My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident, and I 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.
First off, it’s really going to rile some people when you pronounce something the greatest ever. But we’re talking here about the British television series Life on Mars. And not just Life on Mars, but The Empire Strikes Back of television series, Ashes to Ashes. You can quibble with M*A*S*H or Law and Order or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Twilight Zone, or engage you people over there shouting Firefly and Supernatural and the others over there fighting over the best Star Trek series–but we’re talking about Life on Mars here. And if you’ve watched its two seasons in 2006 and 2007, or the three seasons of Ashes to Ashes from 2008 to 2010, then the news that another chapter of the series is in the works is the kind of happy news that can actually distract you from the real world right now.
Yet it’s true. Life on Mars co-creator Matthew Graham confirmed it all yesterday as part of a Twitter “watch-along” of the first episode of the genre-bending series for the UK audience. Graham first hinted at the possibility in a Tweet he posted Tuesday promoting the event, and he provided more details after the show. Just like over the past 15 years, Brits posted how much they loved the series, how they believe it to be the best series ever made. The series follows John Simm (Doctor Who, State of Play) as Sam Tyler, a British cop in 2006 who is working on a case when he is hit by a car. He awakens in the same police station 33 years earlier, in the year 1973. He knows he’s unstuck in time, but unsure how he got there. Is he in a coma? Did something supernatural take over? Is this what death is like? This is where the genre-bending begins. Until you’ve watched all five years of episodes, you won’t really know what is the true genre behind the genres hinted at in the series. Tyler befriends and shares his situation only with co-worker Annie Cartwright, played by Liz White (Doctor Who, The Woman in Black). He finds he is now working under the cantankerous Detective Police Inspector Gene Hunt, played by Philip Glenister (Cranford, Horatio Hornblower), one of my picks of the greatest characters of all time (seriously, I wrote about it here eight years ago). DCI Hunt becomes the centerpiece of this strange world, continuing past the second season of Life on Mars to co-star in the same role in Ashes to Ashes along with Keeley Hawes (Doctor Who, The Bank Job), a police officer named Alex Drake who is shot in 2008 and wakes up in 1981. Life on Mars continued with Ashes to Ashes much like The Closer continued with the series Major Crimes for U.S. audiences, swapping out the lead roles, but continuing with the rest of the cast. Here that included two other cops, played by Dean Andrews (Father Brown, Marchlands) and Marshall Lancaster (Doctor Who, Casualty) who appeared in all five seasons.
During yesterday’s watch-along, Graham peppered Twitter with glimpses at what lies ahead in what he called, The Final Chapter. Although he didn’t say if any actors had confirmed returning, it seems impossible anyone would make this announcement without buy-in from Glenister, Simm, Hawes, White, Andrews, and Lancaster. To that point he said, “we intend to get as many back (across both decades) as we can. So when you wonder who will be coming back for The Final Chapter – think Avengers Assemble!” He specifically referenced wanting Annie (Liz White) back, and Hunt’s boss DCI Litton. Graham mentioned the series will be set in Manchester and London, partially in the 1970s, partially in the 1980s, but mostly in an alternate now, all running for four or five episodes. “I’d like to tell you that in The Final Chapter there will be a TV show WITHIN our TV show. TYLER: MURDER DIVISION,” adding, “We would never make another Mars unless we really had something to say and could push the envelope all over again. Finally we have something.” While watching a classic scene in the first episode, co-creator Ashley Pharoah Tweeted, “I wonder if Phil and John could jump over that desk now? I guess we’ll find out”.
The two series have the best soundtracks of any series, with nearly 100 of the best 1970s UK hit songs spliced into Life on Mars alone. It’s considered one of the top police procedurals, best dramas, best mysteries, and even extraordinary science fiction and fantasy. Not that it’s any single one of those descriptions. As John Simm watched along with his wife at home, Dean Andrews followed along, too, Tweeting, “I didn’t want to butt in but I was very excited to hear the ideas they have for The Final Chapter.”
Rev up the Quattro! Fans of the series will recognizing iconic imagery from the series referred to by Graham in further Tweets. “I’ve got Sam’s leather jacket in a cupboard somewhere. Along with Gene’s boots… expect one Ford Cortina, one Audi Quattro and the Chinese wall of all cardboard boxes.”
Following the news, both “John Simm” and “Gene Hunt” were trending high on UK social media. Movie and TV producers should take note: Wouldn’t this be a great time to share news of any incredible plans you have? People could use some good news right now.
You can stream all of Life on Mars now here (Season 1) and here (Season 2) on Amazon Prime via Brit Box. If you have a DVD player that plays British discs, check out the DVD here (not playable on most U.S. machines). Ashes to Ashes is currently only available via its original DVD release here–also only playable on UK players.
Keep looking back here–we’ll provide updates on the new series as they become available.