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"My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident and woke up in 1973. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever's happened, it's like I've landed on a different planet. Now, maybe if I can work out the reason, I can get home."—Sam Tyler, opening titles.
DCI Sam Tyler is a normal 2006 detective. Until he gets hit by a car and wakes up in 1973...
He's still a police officer, but a DI now. He's got to get used to a policing world with no DNA profiling, no computers and no Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
The seemingly most rational explanation is that he's in some kind of coma, as messages from 2006 keep entering his head... but Sam's 1973 is so perfectly detailed, down to details that he shouldn't be able to imagine, that he has no idea what's going on. More to the point, the killer who kidnapped Sam's girlfriend on the day that he was run over appears to be active in 1973. Is that why he's in 1973? If he solves the mystery in the past, can he save his girlfriend in the future... and go home?
Followed by Ashes to Ashes, which shared some of the cast. Although the first two series of that show were largely a standalone story, the third featured numerous connections to Life on Mars, and finally explained the truth about what was happening all along. This means that even if you've watched the Life on Mars finale, this page still contains spoilers.
- Adventures in Coma Land: Whenever 2007 Sam's health declines, reality goes haywire.
- Almost Kiss: That would be Sam and Annie.
- Alone with the Psycho: Annie and Don Witham.
- Always Murder: Subverted in "The Stabbing", in which the "victim" turns out to have been killed by a faulty textile loom.
- And I'm the Queen of Sheba: While Sam, Gene and Annie are reminiscing about their lives during a hostage situation, Sam forgets himself and recounts his promotion to DCI in the modern day. Quoth Gene: "Was that the same day I became King of Egypt?"
- And when Sam tries to suggest that Patrick O'Brien isn't a terrorist:
Gene: And maybe Enoch Powell's throwing one up Shirley Bassey.
Gene: I'm not a Catholic meself, Mr. Warren, but isn't there something about "Thou shalt not suck off rent boys"?
- As You Know: In the series finale, Sam is secretly taping an 'interrogation' in the lost and found. When Gene handcuffs the suspect to a chair, Sam describes for the benefit of the tape, to which Gene says 'What're you, the narrator?'
- Badass: Gene Hunt.
- Bad Guy Bar: Of a sort. The Trafford Arms, the Manchester United pub that Sam and Gene go undercover in might count.
- Bad Humor Truck: Gene's in no mood to share his ice cream with little kids.
- Bank Robbery
- Batman Gambit: After episode seven's death-in-police-custody, Gene cracks down on Sam's attempts to find out who's responsible. Gene actually wants to find out the truth as much as Sam, but believes investigating his own squad would be "suicide for morale". Instead, he provokes Sam into working that much harder.
- Book Dumb: Ray and Chris.
- Born in the Wrong Century: Reg Cole
- Brawn Hilda: Big Bird.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: The very last thing that happens in the series is that the Test Card Girl walks up to the camera, looks straight into it and reaches up as if pressing a button just to the side of the camera — making the screen go black like she "switches off" the viewer's TV set.
- Broken Pedestal: Vic Tyler for Sam, and Harry Woolf for Gene.
- But You Screw One Goat!: Richard "Sticky Dicky" Fingers.
- Call Back: In 1973, Annie prevents Sam from leaping off the police station roof. In 2007, he takes the plunge.
- Cartwright Curse: Both reversed and subverted, interestingly enough.
- Celebrity Paradox: Sam makes a Doctor Who reference to Annie, so it would've needed to make sense to someone in the 70s, but John Simm played The Master in New Who. But not until the year after Sam Tyler died. Incidentally, Roger Delgado died in 1973 and his last Who story, "Frontier in Space", was on in the spring of 1973, when Sam arrived. Sam Tyler was also named after New Who's Tylers. In the American version, his mother is even named Rose.
