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Jan 09, 2006

What is it with people called Tyler and time travelling?

The much anticipated and hyped new series Life On Mars has just finished on BBC One, throwing up an hour of breathtaking 'time travel' drama which will do very nicely until the new series of Doctor Who begins in the spring.  It's another triumph from BBC Wales, who, as I think The Guardian remarked have been doing very well from men in leather jackets.  Co-creator and writer of the series Matthew Graham is currently beavering away at a script for the second new season of Doctor Who and suddenly I'm even more excited about what might be happening come spring (if that's at all possible).

This new 'cop show' tells the story of modern police man DCI Sam Tyler* who after an accident finds himself trapped in 1973 trying to deal with the displacement in time and old school police methods.  As to why he is there is one of the mysteries which will unfold as the series progresses, but its fairly clear that far from having fallen through a time vortex, he's actually in a coma, his mind throwing up this fantasy landscape for him to negotiate and hopefully get better.Sam_tyler

Which somewhat demonstrates the real surprise -- the sophistication of the writing.  Had this been a made a few years ago, it might really have been just a time travel adventure.  But this looks at the psychology of how the character copes with his predicament.  Shades of Abre los ojos (1997) and its remake Vanilla Sky (2001) as Sam second guesses this dreamworld he might be living in and what he might need to do to be released.

The performances are universally excellent, particularly, obviously from John Simm in a role which could have broken the series had it not been played with such dimension.  He presents himself in a realistic fashion and so hightening the displacement further as everyone else in the cast are playing their characters just a touch larger than life.  None of the characters acts entirely as they might in the real world, some dropping in signals and hints of how to cope and where it might lead.  Rather like Pleasantville (1998), it's almost as though he's dropped into some seventies cop show like The Sweeney rather than a complete representation of real life. 

All of that said, it still has much of the humour you might expect from a time travel adventure as Sam asks for a PC Terminal only for his colleague to wonder if he wants a bobby or speaking to an operator and asking for a Virgin mobile, only to be warned that she doesn't like that kind of sexy talk.  His boss, Gene, is a real Jack Regan figure seeing no point in talk when a punch will do.  The poigniancy that Quantum Leap used to do so well is present too as Sam's 70s female colleague Annie is subjected to all kinds of sexual taunts from the staff even as she's offering vital help in solving the case.

It's been a while (about six months) since I've watched the opening of a new BBC series and been this excited and amazed, but here I am really looking forward to next week.  And just to drag myself back on topic for a second, did anyone spot any Who references? **

* Is his name really a Quantum Leap and a Who reference?
** Anyone else notice who was playing Sam's girlfriend Mira at the beginning?  That would be Sea of Souls' Archie Panjabi, also seen recently in the film The Constant Gardener (2005).  Will she be the Lisa Spooks Faulkner of the series dropping out super early for effect or will she cropping up now and then as  Sam's trip continues?


I agree, great show. Nice "Back to the Future" reference too, with the sign advertising the building of the new road when he wakes up.

I’m still not convinced it’s not something that wouldn’t have made a better 90-minute one-off than a series, but it was made and sold a lot more convincingly than it could have been given the format. The sense of a man out of time was really quite nicely sold, and the whole thing was very well produced. I of course wasn’t around in the 1970s, but it didn’t look overly like the sort of ‘theme park 1970s’ I was expecting, although obviously it had a filmic gloss to it.

The performances from the cast were all excellent, with Simm and Glenister excelling as you’d expect. The scene where the Open University lecturer speaks to him was one of my favourites, and although the bluff with Annie-ex playing his ‘joke’ at the end felt a bit odd, the scene with the two of them on the roof set things up nicely for the run to continue.

So we’ll see how it goes, but this was a good enough start. The only drawback I felt was that in the 2006 scenes his girlfriend seemed a bit pathetic and, to put it bluntly, thick. But this was certainly enjoyable, well-made stuff.

When he was talking to her in the bedsit he burst out with "I'm not a...time traveller" with a pause as if he was going to say 'Doctor Who' but couldn't rememebr if the programme had been no at that time.

