Thursday, April 12, 2007

Life (and Death) on Mars

OK, so I got it wrong. Life on Mars didn't end with Sam Tyler remembering that he was an exiled Time Lord and making his getaway in his Tardis (which had been conveniently disguised as Gene Hunt's Cortina). But at least I've got the excuse that I hadn't seen the first series, so was missing some vital pieces of information (unlike many other posters on forums and bloggers, who had seen the first series, but still got it spectacularly wrong). Having said that, the actual ending shown on Tuesday has clearly left many fans baffled and/or disappointed, and has itself provoked much speculation as to what it actually meant. I must admit, that I had my own theories, until I read an interview with the writer, Matthew Grahame, who was quite unequivocal: Tyler was in a coma, his 1973 life was all a hallucination, Gene Hunt and the others didn't exist outside of his own head; he did awake in the present following an operation to relieve the pressure on his brain, but found his real life stale and empty compared to his fantasy life. So he jumped off of the roof of the police HQ and, in his dying moments, returned to his 1970s fantasy. The End. Pretty depressing, if you think about it!

However, the BBC's announcement of a follow up where Gene Hunt is encountered in the 1980s by another present day cop in a coma, raises all sorts of questions and, it could be argued, throw the whole ending of Life on Mars into question. If Gene was just a figment of Sam's imagination, how can he turn up in someone else's fantasy? Of course, if you tend toward the Jungian school of psychiatry, you'd doubtless argue that Gene Hunt is an archetypal father figure, probably common to all police officers. But moving away from such purely psychiatric explanations, couldn't it be that Tyler actually did go back to 1973 after his accident, that he did alter some aspects of his future. Maybe he did take the place of an undercover cop sent to infiltrate A Division and bring down Hunt (as Morgan tries to convince him in the last episode). He did then return to the present, find his life there unsatisfactory and jump off the roof. However, the 1973 he returns to at the end this time is a fantasy, as he lies dying (which would explain why it looked so soft-focus compared to the previous views of it, and why everybody was so nice and forgiving of his betrayal). Which, of course, means that Gene et al were real people and allows the sequel series to follow on logically. That's how I would have done it, anyway. But the fact is that the ending we saw was the one that was written, and the one we have to accept.

What fascinates me about this whole thing is the way in which viewers became so attached to characters over a relatively short run (sixteen episodes in total), and this is what makes them so reluctant to accept that most of them were just the figments of a comatose imagination. I have to admit that even I got caught up in it as well (and I've only ever seen the last eight episodes), despite usually being immune to such things. Indeed, as I mentioned in an earlier post, not having seen series one, I really couldn't see what the fuss was about. Nevertheless, after about the third episode I watched, I found myself hooked on the characters. I still thought the 1973 depicted in the series wasn't terribly realistic, but I kept watching for my weekly dose of Gene's wit and wisdom, Sam's exasperation and Chris and Ray's incompetence. All of which has to be a tribute to the strength of the writing and performances. And hey, whether you like the ending or not, when was the last time a piece of popular TV drama sparked so much debate?



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