- Chained to a Bed: Sam ends up like this (and naked) after standing up to a crime lord, so that they can take blackmail pictures of him. Gene, to whom Sam has been ranting about 'coppers have to be above reproach', ends up discovering him and is beside himself with glee at the sight. So much so, that he invites DC Annie Cartwright into the room. Moral of the story: don't piss off crime lords. Or Gene Hunt. (Cartwright later admits she rather liked what she saw though.)
- Clear My Name: Gene, in an ironic reversal.
- Color Wash: The colors are drenched in yellow to make the series appear 'vintage'.
- Commander Contrarian: Gene fills this role for Sam.
- Counterfeit Cash
- Creepy Child: (the Test Card F girl)
- Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: "You so much as spit out of line, and I'll have your scrotum on a barbed-wire plate."
- The Dulcinea Effect: Sam's habit of inviting every girl he wants to help back to his apartment, although sweet, isn't necessarily the wisest course of action.
- Dream Apocalypse
- Establishing Character Moment: There's this example for Gene in the first episode, which might also be an Establishing Moment for ther series:
Gene Hunt: They reckon you've got concussion - I couldn't give a tart's furry cup if half your brains were falling out. Don't ever waltz into my kingdom acting king of the jungle.
Sam Tyler: Who the hell are you?
Gene Hunt: Gene Hunt. Your DCI. And it's 1973. Almost dinner time. I'm 'aving 'oops.
- Everybody Smokes: except Sam.
- Evil All Along: Vic Tyler, Harry Woolf, and Toolbox & Big Bird.
- Also, depending how you look at it, Frank Morgan.
- Facial Composite Failure: Which inspires Sam to pull in a caricaturist as a sketch artist.
- Fair Cop: A lot of the cast are really good looking, especially Annie Cartwright and Chris Skelton. Of course, fandom is gaga for Gene Hunt,
even whenespecially when he's running around in bad seventies swims and pasty white skin. And if you're not too keen on Gene's looks (*ducks fruit*), there's always Sam in those open-necked shirts and those tight flares that show off his legs marvelously.
- False-Flag Operation: The series finale, episode 208.
- Fauxreigner: Nelson the barman, who pretends to have a natural Jamaican accent.
- Fingertip Drug Analysis: Sam identifies heroin by taste.
- First Episode Spoiler: The collision and time travel sequence occurs about ten or fifteen minutes into the first episode. Up until that point, the show appears in all respects to be a perfectly mundane (if rather uninspired) contemporary police drama. The opening credits sequence, which explicitly spells out the show's premise, is not shown until the very end of the first episode, presumably to maintain this element of surprise.
- Flanderization: In Series 1, Gene Hunt is a taciturn grouch who occasionally raises his voice. In Series 2, you wonder why the veins in his temples aren't exploding from sheer rage.
- Similarly, Ray becomes even more slovenly and incompetent in Series 2, despite Gene's assurance that he collars "more villains than this entire department put together."
- Flashed Badge Hijack: Subverted in the first episode of Series Two. Sam is unable to move out of the way of an oncoming car. In a desperate attempt to do something, he holds up his badge, closing his eyes as he anticipates the crash. The car comes to a stop inches away. Because its tires were punctured, courtesy of Annie Cartwright's
- Framing the Guilty Party: When Sam tries it, it causes Stable Time Loops of a sort Sam doesn't really want. When Gene Hunt tries it, Sam objects.
- Fun with Acronyms:
Gene: Good work, Raymondo. I'm bumping you back up to DS... only this time make it stand for Detective Sergeant and not Dog Shit!
- Giving Radio to the Romans: Sam tries to introduce mid-Noughties police techniques (recording interviews on tape, surveillance, modern forensics and so forth) to coppers in 1973, as well as other ideas like having a television in the pub.
- A Glitch in the Matrix: Images and sounds from the future are frequently shown seeping into the 70s.
- Go Seduce My Arch-Nemesis: Steven Warren enlists Joni Newton for this purpose.
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Layla backs out of aborting her child, who turns out to be Maya in the past.
