by Allan Fish
(UK 2006-2007 920m) DVD1/2
A word in yer shell-like, pal
p Cameron Roach, Claire Parker d S.J.Clarkson, John Alexander, John McKay, Bharat Nalluri, Richard Clark, Andrew Gunn w/created by Matthew Graham, Tony Jordan, Ashley Pharoah, Chris Chibnall m Edmund Butt
John Simm (DCI Sam Tyler), Philip Glenister (DCI Gene Hunt), Liz White (Annie Cartwright), Dean Andrews (Ray Carling), Marshall Lancaster (Chris Skelton), Noreen Kershaw (Phyllis), Tony Marshall (Nelson), Lee Ross, Marc Warren, Georgia Taylor, Peter Wight, Anthony Flanagan, Paul Copley, Rebecca Atkinson,
It all started in Hyde, a real yet somehow mythical place. Did it ever exist? It all ended there…or should I perhaps say the last act began there. That didn’t take place until 2010, or was it 1983, and would not be under the jurisdiction of the title Life on Mars. Yet can we discuss Life on Mars without discussing its successor, Ashes to Ashes, Acts III-V in Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharaoh’s tale? That’s all after the event, of course. As George Lucas knew, one has to have a success before one can have a saga.
So we go back to a hit and run on Satchmore Road in Manchester in 2006, as DCI Sam Tyler drifts in and out of potentially fatal unconsciousness and dreams himself – or is it a dream – back in the same place in 1973. Gone the official suits, iPods, Playstations and skin dabs, hello leather jackets, collars the size of 30° set squares, vinyl heaven, the test card, Camberwick Green and demotion to DI, a fish out of water in a CID marshalled by DCI Gene Hunt, the self-proclaimed Sheriff of Manchester, an old-school gut instinct first and procedure second copper who sees political incorrectness as ticking the wrong ballot paper (or worse, voting for a woman prime minister – he may have had a point). Sam thinks he has to find his way home to 2006, finds that the killer he’s searching for 33 years hence actually killed in 1973, but whatever he tries, he stays put.
We know how it ends, as it always had to end, with Sam waking up, and then him realising that his reality isn’t his reality any more, throwing himself off the roof of CID HQ and waking back in 1973. It was all over and most people were happy. What had begun as a reworking of The Twilight Zone (with essences of Back to the Future, not least in a billboard scene in the aftermath of the apparent time travel) and a bit of escapist fun allowed itself to tackle stronger themes, allowing the benefit of hindsight to see the birth pangs, or rather the first lesions, of the death of the industrial north-west (Sam’s flat was converted from an old factory, Sam wakes in a wasteland full of the ruins of the Victorian Industrial might), of football hooliganism over a decade before the horrors of Heysel and Hillsborough (and pumping some of the blood that ran through McGovern’s Cracker a decade earlier) and of corruption in all positions of power. Its themes would be ones we could all relate to; belonging, fighting to stay alive, loyalty, identity, faith, even, one hesitates to say it, nirvana. And guiding us, like Virgil and Dante through hell (or purgatory, as it turned out), Sam and his nemesis/ally Gene Hunt. Simm dominates every scene as we have become accustomed, but it was Glenister who gained immortality as Hunt, a wisecracking Jack Regan for the north in a Ford Cortina and camel coat. It’s a truly brilliant performance, more indeed than a mere performance, a characterisation of depth, humour and, yes, even subtlety from an actor too long playing Mr Dependable in costume dramas. Brilliantly written, it deserved a great sequel, and if there had only been one series of Ashes to Ashes, it wouldn’t have had it, but Act IV improved greatly and Act V built up to a two-part finale not only worthy of the original but arguably topping it (praise to initially criticised Keeley Hawes, not least for making eighties fashions look good). So it was back to a deserted farmhouse in Hyde on Coronation Day and then to The Railway Arms, a “good to see you, mon brave”, a packet of Ringos and a waft of Bowie over the soundtrack. And not just the original title song, but one that Gene, Sam, Annie, Ray, Chris, Shaz and Alex Drake all deserved. Gene called heroism like “being drunk on yourself”; if so, they’re all heroes…and not just for one day.