Sam Tyler (John Simm), a cool, sharp young detective, is working hard to keep the streets of 21st century Manchester safe from crime. But his world is turned upside down when the hunt for a serial killer becomes a personal vendetta after Maya (Archie Panjabi, The Constant Gardener), his girlfriend and colleague, goes missing. Desperately afraid she has been kidnapped by the killer, he sets out to find her, only to become involved in a near-fatal car accident. When he wakes, he finds himself in a different era – 1973. Is this reality, madness or a dream? Sam struggles to understand what is happening to him.
Disoriented and traumatized, 21st century Sam is completely bewildered by his new environment. As all attempts to return to his own time fail, Sam falls back on what he knows best – his job. Each episode features a different case, some of the toughest Sam has ever tried to solve – partly because of what seems like archaic police procedure. This is a world without cell phones, where cops rely on paperwork and memory instead of computers, there’s no DNA profiling and what forensics do exist take two weeks to process.
Furthermore, his 1973 colleagues are insensitive, unreconstructed cops who regularly intimidate witnesses and are happy to nail suspects irrespective of whether they have evidence. Sam’s new boss is hard-nosed Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), the antithesis of everything Sam believes in. He gets results by trusting his gut instinct and, all too often, sheer brute force. Most of his team have similar attitudes towards their work including detective Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) who is suspicious of Sam and his ‘new-fangled’ ideas. At least detective Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster, Clocking Off), despite being clueless, is more affable and keen to learn.
The only person in this alien world who reaches out to Sam is a young police officer, Annie Cartwright (Liz White, The Street), an educated and open-minded woman who helps Sam in his quest to find the truth about his new circumstances, as well as battling to lock up the criminals of 1970s Manchester.
In the first episode, it becomes clear to Sam that the killer who is holding Maya in 2006 started his killing spree here and now in the early ’70s. Could catching the perpetrator be Sam’s key to returning to the future?
What the critics are saying:
“Leave it to those wily Brits to solve one of TV’s most pressing mysteries: How do you keep the crime procedural fresh? Simm easily navigates the gritty cop plotlines and the mystical sci-fi elements, thanks to his distinctly British regular-bloke appeal. And his crackling chemistry with gruff boss Gene Hunt only adds to the series’ charm. It’s Quantum Leap meets The Streets of San Francisco – with nary a C, S, or I in sight. Grade: A-” (Entertainment Weekly, 07/28/06)
Life on Mars can be seen as a witty response to the modern police procedural, with its emphasis on cutting-edge forensic science and impossibly good-looking rainbow casts. (Los Angeles Times, 07/21/06)
The Brits, actually, have the right idea here with their penchant for short-order series, such as BBC AMERICA’s upcoming Life on Mars… (Variety, 07/12/06)
“No matter how many cop shows you’ve seen, you haven’t seen one quite like Life on Mars (***1/2 out of four, BBC America, tonight, 10 ET PT). And you really should.” (USA Today, 07/24/06)
Surreal and harrowing, a version of this wildly original show is being developed by David E. Kelley for American TV. It’s easy to see why. Heat index: 9 (out of 10)” (TV Guide’s Roush Review, 07/24/06)