- Good Guy Bar: The Railway Arms.
- The Great British Copper Capture
- Have We Met Yet?
- He Knows Too Much: Harry Woolf bumps off Dickie Fingers for this reason.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Superintendent Harry Woolf.
- Historical In-Joke And a rather dark example too. In a flashback set in 1972, Ray briefly discusses the upcoming olympic games with Chris. He goes as far to say "it'l be one for the history books. Indeed.
- Holy Backlight: As Sam walks towards the police building during the first episode.
- Hot Scoop: Jackie Queen, the journalist Gene Hunt has a history (and a boatload of UST) with. She turns up in Ashes to Ashes as well.
- Hurricane of Euphemisms: Gene uses one to explain to Sam that Warren is a Gayngster
Gene: Steven Warren is a bum-bandit. Do you understand? A poof! A fairy! A queer! A queen! Fudge packer! Uphill Gardener! Fruit picking sodomite!
Sam: He's gay?
Gene: As a bloody Christmas Tree!
- I Can't Believe I'm Saying This: Sam asks Gene why they can't just fabricate evidence and "put the squeeze" on Tony Crane. Y'know, the Gene Hunt Special. In an ironic reversal, though, Gene has had a sudden attack of morals.
Gene: Because I am policing in the full glare of the public bloody eye, and the Chief Super is taking a personal interest, and we also have no flipping evidence! And I CAN'T BELIEVE I JUST SAID THAT!
- I Read It for the Articles: Lampshaded by Sam, who hides his tape recorder beneath Gene's copy of Jugs. When Gene tries to snatch it, Sam professes an interest in the reading material.
Gene: You know what the really sad thing is? I believe you.
- I'm Mr Future Pop Culture Reference:
- Sam and Annie pose as "Tony Blair" and "Cherie Blair". When Gene pops up unexpectedly, Sam promptly dubs him "Gordon Brown".
- "And his wife..." "Sookie."
- "You know, Starsky and Hutch have got a lot to answer for..."
- "How do you think I spend my time here, Tyler?" "Building a Death Star?"
- During a fistfight with Gene at some point in the first season, Sam does the "Bring It" gesture from The Matrix.
- Series 1 Episode 3:
- Sam and Annie pose as "Tony Blair" and "Cherie Blair". When Gene pops up unexpectedly, Sam promptly dubs him "Gordon Brown".
Ray Carling: Yeah, but can you hit anything?
Sam Tyler: You should see my Playstation scores.
- "Red rum! Red rum!"
- IC Number: Subverted: IC codes haven't been introduced yet, and nobody else understands them.
- Ironic Echo: Gene's assertion that he "never fitted up anyone who didn't deserve it!", for which he gets thoroughly worked over by Sam. In the Series 2 episode "Helpless", Sam catches himself saying the exact same thing in his pursuit of Tony Crane.
- It Will Never Catch On:
- When Sam suggests that they install a TV in the pub, everyone is extremely skeptical. Seriously, they look at him like he grew a third eye.
- Chicken? In a basket?
- It Works Better with Bullets: Method by which Sam unmasks his father as the killer they've been searching for.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ray is always making disparaging remarks about Annie, as well as minorities and women in general, but we let Gene get away with it because we like Gene.
- Lady in Red: actually a plot point in Season 1, although instead of the usual seductive undertones it's to play off a Red Riding Hood theme.
- Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Gene says this almost word for word about the events of series 1 episode 7, where a suspect died of a heart attack in one of the cells, due to the actions of CID.
- Literary Allusion Title: Named after the Bowie song.
- Look Both Ways: The catalyst for the series.
- Magic Realism
- Magical Negro: Nelson fulfils this role, with hints he might be aware what's happening to Sam. In Ashes to Ashes, it is revealed that he's the gatekeeper to the copper version of heaven, equivalent to Saint Peter.
