Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Life On Mars

Reached it's finale last night. Maybe I was just too much of a fanboy, but I was disappointed with ending. Nowhere near as disappointed with the tailing off of the X Files (the last great sci-fi/mystery series I watched) but still...

I laid off posting about Life on Mars before now chiefly because of this. The question of the coma, is it reality or isn't it, was a fantastic premise. It led to a number of fascinating episodes.

As I saw it the programme was about time, about turning points in personal and social history, about how such histories combine and affect each other. The 1970s were the last great turningpoint in British history. Decisions made then largely still affect us today, so it was an excellent period to set the drama.

In the last episode the lead character, Sam Tyler, is brought smack bang up against this question. In order to escape the time warp he has to destroy the very people he has come to live and work among.

Without giving too much away for anyone wanting to buy the DVD (c'mon, someone reading this might) Sam returns to the present day, only to find numbness and alienation. Before the denoument in the 70s he asks the barman in the plods favourite pub "how do you know if you're alive?" The answer is so long as you can feel (the barman's an uncritical idealist, bordering on solipsism... now that's a modern philosophy).

Don't get me wrong, Life On Mars has been one of the best things on TV this decade not involving loudmouthed robots and ancient profane professors, and at least the series had some kind of end. Sam chooses to return to the past (somehow) because it's more real, completely dropping the themes of social change (in particular the story of civic corruption and it's impact on British society, Sam Tyler is a sincere man, a fine product of the post-Lawrence Inquiry police force). It still smacks of a good save. The key to writing a mystery, as we all know, is to get the ending first and write backwards. The X Files didn't do this, I'm sure. Perhaps this particular ending was planned all along. In which case Life On Mars wasn't about history in the making after all, just nostalgia, which is a shame.

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