What is it with people called Tyler and time travelling?

TV The much anticipated and hyped new series Life On Mars has just finished on BBC One, throwing up an hour of breathtaking 'time travel' drama which will do very nicely until the new series of Doctor Who begins in the spring. It's another triumph from BBC Wales, who, as I think The Guardian remarked have been doing very well from men in leather jackets. Co-creator and writer of the series Matthew Graham is currently beavering away at a script for the second new season of Doctor Who and suddenly I'm even more excited about what might be happening come spring (if that's at all possible).

This new 'cop show' tells the story of modern police man DCI Sam Tyler* who after an accident finds himself trapped in 1973 trying to deal with the displacement in time and old school police methods. As to why he is there is one of the mysteries which will unfold as the series progresses, but its fairly clear that far from having fallen through a time vortex, he's actually in a coma, his mind throwing up this fantasy landscape for him to negotiate and hopefully get better.Sam_tyler

Which somewhat demonstrates the real surprise -- the sophistication of the writing. Had this been a made a few years ago, it might really have been just a time travel adventure. But this looks at the psychology of how the character copes with his predicament. Shades of Abre los ojos (1997) and its remake Vanilla Sky (2001) as Sam second guesses this dreamworld he might be living in and what he might need to do to be released.

The performances are universally excellent, particularly, obviously from John Simm in a role which could have broken the series had it not been played with such dimension. He presents himself in a realistic fashion and so hightening the displacement further as everyone else in the cast are playing their characters just a touch larger than life. None of the characters acts entirely as they might in the real world, some dropping in signals and hints of how to cope and where it might lead. Rather like Pleasantville (1998), it's almost as though he's dropped into some seventies cop show like The Sweeney rather than a complete representation of real life.

All of that said, it still has much of the humour you might expect from a time travel adventure as Sam asks for a PC Terminal only for his colleague to wonder if he wants a bobby or speaking to an operator and asking for a Virgin mobile, only to be warned that she doesn't like that kind of sexy talk. His boss, Gene, is a real Jack Regan figure seeing no point in talk when a punch will do. The poigniancy that Quantum Leap used to do so well is present too as Sam's 70s female colleague Annie is subjected to all kinds of sexual taunts from the staff even as she's offering vital help in solving the case.

It's been a while (about six months) since I've watched the opening of a new BBC series and been this excited and amazed, but here I am really looking forward to next week. And just to drag myself back on topic for a second, did anyone spot any Who references? **

* Is his name really a Quantum Leap and a Who reference?
** Anyone else notice who was playing Sam's girlfriend Mira at the beginning? That would be Sea of Souls' Archie Panjabi, also seen recently in the film The Constant Gardener (2005). Will she be the Lisa Spooks Faulkner of the series dropping out super early for effect or will she cropping up now and then as Sam's trip continues?

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