Sound & Vision: LIFE ON MARS

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Chris Morley takes a look at the lawman beating up the wrong guy...


Time now for us to trade the tried & tested Ford Prefect for a Ford Cortina as we examine Life On Mars. Debuting in 2006, the BBC series told the story of Sam Tyler, who finds himself waking up in 1973 having been the victim of a road accident in 2006 with little time to adjust, thrown into work with what was then the Manchester & Salford Police before becoming the Greater Manchester Police later in '73.

Finding himself a rank lower than what he had been & serving as a detective inspector under Gene Hunt, & as clueless as the audience as to whether he'd fallen into a coma, died or actually managed time travel, Tyler's struggles at least came together under a better title than that originally planned by writers Matthew Graham & Ashley Pharaoh - mercifully Ford Granada never came to pass!


Naff Seventies cars avoided? Check. But where things really excelled themselves was in musical terms.



The main theme was supplied by Edmund Butt, (who, in just one of the many Doctor Who connections this series has, would go on to score An Adventure In Space And Time in 2013) who, as Cool Music puts it, is...
"A highly experienced composer, performer and producer, Ed has always lived and breathed music. His ambition from day one has been to write score for film. He went from chorister at Hampton Court Palace at six to head chorister at Windsor Castle, which lead to him winning a music scholarship to Charterhouse School and subsequently a double music scholarship (violin & piano) at the Royal College of Music, gaining a first class performers degree as well as a Countess of Munster Scholarship to study in New York & Japan.

He then became the youngest player in the London Philharmonic Orchestra and went on to play with the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Philharmonia, & the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields."
Which in turn got him where he wanted to be on the big screen, composing for True North, The Waiting Room & The Dark among others. Though his work on Life On Mars did absolutely no harm despite far from promising beginnings for Graham & Pharaoh! As Matthew Graham told the Guardian of an initial thought process...
"Is there any way we can just do The Sweeney in the Seventies?

The Sweeney is terminally sexist, terminally racist, all the things you just can't do, and yet we also thought there was almost an odd innocence about it.

We just had a feeling it wouldn't turn out to be a vile piece of offensive drama but might end up being quite cool and fun, and probably the only way to do that it is to take someone with our sensibilities and plonk them right in the middle of it, so that any time Gene Hunt says, "All right luv, go and make us a cup of tea and [bring] a Garibaldi biscuit," someone can roll their eyes. Somehow that lets us off the hook."



Alongside Edmund Butt's main theme we get a veritable glut of David Bowie as you may well expect. Although there were initial concerns among the production team whether or not they could actually license Life On Mars, as had they been denied it would have necessitated retitling the series. Thankfully permission was granted, and there was no need to revert to Ford Granada!

Another Bowie song, Space Oddity, is used in BBC trailers advertising the series. In several episodes, Gene Hunt adopts the name Gene Genie, in reference to yet another Bowie song, The Jean Genie, used in the fourth episode.

The title track itself is used as a sort of link between past & present - it's playing on the Ipod in Tyler's car during his accident & then again on a tape when he awakens in a Rover in 1973. His very surname is synonymous with travelling in space & time the further we delve.....his original moniker was to be Sam Williams but this was rejected, so Matthew Graham sought his young daughter's advice and it was changed to Tyler, as in Rose Tyler! You may have guessed she was a big fan of Doctor Who, for which her dad would go on to write The Rebel Flesh /The Almost People.



Alongside a few choice cuts from the man who was/had been Ziggy Stardust we get selections from Blue Oyster Cult, Deep Purple, Lou Reed, Sweet, Free, Atomic Rooster, Jethro Tull & the Stones among others. All hand picked to evoke the spirit of the era the series was set in.

The show's creators were initially refused permission to use Live and Let Die by Paul McCartney and Wings but, according to Graham in the Radio Times,
"We sent the episode directly to Paul McCartney. Almost immediately, his assistant phoned back and said, 'Paul loves it. You can go ahead and use it'"



In keeping with the spirit of the original, the US remake starring Harvey Keitel as Hunt also contains several relevant musical references, including within its episode titles. Episode One is entitled Out Here In The Fields, taken from the Who's Baba O' Riley, four is Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing In The Shadows courtesy of the men some dub the Strolling Bones in their advancing years, seven is The Man Who Sold The World, eight is Take A Look At The Lawmen (which should be self-explanatory really!) & 15 is All The Young Dudes - another Bowie-penned contribution gifted to Mott The Hoople, though the former Major Tom/Ziggy/Halloween Jack etc did also record his own version.



Many other foreign territories also attempted remakes, though the only one sticking to English language music nods is the Russian attempt, titled after Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon as Captain Mikhail Soloviev Junior, who is tasked with replacing his own father in 1979 having been mown down in 2011 & finding himself back in the USSR.



Sam Tyler's seventies soundscape adventures only lasted two for sixteen episodes over two series, coming to an end with another Bowie track, Changes, playing over the end credits of the second series finale. Gene Hunt, however, would be back for more. Dragged kicking and screaming into the electric eighties. So let's fire up the Quattro and head there next time.

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