Life on Mars

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
You are surrounded by Armed Bastards.
"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 2006 detective. Until he gets hit by a car and wakes up in 1973...

He's still a police officer, but a DI now. He's got to get used to a policing world with no DNA profiling, no computers and no Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

The seemingly 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, down to details that he shouldn't be able to imagine, that he has no idea what's going on. More to the point, the killer who kidnapped Sam's girlfriend on the day that he was run over appears to be active in 1973. Is that why he's in 1973? If he solves the mystery in the past, can he save his girlfriend in the future... and go home?

Remade into a American show, also called Life on Mars and a Spanish show called La Chica De Ayer.

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.

Life on Mars is the Trope Namer for:
Tropes used in Life on Mars include:
  • Adventures in Coma Land: 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.
  • 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.

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?'
  • Badass: Gene Hunt.
  • 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.
  • Bank Robbery
  • 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.
  • Book Dumb: Ray and Chris.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Reg Cole
  • Brawn Hilda: Big Bird.
  • 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.
  • Broken Pedestal: Vic Tyler for Sam, and Harry Woolf for Gene.
  • But You Screw One Goat!: Richard "Sticky Dicky" Fingers.
  • 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 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.)
  • Clear My Name: Gene, in an ironic reversal.
  • Color Wash: The colors are drenched in yellow to make the series appear 'vintage'.
  • Commander Contrarian: Gene fills this role for Sam.
  • Confessional
  • Counterfeit Cash
  • Creepy Child: (the Test Card F girl)
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • Dream Apocalypse
  • Establishing Character Moment: There's this example for Gene in the first episode, which might also be an Establishing Moment for ther 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.

  • 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, fandom is gaga for Gene Hunt, even when especially 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.
  • False-Flag Operation: The series finale, episode 208.
  • Fauxreigner: Nelson the barman, who pretends to have a natural Jamaican accent.
  • Fingertip Drug Analysis: Sam identifies heroin by taste.
  • 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.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: When Sam tries it, it causes Stable Time Loops of a sort Sam doesn't really want. When Gene Hunt tries it, Sam objects.
  • 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!

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.

Ray Carling: Yeah, but can you hit anything?
Sam Tyler: You should see my Playstation scores.

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!

Chris: Someone called for you, sir. Told 'em you were all tied up.

  • 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.
  • Running Gag: "That's not how it goes!" (Sam constantly getting the You Do Not Have to Say Anything speech wrong); "You are surrounded by armed bastards!" (even carried over to Ashes to Ashes); Gene's flasks and fondness for American westerns.
  • 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.
  • 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!?

  • 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.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Reg Cole is made out to be one, but it turns out he didn't get to fight.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Television Talks Back: Sam's hotline to the 'real' world.
  • "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.
  • They Fight Crime: For the most part, the plots are standard police investigations, though occasionally made significant by Sam's techniques or history.
  • Time Travel for Fun and Profit: Sam, when playing a sweepstake involving horse racing, offers to swap with someone who got Red Rum. Gene suspects he has inside information.
  • Tourette's Shitcock Syndrome: And a Chekhov's Gunman to boot.
  • Train Job: The climax.
  • Trapped in the Past: And it's brown.
  • The Troubles
  • 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.