- Male Gaze
- Meaningful Name: Gene calls Sam "Dorothy" on more than one occasion, and a cover of Somewhere Over The Rainbow is played in the series finale. It's surely no co-incidence that Sam meets a man named Frank Morgan.
- Medium Blending: The claymation of Camberwick Green.
- Mexican Standoff: Between Gene and Harry in Series 2, Episode 2. Except Gene rather bluntly ends it by shooting Harry in the leg.
- Mind Screw: The last two episodes.
- Missing White Woman Syndrome: Makes sense, as it's the 70's.
- Mood Dissonance: The last episode especially. Seriously, the main hero's suicide shouldn't feel so... awesome.
- Mushroom Samba: 2007!Sam accidentally gets a drug overdose, leading 1973!Sam to hallucinate a memorable version of the childrens' show Camberwick Green.
- Must Make Amends
- Noble Bigot with a Badge: Practically half the cast.
- Noodle Incident: Whatever it is Mrs Luckhurst does that's "illegal in some parts of Wales" and makes Gene Hunt scream bloody murder.
- Odd Couple: Sam and Gene (one's by the book, the other's bring your own bottle), but also Chris and Ray.
- Off on a Technicality: Sam's supposition that his 2007 case against Tony Crane fell apart while he was in a coma.
- Old-Fashioned Copper: Gene Hunt, Ray Carling
- Ontological Mystery
- Only Known by Their Nickname: "Toolbox" Terry and "Big Bird".
- Richard Hands' real name is used once; after that, he's only named as Dickie Fingers, even after he's murdered.
- Oop North: Manchester.
- Perp Sweating
- Perp Walk
- The Plan: Frank Miller pulls one in Series 2, Episode 3.
- Pocket Protector: Gene is saved from a bullet by a flask of whiskey. Lampshaded and parodied immediately.
Sam: What're the chances?
Gene: (pulls out two more flasks) Pretty good, actually. Well, you never know how far you're gonna be from a boozer!
- Police Lineup
- Police Procedural
- Politically-Correct History: Averted by most of Sam's new contemporaries, especially Gene Hunt. The rest of the squad, especially Ray Carling, aren't much better, with the exceptions of Annie and Chris.
- Rape Is Ok When It Is Female On Male: Subverted--the act is shown as nightmarish and disconcerting, and everyone at the station assumes Sam planned to get laid, essentially blaming Sam for his own assault.
Chris: Someone called for you, sir. Told 'em you were all tied up.
- Rashomon Style: in 2.05, we see Bathurst's arrest retold from two different perspectives, Gene Hunt's vindictive view and Annie's more sympathetic one. Annie turned out to be much more objective--Gene had gotten too emotionally involved in the case.
- Running Gag: "That's not how it goes!" (Sam constantly getting the You Do Not Have to Say Anything speech wrong); "You are surrounded by armed bastards!" (even carried over to Ashes to Ashes); Gene's flasks and fondness for American westerns.
- Sarcastic Confession: Two of the mill workers in Series 1, Episode 3 find out the wrong way that you do not joke about a confession to Sam Tyler.
- The Scapegoat: Patrick O'Brien.
- Send Me Back
- Serious Business:
- Football rivalries and riots are central to one episode, just as football hooliganism was on the rise. Football rivalries and riots were very serious business in the 70s and 80s.
- Also, this wonderful quote from Gene in series 1, episode 6, when Reg Cole pours Gene's flask onto the floor:
Gene: That was a single malt! What kind of monster are you!?
- The Seventies: Manifested as seventies clothing, hair, and unfortunate blue eyeshadow.
- Shameful Strip: Happens to Sam after he's slipped a mickey by a prostitute in a frame-up. He wakes up tied to a bed with Gene kicking down the door accompanied by WPC Anne Cartwright. Considering Annie's embarrassment and Gene's quip of "it's not all golf and badminton in Hyde, eh?", it's fairly safe to say Sam was naked.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Reg Cole is made out to be one, but it turns out he didn't get to fight.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Episode 7. Sam finds out the exact circumstances that lead to Kemble's accidental death due to the department's actions, but when he turns in the tape proving it to the superintendent, the superintendent immediately destroys the tape, saying that it could easily be a hoax.