I was also distracted by spotting locations. It was funny to spot him going from South Manchester to Salford as he 'crossed over'

Paul -- Oh well you see my take is that if indeed it is all in his mind, then the ex-boyfriend really was speaking for the doctor on the outside and then his subconscious tried to rationalise his reaction to it by portraying it as a 'joke' knowing that if he jumped off the roof he would be metaphorically killing himself.

Given there were quite a few TV gags in this first episode, I'll be disappointed if Jon Pertwee doesn't pop up on a screen at some point. Given that it's 1973 and apparently sometime round summer, it'd have to be 'Planet of the Daleks' or 'Green Death' to be accurate. But assuming it's all taking place in John Simm's head, 'Carnival of Monsters' or 'The Time Warrior' might be more fitting.

Surprised that he had a colour TV in his bedsit though - they would have been dead posh in 1973. The first time I watched one was in 1979, watching 'Nightmare of Eden' at my uncle's in Chipping Sodbury. I was most impressed that the aliens were green, I recall.

Didn't see much in the way of Who references - but the whole thing is a Discworld reference - for those unfamiliar with the work of Terry Pratchett, his book "Night Watch" (2003) explores much the same idea, being abotu a senior police officer (called Sam Vimes) finding himself transported back in time and in pursuit of a multiple murderer...

I enjoyed it (Life on Mars), by the way!
Au Res.,

I enjoyed it; the only problem with it was the scene in which he is bringing "psychological profiling" back from the 21st century, when we're already aware that psychological profiling is as dodgy and unreliable as any of the methods used in the 1970s.

And the second episode: what about those blue doors closing on him like that, TARDISy or what? And the voice-over asking for the doctor...

Or am I reading into this too much? Hope they release the soundtrack.

Well it has managed to get over the first hurdle anyway - it hasn't immediately turned into another period cop show. Could still happen, but if they're careful and keep the interesting touches they should be able to stave it off.

I liked the rather tongue-in-cheek title sequence, and the fantasy touches - the test card girl, the hospital scene at the end - were well balanced out with more of the standard police / fish out of water stuff. And even the "ordinary" police bits look so good directed by Bharat Nalluri that it still leaps above most other cop shows on the box.

So a good consolidation on its cracking start last week, overall.

I thought it was fantastic. Best show on telly right now. The opening scene with Live and Let Die meets Sabotage was inspired. And then they played Pink Floyd too!

No DW refs yet (plenty of ST ones though). Part of it reminds me of the Singing Detective for some reason. The flashback to a child (?) in a forest indicates that something happened to Tyler in 1973. Loved the test card. Loved just how dark it could be too.

Anyway, great stuff. And give me him five years (say, when David leaves) and Simms could make a fine Doctor...

Shame they are using music that will probably be not included in the DVD release. PF are normally very reluctant to let people use their stuff

JamesW -- according to an interview, I think in SFX magazine they originally asked the record company for rights to Live & Let Die and they refused. So they sent a tape directly to Paul McCartney and he agreed straight away. My understand is that, like Dr Who, they've tied up the DVD music rights in with the music license which seems to be the form now. Most programmes which use music replacement were produced before it even occured to them that the series would have an afterlife on dvd or even vhs (Quantum Leap for example). If you look at the latest shows there's never any music replacement.

The obvious counter example would be Doctor Who Confidential but that wasn't ever going to be on the dvd until it was -- I'd assume that in the next series they might be a bit choosier with the music they're using. It's got to be less of a nightmare than having to go back and remix everything.

Of course I could be wrong. I usually am.

I have just noticed on IMDB that on the cast list for the final episode of the new series of Doctor Who Doomsday that they have credited John Simm as playing Samuel Tyler, does anyone know if this is true or a mistake?

All together now - "Utter Bollocks!"

A while back IMBD had someone cast as "an alternative-universe Peter Tyler" in Tooth and Claw, aka the one with Queen Victoria. Absolute cack.

Oh c'mon now, IMDB's NEVER wrong! Remember last year at the end of BW/TPOTW, where it was revealed that Norman Lovett really WAS playing Davros, and that he was really Adam from TLG/Dalek in the future, channelled through Red Dwarf's disembodied computer head, Holly?

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