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Life After Mars

BBC Life on MarsAs 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?

8 Responses to "Life After Mars"

  1. Lord Summerisle says:

    Bodily time travel, no. Absolutely not. But mental time travel, given that we know little about the nature of time and even less of the nature of consciousness might work provided it doesn’t come right out of the blue in the final episode. Perhaps the producers have been reading of Carlos Castaneda’s writings on his drug induced time travel experiences? But even though that would explain the accuracy of the 1970s universe, something Sam surely can’t recollect in such rich detail, I’m not convinced that’s going to be the answer.

    Similarly, anyone who has seen “Jacob’s Ladder” might consider that this is all a ‘near death experience’? There are a lot of parallels between that movie and Life On Mars, in particular the way Sam experiences events from the real world in his dream state. “Stay” with Ewan McGregor is a more recent example of this idea and I’d not be surprised to find either of these movies listed as inspiring Life On Mars.

    The elderly Gene Hunt scenario had occurred to me too and it would work if left at that. What I hope NOT to see is, in addition, Doctor Annie, Nurse Phyllis and Ray and Chris as a pair of grinning hospital porters because that would just be too obvious. The series has been clever so far and for it to end that obviously would be a disappointment.

    Talking of being clever, was there a reference to Rashomon the other week? Where the answers of the suspect being questioned, while the same, are related to Sam from different viewpoints and have their meaning changed as a result?

  2. I haven’t seen either Jacob’s Ladder or Stay (I’ve never even heard of the latter). The near death thing is a nice idea but isn’t the folklore that you relive your life in the instant before death? I once thought of writing a story along those lines, highlighting the recursive nature of that idea as a form of immortality – you relive your life within your reliving of your life ad infinitum. If that is the case for Sam then it’s obviously a different type of near death experience. I’ve added both those films to my DVD rental list, so someday I’ll know what they are all about (almost certainly long after next week’s Life on Mars conclusion!)

    The ‘Quantum Leap’ mind time travel is a good idea. Could well be. It would certainly explain the vivid detail of the 70s that Sam is apparently experiencing. Though can we be sure he is really seeing the world exactly as the viewer is? The human mind doesn’t notice what it doesn’t notice – of course that’s why dreams can seem so real when asleep but if someone were observing them they’d instantly see how lacking in detail they are. It certainly wouldn’t be an easy series to watch (even less film) if they tried to make it all appear as a dream. If Sam’s mind has traveled back and stolen a 1973 Sam Tyler’s body (conveniently latching on to someone with the same name in 1973 – perhaps he met him as a child and was amazed this policeman had the same name, maybe even helping push him torwards becoming a policeman?) then perhaps part of his mind is still attached to his 2006 body? Hence the apparent leakage from the future? His mind incorporating that into his surroundings, particularly when tired or asleep?

    I’m beginning to think the real answer we will be given might be a bit of a let down after all this speculation – it usually is! As for the Doctor Annie and friends – I hadn’t even thought of that! That would be a dreadful way to end it – let’s all agree to lynch Mathew Graham and co. if that’s what they give us…

    Oh, well, penultimate episode tomorrow. I’m sure we’ll have some more clues after that one!

  3. Ian Mc says:

    Hang on… wasn’t he already lynched after “Fear Her” aired? Personally, I loved it… but what do I know… I enjoyed the Horns of Nimon!

  4. Lord Summerisle says:

    Horns of Nimon had Janet Ellis.

  5. I don’t think that Fear Her was bad – just not great, probably not even good, just mediocre. Doctor Who on a budget, no frills Doctor Who. Looking at IMDB it doesn’t appear Mathew Graham is doing a Doctor Who this year – I wonder if that is because he is too busy with LoM or just because of the muted response to Fear Her?

    As for the Horns of Nimon… I don’t think I’ve ever seen the entire thing. I’ve certainly caught part of it on UK Gold a few years back and it looked like outright panto with shameful acting pretty much all around. As for Janet Ellis – was she the hairy one?

    Back to Life on Mars, though. In a little over 13 hours the final episode will begin. Any last minute theories? Nothing extra from me yet – the past two episodes have had surprisingly limited clues (that I’ve picked up on, at any rate). Almost time for Sam to go back into the musical box…

  6. One crazy idea that occurred to me (but I hope isn’t the solution – and I’m sure it never could be) is the old Virtual Reality one. The Matrix Scenario as some call it now, though the idea goes much further back than that film. What if neither 2006 nor 1973 are real. What if Sam was in a VR 2006 and some glitch pushed him across to a different server cluster, one representing 1973. Of course, why doesn’t he know of his own real world? How could the writer possibly think people will accept that idea enough to then go on and watch Ashes to Ashes? It would never happen. The only way I can see the audience accepting the spin-off is for 1980s series is set in the real world. If that turns out to be Gene Hunt’s coma experience (after the nonce’s get their own back?!) I think people will tire of that, knowing the reality. Likewise a VR situation will turn off a lot of non-SF fans (and many SF fans too).

    Whatever the truth, Ashes to Ashes might have a problem. People are used to the weirdness of Life on Mars but I don’t think they’d accept the same scenario twice, especially if the mystery is gone. If it is a straight 80s cop show then it’s lost the uniqueness that LoM had. All they’ve got is Gene Hunt. A good character but will he work in a straight cop show, even one set in the changing times of the 80s. It will be interesting to see how they try to resolve this conundrum.

    As for Sam Tyler, we’ll know the answer in about nine hours…

  7. Weakling scum…….

    not long to go till we find out…..big let down, or severe nonce kicking? lets just see, shall we…?

  8. maggie says:

    What a fantastic series life on mars has been. Sad to see it end. Well done to everybody involved with the series.

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