There’s an elite tier of TV dramas that stay with you, vividly, for decades after they air, and seventies-set sci-fi crime drama Life on Mars was the perfect example. So fervent was the show’s fanbase, that even 15 years after it aired – introducing us to detective Sam Tyler (Grace’s John Simm), who has a car crash in 2006 and wakes up mysteriously trapped in 1973 – the news of a planned revival during a lockdown live tweet-along in 2020 was enthusiastically received.
This revival was later fittingly dubbed Lazarus – once again named after a David Bowie song, like Life on Mars and its sequel Ashes to Ashes (a 1980s version of the show, starring Bodyguard’s Keeley Hawes) – but we’ve now received the sad confirmation from the show’s creators that the reboot won’t be going ahead after all:
Citing “financial” reasons for the project’s demise, the statement on the show’s Twitter page confirmed Lazarus had been “a cracking concept – pertinent to our times” that had “a whole new round of things to say about the relationship between the public and the police. And it was bloody funny too.”
The statement described the team involved as “sick as a jungle full of parrots”, a feeling shared by the show’s fans, especially as both John Simm and Philip Glenister – who played the show’s legendary renegade police boss, Gene “The Gene Genie” Hunt – were confirmed to be signed up to Lazarus.
While Life on Mars was undoubtedly memorable for its unique genre-bending concept, mixing a period police drama with a supernatural/sci-fi mystery element that kept us guessing throughout, what cemented it as truly unforgettable was the on-screen partnership between Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt. Tyler is a principled, by-the-book detective in 2006, so when he wakes up in the lawless policing world of 1973 there’s an immediate and obvious clash with his colleagues, especially the thuggish, often sexist and homophobic Hunt.
Over two series, as Tyler tried to find his way back to the modern day while hiding his time-travelling predicament from his police colleagues, we see that Hunt is flawed but fundamentally decent, and the relationship between he and Tyler mellows into one of TV’s most glorious friendships.
Sadly, this friendship was cut short: while Life on Mars co-creator Matthew Graham revealed that there had been plans for four series of the show, an exhausted John Simm had to leave the after series two to spend more time with his young family. This led to a rushed, albeit brilliant, ending for Life on Mars.
Some of this was remedied by the show’s sequel, Ashes to Ashes, where Keeley Hawes’ character DI Alex Drake similarly wakes up in 1981 after being shot by a criminal in 2008, and joins DCI Hunt and his team for two more wonderful series.
But the appeal of Lazarus was that it would allow the show to give DI Sam Tyler a proper goodbye, tying up some of the loose ends from his premature exit, with Graham confirming that the planned revived series would be four or five episodes “set in Manchester and London…partially in the 70s, partially in the 80s and mostly in an alternate NOW”.
Now plans have been shelved, Sam Tyler might never get the closure his character deserves, although there’s one last glint of hope in co-creator Ashley Pharoah’s tweet about Lazarus’ cancellation:
What that “another form” might be remains to be seen, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed that we’ll see Sam Tyler and the Gene Genie reunited once more.
Life on Mars is available to stream on BritBox