So, we’re halfway through series one of Life On Mars, and where have we got to so far? Well, 70s Manchester is still that dank, gritty city with plenty of problems, and into the terraces steps Sam Tyler in a dream, hearing the echoe-y voice of his mum.
But all too soon, Sam wakes up, in 1973, and he’s chasing the bad guys once more. I won’t lie. Looking back on this episode it bores me a little in the beginning. It doesn’t have the same energy that it picks up in the second half of the episode. However, the homage to the 70s in this episode is fantastically done. “The Warren” really is a tribute to all those slightly grotty nightclubs, complete with go-go dancers. I can just imagine the feel of your shoes sticking to the floor as you dance.
Sam’s world has got ever more confusing, and this episode really digs into the heart of the corruption of authority which dominated so much of the 70s and early 80s. It’s a nod, not only to police procedurals of the day, but all the history and back-story surrounding that time. For my generation, it’s an education. For the older generation it’s a nostalgia trip.
The story itself is pretty good: villains and police in cahoots, cops too scared to act differently, villains keeping the deal sweet. Warren, the Irish mobster controlling the Mancunian underworld, is brilliantly portrayed by the little known Tom Mannion (who has actually turned up in detective dramas from New Tricks to Agatha Christie mysteries).
And, let’s face it, Sam shows himself to not be completely squeaky clean. He’s as much seduced (literally) by the glamour of the club as the rest of them. That is, until he finds the money, and fights back.
I think the strength of this episode really lies in the darkness of Gene. Episode 2 really showed Gene to have a mean side to him, but here there is some real depth added to Gene. It’s Sam who helps him face that “animal in his insides”, something worth bearing in mind for Ashes To Ashes two-parter finale we just witnessed.
It’s also interesting to see how far Ray has come from LOM to A2A. The angry man who sees the world as good coppers and dead coppers is a far cry from the DI we see series 3 of Ashes To Ashes.
However, the episode really got going at the “honey-trap”. The freaky montage (which is becoming a motif of the series) Sam experiences on his acid trip is juxtaposed by Gene’s bursting in to find him completely naked and handcuffed. It’s a classic Life On Mars moment.
It’s after Joanie’s murder that I felt the episode stood at its best. Best scene of the episode has got to be Warren’s arrest. Music, camera, pace all married together to create the euphoria of justice done.
But, what about Sam’s mum? I thought that Mrs Tyler certainly got the emotional side, and it adds to the sense of real/unreal. Is Sam really back in time? It would explain why his younger self is around (though never seen). You feel the tension and confusion of Sam, and you, like him, aren’t sure how to react to Mrs Tyler. You can sense that she will come back again, not just through the puppets on TV this time.
When I think about this episode overall, I love it. The story is good, the moral dilemmas are complex, the confusion of Sam meeting his mum is interesting.
MacKay has put together a solid piece of TV drama. But I know that the series has a lot more to offer. Whilst there are some little moments of genius, such as Roger Whittaker at the end (although I do admit I had to Google him to find out who he was) and, like I said, Warren’s arrest, I think this is a decent, as opposed to outstanding, episode.
Read our review of episode 3 here.