matrix.
    • Series 1 Episode 3:
      Ray Carling: Yeah, but can you hit anything?
      Sam Tyler: You should see my Playstation scores.
    • "Red Rum! Red Rum!" Although done in the context of a sweepstake for the 1973 Grand National note , it's not just the horse he's referencing here...
  • Informed Ability: According to Gene, Ray Carling "collars more villains than this entire department put together". In Series 1, we viewers mainly see him as the 1973 cop who's the most hostile towards Sam. Then Flanderization kicks in for Series 2 and he becomes slovenly and borderline-incompetent.
  • Insult Backfire: This exchange between Sam and Gene:
    Gene Hunt: Do you know who you're talking to?
    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.
  • Internal Affairs: Frank Morgan appears to fill in for Gene as DCI while Hunt is under suspicion in the death of Terry Haslam, but he's actually leading a Greater Manchester police investigation intended to bring down Hunt and his whole squad. According to Morgan, Sam is actually Sam Williams, a deep cover agent working for Morgan who forgot his real identity after the accident.
  • 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.
  • I Take Offence to That Last One:
    Sam Tyler: [You slept like] a 20 stone baby who burps, snores and farts.
    Gene Hunt: I do not snore!
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • When Sam suggests that they install a TV in the pub, everyone is extremely skeptical. Seriously, they look at him like he grew a third eye.
    • Chicken? In a basket?
    • Stringers ... or rather, stingers.
    • An inebriated Gene Hunt claims there won't be a woman prime minister as long as there's a hole in his arse. (Six years later...)
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Method by which Sam unmasks his father as the killer they've been searching for.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Gene Hunt is the quintessential Jerkass Cowboy Cop. But in Series 1, Episode 2, when he tries to frame Kim Trent to stop him committing further crimes, and Sam insists on letting Trent go due to lack of real evidence, it's not long before Trent commits another armed robbery which results in the police station cleaner getting caught in the crossfire.
    • Though at the same time, whilst Sam sticks to his principles and ends up being right much of the time, he sometimes comes across as this. Played straight in Series 1 Episode 3, where all the evidence points to Ted Bannister as the murderer despite Sam's misgivings. It turns out he was right, and the victim actually died due to an industrial accident with a drive belt that snapped — Bannister found the body but tried to make it look like it wasn't an accident because he knew that the factory would be threatened with closure if it got out.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ray is always making disparaging remarks about Annie, as well as minorities and women in general. So does Gene, but we let him 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 himself gets a Pet the Dog moment two episodes later when Gene bumps him back up to Detective Sergeant.
    • Gene has another when he repeatedly bashes Dickie Fingers' hand with a telephone receiver after Dickie accuses Police Superintendent Harry Wolf of corruption. What really makes it a Kick the Dog moment is that Dickie was telling the truth.
    • Sam never really liked Ray much, but after the Billy Kemble incident he becomes openly contemptuous of him, constantly belittling him, putting him down, reminding him of his reduced rank and holding him up as the archetypal bad copper.
      • The tables turn after Ray is nearly blown up by an apparent IRA bombing that Sam insists couldn't possibly happen.
  • 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. Sam occasionally gets flashbacks of a woman in a red dress running through a wood; in the final episode of that series, Annie is wearing such a dress while under cover as the police close in on Vic Tyler (Sam's dad). Although never stated, the implication — following the truth of Gene's world being revealed at the end of Ashes to Ashes — is that Annie was killed by Vic, and that young Sam witnessed this.
  • 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.
  • Lock and Load: Done when Sam shows Ray and Chris that he knows how to handle a gun.
    Sam: You should see my PlayStation scores.
  • Look Both Ways: The catalyst for the series.
  • Mad at a Dream: The below-mentioned Mushroom Samba ends with Sam waking up and angrily telling Gene to "Stay out of Camberwick Green!"
  • Magic Realism: The time travel aspect (which may or may not be All Just a Dream) permeating an otherwise fairly realistic cop drama.
  • 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.
  • Male Gaze
  • 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.
    • And Sam looking for his Dad, in the company of Gene Hunt.
  • Medium Blending: The claymation of Camberwick Green. In which Gene beats up a sex offender.
  • Mexican Standoff: Between Gene and Harry in Series 2, Episode 2. Except Gene rather bluntly ends it by shooting Harry in the leg.
  • Mind Screw: The last two episodes.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: Makes sense, as it's the 70's.
  • Mood Dissonance: The last episode especially. Seriously, the main hero's suicide shouldn't feel so... awesome.
  • Mushroom Samba: 2007!Sam accidentally gets a drug overdose when a nurse screws up his medication, leading 1973!Sam to hallucinate a memorable version of the childrens' show Camberwick Green.
