Life On Mars: Ashes To Ashes

THE final credits rolled a few minutes ago on the last ever episode of Life On Mars.
Now here’s the news that has had to be held back to avoid spoiling the end of the best British TV drama of the 21st century – so far.
It’s also time to disclose the secrets of the Life On Mars universe, and a conclusion which has earned itself a place in television history.
Fans already know that London filmed and set spin-off Ashes To Ashes will be set in 1981 and star Philip Glenister in the return of DCI Gene Hunt.
It was also known that John Simm – simply stunning in tonight’s finale – would not be reprising his role of Sam Tyler in the new series.
Now it can be revealed that Gene will be joined in the new BBC1 drama by DS Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) and DC Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster).
Filming begins this summer, with all three officers transferred from North West District CID to the Metropolitan Police.

And there’s so much more to tell.
Tomorrow’s MEN contains an exclusive interview with Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes co-creator Matthew Graham.
Matthew wrote tonight’s last ever episode and he speaks for the first time about what it all means.
He also reveals the answers to the questions millions of viewers have been asking about both Sam’s fate and the “clues” which have been the subject of intense online debate.
And he talks about Ashes To Ashes, more general details of which will appear in tomorrow’s papers and online.
Sorry to sound a bit of a tease, but there will be a very special blog tomorrow morning, when, by agreement with Matthew and the LoM team, I’ll be free to publish everything online.
Update: The full interview with Matthew is now online at: Life On Mars: The Answers

For the moment, here’s just one short extract.
I asked Matthew what it was about the series that had really stirred people and made such a connection with a large audience.
His answer included the following:
“Ultimately, it’s not a cop show and it’s not a time travel show, it’s Alice In Wonderland, that’s what it is.
“That template of a journeyman, going through the looking glass into a magical world is an archetypal story, and people respond to archetypal stories.”
Fans will have spotted echoes and mirrors tonight from the very first episode of series one, including script lines and gestures involving Annie and Sam.
The spine-tingling episode one camera tracking shot around Sam during the song Life On Mars was also repeated up on the roof before he jumped, as the same track played.
That “false ending” completely fooled the audience at last week’s BAFTA premiere – they broke out into applause thinking it was the end.
And if you think that was clever, there was even a clue hidden in the final episode about the set up for Ashes To Ashes.
Key quotes from the LoM farewell included Sam’s conversation with spirit guide barman Nelson in The Railway Arms:
Sam: “Am I mad? Is this real? Come on, I just want to know the truth.”
Nelson: “We all want that, Sam. What’s real, what’s not?
“I see folk who walk about in a sunken dream because they feel nothing. Are they alive?”
Sam: “I wake up every morning and I tell myself I AM alive.”
Nelson: “When you can feel, then you’re alive. When you don’t feel, you’re not.”
And four personal favourites from the finale:
Sam: “I’m in a coma…Frank.”
Sam: “Good to see you Nelson.”
Sam (to Ray): “She sounds enigmatic.” Ray: “No, she’s from Barnsley.”
Phyllis: “I’m not just a sex goddess, you know boss.”
The choice of music tracks was spot on, including David Bowie’s Changes and Tom Waits’ I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You.
And the song when Sam left hospital room 2612 in Hyde Ward to face life in modern day Manchester?
It was performed by Hawaiian singer Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole, who died in 1997 aged just 38.
Before you do anything else, I recommend you click here…and turn up your speakers.
Lots more tomorrow.
*What did you think of tonight’s ending? I’d love to know. Please scroll down to leave a comment.
Alice In Wonderland
Tom Waits: I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You
David Bowie: Changes
Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
Life On Mars Blogs
MEN Life On Mars TV Stories
And last, but not least, check out the regulars at The Railway Arms
Update: More Ashes To Ashes Blogs


Filed under Life On Mars

43 responses to “Life On Mars: Ashes To Ashes

  1. AndrewJ

    Hey Ian, I’ve been reading your blogs for a long time now and i knew you’d have something up after the end. You’ve given us all a good tease, just at the right level all the way through. What can i say though, this has been the best entertainment experience i’ve ever had, and the end was just perfection. And to think, the answer was there all along, Sam always said “am i mad, in a coma or back in time” – you were all three mate…..
    Can’t wait for ashes, loved this ride now it’s time for a new one.

