Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Wonder if he'll ever know
He's in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?
on Mars by David Bowie
With the success of the CSI
franchise police procedurals are spending more and more time on the
behind solving crimes. The British show Life on Mars takes a different tack
however, sending a current day detective back to the year 1973 well
analysis or even computer databases were in widespread use. Not only are the differences in police
procedures great, but the officer isn't convinced that he's really back
time, and suspects that everything he's experiencing is a dream.
Sam Tyler (John Simm) is a detective in Manchester,
England. He's on the track of a serial
killer, one who has just abducted his female partner.
Angry, impatient for a breakthrough, and not
sure what to do, he pulls his car over to the side of the road, gets
some fresh air, and is hit by a car.
He wakes up some time later, but not in a hospital, or even
on the side of the street. He's in an
empty lot where they're just starting to break ground for a new
expressway. He hasn't moved physically,
but the year is now 1973. Dressed in
clothes of the time, he finds papers with his name and rank on them
he's been transferred to the local police station where he had been
2006. Once there he finds that things
were quite different back in the 70's.
When they find a fingerprint at a murder scene he's told that
will have the report back in two weeks... if they can find a match since
database has to be searched by hand. After
that, Sam suggests looking for finger prints on a body that was found,
of the detectives laugh at him. How can
you get prints off of flesh?
Not only are the investigative techniques different, so is
standard operating procedure. When Sam's
boss thinks he's found the perpetrator to a crime, he beats him until
confesses and if that doesn't work he has a stash of drugs hidden away
uses as plants. Sam is aghast at these
methods and fights them every step of the way, which makes him
his fellow detectives, to say the least.
He wants to do things by the book, circa 2006, but all of his
new-fangled ideas like tape recording interrogations are met with
If that was all there was to the series it would be a very
fine show. But the creators give it
another twist that greatly adds to the show's appeal:
Sam's not sure that he is really in the
past. He thinks he's either crazy or in
a coma dreaming everything. To add to
his suspicion he hears voices, people like his mother asking if he can
or doctors explaining his condition. At
first it happens when he's asleep or drunk, but soon he starts hearing
calling to him in the middle of the day.
He desperately wants to get back to 2006, but he has no idea how. So Sam follows the voice's vague directions
and keeps on fighting, mainly with his superior officer.
The juxtaposition between the hard-bitten street cop and the
modern day officer makes for a great show.
In the first episode, before he's hit by a car, Sam decries that
work is too sterile and lacks the use of gut instinct that was so
the past. It's ironic that he gets his
wish and finds that going by hunches along is extremely limiting,
you only want to arrest actual criminals.
The show isn't preachy however. The police
from 1973, while hard drinking and
willing, if not eager, to bend the rules more than a little aren't
bad guys, just the opposite. In several
episodes it's the traditional cops who are right, and they even end up
Sam's life at one point by going against his wishes.
It's this even-handedness that makes the show
The music they use for the show really adds another
dimension to the program. The soundtrack
is filled with early 70's Brit-rock and it is excellent.
Not only is the Bowie
tune that the show gets its name from
used (it's playing on Sam's iPod when he's hit by the car,) but other
acts have songs in the show, including Wings.
Not cheesy bubble gum rock, but the real thing.
This helps set the tone for the show but also
adds a lot of fun to the proceedings.
The 8 episodes that make up the first season come on four
DVDs that are housed in four thinpak cases, which in turn are housed in
I was surprised to find both a stereo audio track as well as
a DD 5.1 mix. The show is centers the
dialog on the screen thought the 5.1 mix opens up the soundstage a bit
more. The The voices are clean and
clear, though there are one or two times when it's hard to understand
word from a rapidly delivered speech due to the accents.
Luckily there are optional subtitles.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic image isn't as crisp and tight as I would
have liked, though it does pretty good. Being
a recent show I was hoping the colors would have been a bit brighter
blacks just a tad darker, but these are more nit-picky problems that
flaw with the picture quality. There is
some digital noise in a couple of scenes where the sky is predominant
framing, and a little aliasing, but again, these are minor problems. When all is said and done this is a solid
looking TV show on DVD. Just not
This set includes a fair number of extras which came as a
pleasant surprise. Every episode
included audio commentaries by various members of the cast and crew,
was a nice hour-long documentary on the show, "Take a Look at the
Lawman." This had behind the scenes
interviews with the cast, and was a good look at the show.
"The Music of Life on Mars" took a look at composer Ed Butt
who composed the theme and background music.
I was disappointed that they didn't discuss the classic rock
used in the soundtrack though. In
addition there was an amusing outtake reel.
This story of a modern day police officer who may be trapped
in 1973, or might possibly just be mad is a joy. I
haven't seen the American version yet, but
I'm sure fans of that incarnation would love this original. A great police show with a wicked twist that
adds a lot to the proceedings, this is a must-own for TV detective fans. Highly