“We never got to tie up John,” says screenwriter and producer Matthew Graham, reflecting on the premature end of BBC One’s hit sci-fi police procedural Life on Mars.
In sequel series Ashes to Ashes, the writer-producers managed to do everything they’d planned for Philip Glenister’s gruff, outmoded DCI Gene Hunt, but not for John Simm’s DI Sam Tyler. Why? “John had gone by then,” Graham tells Den of Geek in a new interview.
Life on Mars finished in 2007 after two series but the original plan, Graham says, was to continue for a third and possibly fourth run. “We had one of the biggest hits on television,” he tells us, “[…] the last thing you want to do is come up with a hit show and then say, ‘right, I’m pulling the plug on it’.”
Star John Simm though, asked to leave. “He was obviously in every scene, he was very tired, he’d just had a new baby, he was away a lot from home and he just came to us and said ‘look, I want to call it a day’.” That happened midway through filming the second season, Graham remembers, “so it was a bit of a last-minute thing.”
To right that wrong, 13 years after the Life on Mars finale, Graham is currently ruminating on “something else for Sam Tyler, another journey for Sam Tyler to go on.” He hasn’t yet spoken to John Simm about returning for the role, but knows that “John has since talked to people about being open to coming back to do something, some kind of final iteration, so I’m hoping he still feels that.” Once the idea is finalized, Graham and co-creator Ashley Pharoah plan to take Simm and Glenister “out to a nice lunch somewhere and pitch it to them.”
Expect any return for Life on Mars to be dark and serious as well as funny and fantastical, Graham promises. “It will be about something. That was the only reason we would ever go back to that world.”
“If we come back to do this, if we get a chance to,” he teases, “I think we’ll be unpacking the world-building in even a bit more of a strange way.”
Without giving too much away, he tells us “I don’t think it would be something where we would go back to the 70s. [..] I think we need to do something a little even more surprising and more shocking.”
Asked whether fans might expect to see Gene Hunt transported to the 1990s, Graham laughs. “Whether Gene’s actually gone through the nineties is going to be another matter, because it might not even be that he has.”
“I don’t think going back into other decades is going to be the answer anymore,” says Graham. “I think however it finally cooks itself into whatever being it is, it is definitely not going to be just ‘knockabout’ and playschool. It’s going to be something that’s got something on its mind about where we are now, in terms of our sexual politics, in terms of this polarization between ‘snowflakes’ and the right, and the polarization between men and women.”