  2. Davina Grant

    What a fantastic climax. The best bits had to be Sam standing on the roof while they played life on Mars and you just knew what he had to do. Indeed, I found myself almost egging him on to do it! Also, the contrast between the cold ‘suits’ around the table in 2007 reciting their beaurocratic mumbo jumbo and the warmth, colour and humour of the characters in 1973. Don’t you just love Gene Hunt?

  3. Dave

    hi, err first post here but i must say that i did enjoy the episode, however i am still a bit confused, is he still in a coma?? or was he never in a coma?? or what?? this is gonna annoy me until i can get some logic to it, anyway thanx.

  4. Ian Wylie

    Dave – check back tomorrow for the next blog on Life On Mars, which might clear a few things up – or not! It’s a fascinating interview with Matthew Graham.

  5. Estrella

    They did the impossible- brilliant characters who you could really empathise with (John Simm smashed my heart into tiny smithereens in the graveyard scene), enthralling plot, no actual answers and some very nice meta moments which hinted at it being T.V show
    *Gene’s comment about Sam “being the narrator now”
    *The Test Card Girl at the end
    *”The lawman “,who now seems to have been Sam, “beating up the wrong guy” who “doesn’t know he’s in a best selling show” . We seem to have acquired a breach in the 4th wall !
    Thanks for the prompt post too, Mr Wylie

  6. KT

    I just LOVED it! I’ve only finished watching ten minutes ago as I had to wait for the kids to go to sleep so I could CONCENTRATE – I couldn’t bear to miss a minute!
    I’m wrung out now; I actually shrieked in shock (quietly!) when Sam jumped and the screen went black.
    Whether he was in a coma or what really doesn’t seem to matter after all – at the end, in his head he was happy and settled, and finally at home in 1973.
    I’ve felt all the way through that Sam and Annie were just like the Ninth Doctor and Rose – just being pulled towards that kiss all the way through the series.

  7. zayida

    cant believe is over!! today’s episode was just brilliant! my theory is that sam really found a way to go back in time, so i agreed with whoever said that sam is mad, in a coma and back in time at the same time. i think he doesnt feel anything in the “future” anymore when he wakes up, so he goes back where he feels alive… didnt like when he jumps from the roof though, reminded me too much of “open your eyes”.. but everything else.. a masterpiece

  8. simon

    Bit baffled – why would being dead create the same dream that you were having when in a coma – committing suicide put him back exactly where he was when in a coma. Also – everyone seemed to recover a bit swiftly from their shotgun blast wounds?! Not a great ending in my opinion. The invented persona story was better!


    My theory is that sam was never in 2007 and that he was imagining being there. He really was from hyde and that he had that car accident going to manchester from hyde. He was hearing voices because he had amnesia. He couldnt feel anything in 2007 thats why he belonged in 1973 so that is why he jumped off of the building.

  10. Steve

    As the credits rolled I sat there thinking “I should be really annoyed by that, they haven’t answered the questions!” but, try as I might, I can’t get angry. It was simply brilliant television and the more I replay it through my mind the more wonderful I think it was. Fantastic writing, and the makers should be feeling very smug. Very interested to know more about Ashes to Ashes. Surely that show will offer more on the ending to LOM? If Hunt and pals are in Sam’s head, how can there be a show without him? etc etc. Will be checking this site out to find out more.
    It also occurs to me that the producers might have wanted to leave things ambiguous so not to spoil the coming US version….

  11. Darren

    I have to say I feel very let down by the finale of LoM. The explanation given was weak at best, and I cannot help feeling that this was the “plan B” recorded version (rumour has it that two completely different endings were filmed in case of a leak).
    I always felt it would be left to Sam to choose his fate, and that is pretty much how the story ended. I do wonder how much the pressure of having to sustain continuity for Ashes to Ashes tied the hands of the writers, leaving them unable to really “finish” LoM off the way it SHOULD have been.
    Overall slightly unimpressed with the ending but LoM is still by an order of magnitude the best series that has graced the gogglebox for a LONG time (pun intended!).