    • Sam has another brief (and very disturbing) one after Joni Newton drugs him as part of a Honey Trap.
  • Must Make Amends
  • My Future Self and Me: Sam gets occasional glimpses of his childhood self.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Practically half the cast, though epitomized by Gene Hunt. Justified as it's the '70s and political correctness hadn't been invented yet.
  • Noodle Implements: What Gene calls a dream involves Diana Dors and a bottle of chip fat.
  • Noodle Incident: Whatever it is Mrs Luckhurst does that's "illegal in some parts of Wales" and makes Gene Hunt scream bloody murder.
  • Not So Above It All: Sam puts on his Straight Man face when Ray and Chris make fun of Bestiality Is Depraved Dickie Fingers, but when they've gone, he laughs too.
  • Odd Couple: Sam and Gene (one's by the book, the other's bring your own bottle), but also Chris and Ray. Being coppers, they fight crime.
  • Off on a Technicality: Sam's supposition that his 2007 case against Tony Crane fell apart while he was in a coma.
  • Old-Fashioned Copper: Gene Hunt, Ray Carling.
  • Ominous Television: When he travels back to The '70s, Sam Taylor appears to be getting eerie messages from the Test Card F girl (who was put on UK TV when it wasn't broadcasting).
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: "Toolbox" Terry and "Big Bird".
    • Richard Hands' real name is used once; after that, he's only named as Dickie Fingers, even after he's murdered.
  • Ontological Mystery
  • Oop North: The show is set in Manchester.
  • Parallel Porn Titles: Quite a few in Series 1, Episode 8 after the cops raid a makeshift studio that's churning out porno flicks. Gene Hunt, a big fan of Westerns, is seriously unimpressed by the fact that two of them are called Once Upon A Time In Her Vest and A Fistful Of Donna's. Others include The French Letter Connectionnote  and On Her Majesty's Secret Cervix.
  • Perp Sweating
  • Perp Walk: Stephen Warren being escorted out of his nightclub via the front for all the punters to see.
  • The Plan: Frank Miller pulls one in Series 2, Episode 3.
  • Playing Sick: Ray pretends to be ill so he can attend a football match. Gene catches him and furiously chases him down the street, much to Sam's amusement.
  • Pocket Protector: Gene is saved from a bullet by his hip-flask. Lampshaded and parodied immediately.
    Sam: What're the chances?
    Gene: (pulls out two more flasks) Pretty good, actually. Well, you never know how far you're gonna be from a boozer!
  • Police Lineup: but given it's 1973, there's no "special glass" to prevent the key witness from feeling intimidated.
  • Police Procedural: Played with, as it contrasts the very different approaches to policing in 1973 and 2006, and what happens when those clash.
  • 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.
  • Prison Rape: What Gene fears in episode 2-07:
    Gene: You're not the one who's gonna have to knit himself a new arsehole after twenty-five years of aggressive male affection in prison showers!
  • Titled After the Song: Named after the Bowie song.
  • "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.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Sam delivers an epic one to Peter Bond, accusing him and people like him of ruining the joy of football by injecting it with hate and violence among the fans.
  • Revised Ending: 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.
  • Running Gag: A few...
    • "That's not how it goes!" is response to Sam constantly getting the You Do Not Have to Say Anything speech wrong note .
    • "You are surrounded by armed bastards!", which carried over to Ashes To Ashes)
    • Gene's flasks and fondness for Westerns.
  • Running Over the Plot: This is how Sam Tyler gets sent back in time; he gets hit by a car in the present day, and wakes up in 1973, unsure if he's in a coma, in the afterlife, or really back in time.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Two of the mill workers in Series 1, Episode 3 find out the wrong way that you do not joke about a confession to Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt.
  • The Scapegoat: Patrick O'Brien.
  • Send Me Back
  • Serious Business:
    • 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 '70s: Despite the anachronisms, 1973 is recognisable as such. The clothing, the hair, the cars (both cool and not-so-cool), the awesome music and — as far as the ladies are concerned — plenty of 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.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Reg Cole is made out to be one, but it turns out he was never in the Army.
  • Shirtless Scene: The opening of Series 1, Episode 2 sees Gene and Chris going after the Villain of the Week; both are wearing Speedos (and water-wings in Chris's case). Sam, who's also giving chase, is wearing a lifeguard's vest.
  • 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").
  • Shout-Out:
    • Sam cites Robocop's three prime directives as his view of the Police's duties. Gene seems to prefer Judge Dredd's catchphrase: "I AM The Law"
    • Another, very subtle and possibly unintentional shout-out is the title itself. Four years before the show's premiere, Terry Pratchett published Night Watch, a Discwolrd novel whose protagonist is likewise a criminalist who is inexplicably transported back in time and forced to relive elements of his own past. Both the book and the series are called after a well-known work of popular art, a painting by Rembrandt in the former case and a song by David Bowie in the latter.
