The Gene Genie
Tripwire continues its list of its Top 30 Crime and Police shows, selected by its editor-in-chief and senior editor. Here’s its 25th entry, BBC’s Life On Mars…
25. Life On Mars
Creators: Matthew Graham, Tony Jordan, Ashley Pharoah
Stars: John Simm, Philip Glenister, Liz White, Dean Andrews, Marshall Lancaster
The BBC’s Life On Mars, broadcast in the mid noughties, took time-honoured ‘70s British crime shows like The Sweeney and created an irreverent homage to them. John Simm plays DCI Sam Tyler, a clean-cut copper who always plays by the rules, who, after a car accident, finds himself transported back from 2006 to the antediluvian days of 1973.
Tyler ends up demoted and with thoroughly old-school boss Gene Hunt (Glenister) in charge, has to figure out what’s happened to him while carrying out police work in an era where he really doesn’t belong.
Life on Mars is a high concept show, part nostalgic police procedural, part light sci-fi. Simm had been seen in shows like Cracker and The Lakes prior to this, but Life On Mars, which was a huge hit internationally, brought him to the fore.
Glenister as his guvnor DCI Gene Hunt, channels the archetypal Flying Squad cop while throwing a flash of Northern arrogance into the dramatic pot, with a cheeky boorishness that really shines on screen. Simm on the other hand is the incorruptibly pristine product of the modern police force, who constantly finds himself pitted against the less than progressive attitudes of Hunt and his gang of acolytes. White, who plays the only regular female police officer in the show, has a warmth and a humanity that the likes of Hunt and co lack.
Life on Mars is a prism through which we can see and critique the mores of the 1970s and it is done with style, wit and brio. Attention to detail is key here and the show doesn’t just feel credible but looks precisely right too. The end, which correctly is somewhat ambiguous, offers the right balance of outlandish fantasy and gripping drama. We are never certain whether Sam Tyler is trapped in a nightmare of his own making or not, but the journey the series creators take the viewer offers us a ride that is unlike any other British police show in TV history.
Life On Mars is on now on BBC’s iPlayer in the UK and on Amazon Prime In The US