As I write this the fantastic BBC programme, Life on Mars, has only three episodes left before it concludes. For some reason I feel the need to speculate what might be to come.
We know the series is coming to an end and we have been led to be believe that the basic premise of the series will be resolved, i.e. has Sam Tyler really traveled back to 1973, is he in a coma imagining the whole thing, or is he from 1973 and simply mad (with an uncanny knowledge of future events)?
What we do know is that there is to be a spin-off series set in the early 80s called Ashes to Ashes. This will not feature Sam Tyler (at least on a regular basis, probably not at all) as actor John Simm wants to move onto other projects. It will, however, feature Philip Glenister – the sick twisted individual that brought DCI Gene Hunt to life! We can only assume that it will therefore feature Gene Hunt – it would hardly be a spin-off otherwise. That leads to some interesting questions:
- If there is no Sam Tyler then this new series cannot be a figment of his imagination – Sam has been in every scene of Life on Mars (though somewhat tangentially in a few scenes last week when he was seeing people’s memories) exactly to suggest it could all be in his head. They can’t change that premise now, even if Life on Mars turns out not to be his imagination, after all.
- From that we can probably deduce that Gene Hunt is/was a real person in Sam’s real world. We haven’t had a definite date for Ashes to Ashes but it must be at least seven years after Life on Mars. Will they age Philip Glenister for the 1980s Gene Hunt?
- The most important question, though, is how does Sam know the real Gene Hunt? It isn’t credible that he just imagined such a character only to have him being a real person exactly as imagined. I can’t believe they will change the character of Gene Hunt too much for Ashes to Ashes, that would destroy the whole point (Torchwood producers take note!)
Given all the weird occurrences that happen to Sam, the Test Card Girl, the Open University Lecturer, the newspaper headlines, signage, etc. that all signify a world outside of Sam’s 1973 I think we can discount time travel. Yes, it could be his imagination. Perhaps hallucinations are a byproduct of the time travel or his particular method of it, at least. Nonetheless I don’t quite buy it. They’ve been pushing too hard with all the coma references to explain those so out of hand.
Likewise the idea that he is a native 1973 man who is simply mad is… hard to accept. Yes, perhaps he has some form of precognitive clairvoyance (or whatever the ‘proper’ term is). That will be enough to send anyone mad and perhaps his waking up next to his 1973 car was after some form of psychotic break – hence why he can’t remember his real life and is unconsciously making up the 2006 life/coma story. A nice idea but we’ve not had any other hints of the paranormal in the series, so that might leave people feeling a little short changed as an explanation.
That leaves us back with the premise they’ve been pushing so blatantly from the beginning – namely that he is indeed in a coma and imagining his 1973 environment to kill his personal demons about the era and teaching himself to work by instinct sometimes rather than just mechanically by-the-book. As I said, these ideas are pushed so hard that it will take quite something to turn them on their head. Perhaps that’s the set up, we are going to be given a massive twist. Perhaps, but I doubt it. It is probably more complicated but I don’t believe the final resolution will wash away everything we’ve already thought. In a way I hope I’m wrong – so long as they do it in such a way that we don’t all feel conned.
So, Sam is in a coma in 2006 imagining a 1973 world inhabited by at least one real person – Gene Hunt. The obvious answer is that Sam met Gene Hunt as a child, possibly in relation to his father’s disappearance (and we probably haven’t heard the last of that yet – could Gene Hunt be Sam’s father? Probably not!) Perhaps Sam didn’t meet Gene Hunt until the early 80s and has just projected him back into 1973 as Sam needed to be there to investigate what happened to his father? That will certainly save any grey hair dye for Glenister in Ashes to Ashes. Nonetheless, why Gene Hunt and where did these stories come from? Well, here’s my feeble explanation – what if an elderly Gene Hunt is in the bed next to Sam’s and retelling some of his old police stories to his comatose colleague? Sam is taking those stories and directly incorporating them into his dreams?
I’m sure the truth will be much more interesting and I may well change my mind after the new episodes tonight and next week (the week after that we’ll all know for sure). There’s more to this than I’ve guessed. That much I’m sure of. Have any of you seen clues I’ve missed or have better theories (and how can you not?!)
As a final thought – it’s interesting that we don’t actually see Sam get hit by the car, watch that scene again and tell me there isn’t something a bit odd about it. A deliberate story element or just a production convenience?