Life On Mars (TV, 2007)

The finale of the popular cop/time-travelling/soul transport crossover show. See how wrong I was, but then, they did make it up as they went along. At this point in time the two creators even disagreed if Sam Tyler was dead. (I asked them about it at the Ashes to Ashes launch party. Ahem. Get me, all Mr. media-man up in the big town. Well not now! I only talk to the cat. He hasn’t had a party in ages). From Death Ray.


Written by Mathew Graham, Ashley Pharoah

Directed by SJ Clarkson

Starring: John Sim, Philip Glenister

Life on Mars draws to a close as Sam finally discovers what’s going on. Sort of. At least it has a happy ending.

Synopsis Sam hears on the radio that he is in a coma because a tumour in his brain is preventing his recovery, and this will soon be operated on. Shortly afterwards, he is approached by Morgan to finally bring Gene Hunt down, leading Sam to believe that Hunt is a personification of his tumour, and that his arrest will bring his fantasy life to an end. He sets about taping Hunt’s illegal methods in foiling a payroll heist, but then finds himself in a quandary as he fears he will put his friends in danger, which he does.

Sam leaves the rest of A Division trapped in a train wagon by armed robbers as he goes for back-up, only to discover that he has a chance to return home. But in 2007, he discovers he is unhappy, hurls himself at off a roof, arrives in time to save his mates and cop off with Lizzy.

The final episode of this brilliant series leaves one feeling vaguely dissatisfied. All the way through Sam has been asking himself “Am I in a coma, am I mad, am I back in time?” From what the show gives us, the answer seems to be all three at once. A pat way of finishing the show, and one that has been designed to make sure slightly pissed-up SF fans have pseudy conversations about it for at least another decade. However, a lot of us like the comforting embrace of certainty, the zero or one of is/is not, so here’s my explanation.

Sam is a cat. As in a Schrodinger’s Cat – neither alive nor dead until someone opens the box to take a look. Quantum mechanics requires the act of observation to determine the state of a “cat”, after which one state is chosen as having always been. But Sam is being simultaneously observed by two groups of people, he is therefore in an indeterminate state where he is both yet neither at the same time. He is DCI Sam Tyler, from 2007, and DI Sam Williams, from 1973. This paradox cannot continue.

In Schrodinger’s example, no-one asked the Cat itself, which is surely an observer of its own fate. To different versions of the cat, both possibilities are true. This is the same for Sam, and he eventually determines which path of potentiality becomes the fixed truth by ending one in favour of the other by leaping off the building. We leave him as Sam Williams,’70s cop who has been imagining he is from the future, and his paradox is resolved.

This is utter nonsense, of course, as quantum mechanics don’t really work like that, and nor does the story. But it sounds clever and I’ll certainly be belting it out after six pints of ale.

It would have ruined the show, but sometimes you want a Mr Spock-alike to pop up and give you a nice answer all wrapped up in ribbons. Of such things great TV is not forged. Hopefully the enigma will be further unravelled in Ashes to Ashes, the sequel to the series, due to be shown late this year.

Other than that, it was great. A bit heavy on exposition, perhaps, but the final shot was a killer.

“Are you drawing from zen buddhism, advaita vedanta, dzogchen, non-dual philosophy? Is this detective seeking his true self? To wake up to who he really is? To ‘cheat death’ by realising he is the One who was never born and will never die.”

Rowan Tilly, Brighton

“Stop eating the foam from inside your sofa, it’s hurting your brain and may cause permanent damage.

But clearly whatever is truly happening to Sam, it is sending him on a voyage of self-discovery.

I’m serious now, sofa foam is bad for you even if you’re only sniffing it.”

Writer Mathew Graham answers an earnest fan on the BBC website.


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