- Sickbed Slaying: Tony Crane torturing the comatose 2007!Sam.
- Toolbox & Big Bird dispose of Deekat in this manner, stabbing him through a preexisting bullet wound.
- Smoking Hot Fight: Although Sam and Gene have had a few of these, the one that really stands out has to be the fight between them in the hospital, after which Gene is shown smoking. Draw your own conclusions.
- Suicide Is Painless: Sam goes back to his own time, realises the Test Card F girl was right all along, and takes a running jump off the roof of the police station while Life On Mars blares triumphantly in the background.
- Taking the Heat: A union leader tried to cover up a fatal industrial accident at his mill to keep it from being shut down (and his members losing their jobs) by confessing to having murdered the accident victim.
- The Television Talks Back: Sam's hotline to the 'real' world.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Sam delivers an epic one to Peter Bond, accusing him and people like him of ruining the joy of football by injecting it with hate and violence among the fans.
- They Fight Crime: For the most part, the plots are standard police investigations, though occasionally made significant by Sam's techniques or history.
- Time Travel for Fun and Profit: Sam, when playing a sweepstake involving horse racing, offers to swap with someone who got Red Rum. Gene suspects he has inside information.
- Tourettes Shitcock Syndrome: And a Chekhov's Gunman to boot.
- Train Job: The climax.
- Trapped in the Past: And it's brown.
- The Troubles
- Turn in Your Badge
- Twist Ending: The ending to series 2 episode 5, where it turns out that the father of a girl who was kidnapped after pointing the finger at a murder suspect may have committed the murder that said suspect was accused of in the first place.
- Undercover As Lovers: Sam and Annie pose as a married couple to investigate a wife-swapping group. Interestingly the most UST comes not from this situation, but in the scene where they're making up a Meet Cute cover story.
- Not to be done in, Gene brings a Streetwalker along as his "wife".
- Unfortunate Names:
Gene: You're in for an even bigger disappointment than when we found out the plonk Doris Bangs was a name and not a promise!
- Up the Real Rabbit Hole: Sam confides openly to Annie about his 'condition'.
- Vigilante Man: Toolbox & Big Bird.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Sam and Gene.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Morgan.
- Wham! Episode: The finale of the first series turns a lot of things on its head -- Sam discovers that his father's a crime lord, and he lets him run away, thereby killing what he thought was his only chance at getting back to the present. Sam also changes the past for the first time in the series.
- Wham! Line:
- The finale of the first series:
Sam: Oh my God. Dad?
- In episode 2-07:
Gene: Sam. I, uh... I appear to have killed a man.
- What Year Is This?: "It's 1973, almost dinner time - I'm 'aving 'oops!"
- Whoopi Epiphany Speech: "If you can feel, you're alive."
- Which leads to a very dark Inversion in the ending: when he gets back in 2007, he accidentally cuts himself during a meeting and realizes that he didn't feel it, leading to his decision to leave his 2007 life and go back to 1973.
- Witness Protection: A central plot point of one episode.
- Wire Dilemma: In series 2 episode 3.
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: Sam returns to 1973 in the nick of time to save his friends, mere moments after his departure. This despite having spent days in 2007.
- You Can't Fight Fate
- You Can't Go Home Again
- You Do Not Have to Say Anything: Subverted. British police used a different caution in 1973 than the one Sam is used to from 2007. Sam repeatedly tries and fails to recite the 70's version, at one point coming up with the Miranda Warning.
- You Have Failed Me: Warren does this to Joni Newton after she reneges on framing Sam.
- You Need to Get Laid: This is Gene's conclusion about Reg Cole, an armed hostage taker.