  • Sickbed Slaying: Tony Crane torturing the comatose 2007!Sam.
    • Toolbox & Big Bird dispose of Deekat in this manner, stabbing him through a preexisting bullet wound.
  • Significant Background Event: in Series 1, Episode 3 (fortunately Caught on Tape)
    Tina: I was told nothing. Go through the back, pick up the bag. I've always been thin like Twiggy. Well, not exactly as thin as Twiggy.
  • 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.
  • Smoking Hot Fight: Although Sam and Gene have had a few of these, the one that really stands out has to be the fight between them in the hospital, after which Gene is shown smoking. Draw your own conclusions.
  • Stimulant Speedtalk: Discussed in an episode in which a suspect dies from a heart attack while in custody due to heavy cocaine use; at first, Gene thinks that the suspect had taken cocaine before his arrest, but Sam notes that the suspect wasn't talkative or jumpy during the interview, which means he must have taken it after he was taken into custody.
  • Suicide Is Painless: Sam goes back to his own time, realizes 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.
  • Technology Marches On: Invoked in-universe as Sam has to come to grips with how things he takes for granted (cell phones, computers, cable TV, etc) don't exist in 1973.
    • At the crime lab, Sam asks the routine question of "what came back from the DNA results?" Everyone stares at him as if he's speaking gibberish as Sam realizes a simple fingerprint check can take over a week.
  • The Television Talks Back: Sam's hotline to the 'real' world.
  • Thematic Theme Tune: "Life on Mars" by David Bowie. The lyrics are about a girl fleeing domestic violence escapes into the make-believe world of the cinema, as well as referencing the growth of consumer culture and the overall premise being purgatorial rather than time travel. Plus it contains lyrics such as:
    Take a look at the Lawman/Beating up the wrong guy/Oh man! Wonder if he'll ever know/He's in the best selling show
  • Those Two Guys: Chris Skelton and Ray Carling.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Ray has this after he is injured in the blast radius of an exploding car bomb.
  • Time Travel for Fun and Profit: Downplayed. The station has a sweepstake for the 1973 Grand National. Sam, who's drawn a rank outsider, offers to swap with Gene, who's drawn Red Rum. Gene suspects that he has inside information.
  • Torture for Fun and Information: aka Gene Hunt Interrogation Technique. Life on Mars kicks off Gene Hunt's fine tradition of extracting confessions using some of the most ridiculously funny means possible:
    • In episode 1.04, where Gene and Sam lock a suspect inside a meat locker until he confesses:
    Gene: My friend is going to ask you some questions. Personally, I hope you don't answer them because I want you to die in here and end up inside a pork pie.
    • Episode 2.02, where he punishes Dickie Fingers for accusing Harry Woolf of being a corrupt officer by smashing Dickie's fingers with a telephone receiver.
    • Episode 2.05 has the Camberwick Green scene animated by Cosgrove Hall, which really must be seen to be fully appreciated.
    • In a Spin-Off book about modern policing in the 70's that was supposedly written by Gene Hunt himself, there is a chapter about how to perform this, with diagrams, and covered in blood.
  • Train Job: The climax.
  • Trapped in the Past: And it's brown.
  • Turn in Your Badge
  • 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".
  • Unfortunate Names:
    Gene: You're in for an even bigger disappointment than when we found out the plonk Doris Bangs was a name and not a promise!
  • Up the Real Rabbit Hole: Sam confides openly to Annie about his 'condition'.
  • Vigilante Man: Toolbox & Big Bird.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Sam and Gene.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Morgan.
  • 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.
  • Wham Line:
    • The finale of the first series:
      Sam: Oh my God. Dad?
    • In episode 2-07:
      Gene: Sam. I, uh... I appear to have killed a man.
  • What Year Is This?: "It's 1973, almost dinner time - I'm 'aving 'oops!"
  • Whoopi Epiphany Speech: "If you can feel, you're alive."
    • 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.
  • Wire Dilemma: In Series 2 Episode 3.
  • Witness Protection: A central plot point of Series 1, Episode 2.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Sam returns to 1973 in the nick of time to save his friends, mere moments after his departure. This despite having been in 2007 long enough for him to get discharged from the hospital and go back to work.
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: In the last episode:
    Chris: I looked up to you, Sam (having addressed him as Boss all through).
  • You Can't Fight Fate
  • You Can't Go Home Again
  • You Do Not Have to Say Anything: Something of a Running Gag because 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 old version, at one point coming up with the Miranda Warning.
    Various characters: That's not how it goes!
  • You Have Failed Me: Warren does this to Joni Newton after she reneges on framing Sam.
  • You Need to Get Laid: This is Gene's conclusion about Reg Cole, an armed hostage taker.



Video Example(s):


Stay out of Camberwick Green!

After experiencing a claymation dream wherein Gene Hunt kicks in a sex offender, Sam Tyler awakens to tell him, "Stay out of Camberwick Green!"

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / MadAtADream

Media sources: