If you’ve not seen the ending of Ashes To Ashes, you might want to give this lookback a miss…!
Have you ever had that dream where you’re chased down an endless corridor or staircase, and you’re terrified you won’t escape, and all the time you can feel the pursuer is nearly upon you? For me, that’s the essence of episode six of Life On Mars.
From the moment the episode begins, you know that it’s going to be a good one. Sam’s on a deadline, so already the tension’s up. Two o’clock is already a magic number in your head, and the hostage situation just intensifies this.
It’s all about the story this week. Okay, so Sam’s going to get switched off. Eeek! But, you almost forget about it in the wake of the fantastic plot.
An insane janitor (and yes, he would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for them meddling kids) takes hostages at a newspaper office. Gene, Sam and Annie end up in the thick of it. At 2pm, Sam is about to be shot, the exact same time his life support in the ‘present’ is about to be shut down.
The brilliant Paul Copley is Reg Cole, the underappreciated janitor who’s decided it’s better to be a famous villain than an unknown hero. You may not have recognised the face, but the voice is well known for narrating How Clean Is Your House, and he does extensive radio work with his gritty northern accent. He does an outstanding performance here. I wanted to applaud him at the credits.
I think it’s interesting to note how Gene’s character has developed here. The incident of mistakenly shooting the young boy shows how much guilt he carries, and there’s a sense that he knows in his heart he is a good person. His insecurities are very much put in the spotlight, but alongside his heroic aspect.
Without going into the finale of Ashes To Ashes, where we know exactly who Gene is, we are given a couple of hints in this episode. Look for them near the very end of the episode, where Sam and Annie discuss their favourite memories.
I’m not saying that Graham and Pharoah knew from the outset exactly what the Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes universe was, but there are a few connections that we could put together with hindsight.
Anyway, back to reviewing.
I really liked how John Alexander, the director, managed to keep the tension racked all the way up throughout the episode without it becoming boring simply through overexposure. There are lots of medium close-ups, and tight shots at about seventy-five degrees where he seems to cram everybody into the shot with little room to manoeuvre.
The palette is dark and quiet, almost sepia-like, and the music unobtrusive, but faintly ominous.
A favourite shot of mine is near the end, where Reg’s face is partially obscured by a shadow as he quotes Brecht. It’s a symbol of the darkness he is trying to embrace. Even Reg’s apartment has a mix of light and shadow, but the shadow seems to penetrate through the shots.
But as all things must do, in forty-five minutes or so the episode has resolved itself. Reg tries to throw himself fully into his act, but even as he stands with the gun pointed at Sam’s head, you’re not quite sure if he’ll be able to pull it off.
The tell-tale sound of Sam’s heart monitor in the background just adds to the mood of will-he-won’t-he, and the motif of the shoes walking through the field just appears to get more mystifying by its odd appearance here.
But is it so odd? Already I’d say there was a fair amount of clues stacking up toward the Life On Mars series one finale, but I can’t give the game away, really, can I? (Perhaps I’m just over-exercising my hindsight again.cCmment and let me know.)
All in all, this has to be one of my top Life On Mars episodes out of the two series. I like it when something on the telly provides tense, challenging drama, and this episode especially proves the ability of the show to deliver that.
Favourite scene: like I said earlier, the sequence with Annie and Sam discussing their favourite memories.
Favourite line: Sam’s “I’ve just been connected.”
It was a satisfyingly good way to wash away the last of the tension that had ebbed away since Reg’s arrest. A double thumbs up, I’d say.
Read our review of episode 5 here.