  12. sTUCK ON mARS

    Wasn’t the somewhere over the rainbow track used on the movie 50 first dates. A movie about a person who was in an accident and suffered short term memory problems…
    Just a thought..nice ending/beginning?

  13. Dave Silk

    Loved the whole series. I’m 50 now and it made me realise how much I loved the 70’s. Life just seemed so much…simpler…then! Wish that *I* could go back…but I wouldn’t have the guts to jump off a roof! (LOL)

  14. Stewart

    My theory has to be that Sam had gone insane after his coma and couldn’t cope with the outside world. He wasn’t happy and wanted to ‘go home’ which to him was now 1973. He now just lives in his head, he died in 2007, you can hear the heart monitor flat-lining on the Cortina’s radio at the end.
    All that said, it was a brilliant episode. Sam on the roof with Life on Mars? playing was a magnificent bit of telly, as was the very end with them driving off in the Cortina and test card girl flipping the switch.

  15. simon jenner

    Christopher Priest wrote a novel ‘The Wessex Project’ in 1978, about people who take part in a project of shared unconsciousness, creating a dream projection of communal life in 2050. Whilst there they wholly believe in the 2050 life and forget their 1987 one. They’re brought back out of it by men with mirrors who are ‘projected’ to bring them out so they can come back to 1987 (a futurist one with a Tartan army) and report on this shared utopia. The longer people stay in, the mro reluctant they are to return. A pschopathic ex-lover finally follows the heroine Julia into the project, which begins to de-rail. She’s been detailed to bring out the longest-serving character, David, who’s been stuck there two years. Naturally they fall in love instead. Ultimately Julia (now wholly conscious of the ‘real’ world and this one simultaneously) and David decide to stay in their projected reality for good. She breaks the mirrors of men sent to get them back.
    Life on Mars is incandescently good, a classic; but I’d love to know if our writers read Priest?

  16. Alex R

    I thought it was an absolutely thrilling ending. It was complex but perfectly crafted. You couldn’t take your eye off the ball for a second, as events were being explained until the last minute.
    My interpretation was that Sam was from 2007 and 1973 was his coma self. After awaking, he became detached from his 2007 world to the point where he couldn’t physically feel anything in it and I think he wanted to go back to a time where his colleagues used their gut feeling and passion to ‘get results’.
    I didn’t believe Frank Morgan’s amnesia explanation at the graveyard. Was it Sam’s mind playing another trick on him while undergoing brain surgery in 2007? I also thought it was one of the writers’ last attempts at throwing the audience and making them as confused as Sam about his predicament.
    I don’t think the 1973 world was real to Sam but 1973 did occur, of course, and there would have been many people like Gene Hunt around then. For someone who wasn’t around then, it’s been fascinating to have a glimpse into that time.
    I’d love to know the exact ending so I’ll definitely be reading your blog tomorrow!
    I also think the writer’s task in tying up the loose ends in an hour and leaving viewers wanting to know more about the characters can not be underestimated and I think Matthew Graham did a wonderful job on the final episode.
    Life On Mars is one of my favourite programmes of all time and two series was just enough to explain Sam’s journey. Congratulations to all the cast and crew for creating a truly inspired, magnificent piece of work.

  17. andrew

    if he never was in modern times, how did he know about mobiles (cellphones) and jeeps and such.

  18. Paul Sheehan

    An absolutely first rate finale to one of the best series of the past decade.
    I agree that the false ending was a great twist – just the sort of surprise I have come to expect from the top notch writers.
    As always, acting was to perfection, with special mention to the luminous Liz White.
    Glad that the boys will be back in the 80s in a sequel of sorts – hope they make mention of the happy home life of Sam & Annie.
    And for trivia fans, that wonderful version of “Over The Rainbow” was played during the final appearance of Anthony Edwards in season eight of “ER.”

  19. John Masters

    Huge expectations from the last episode after huge enjoyment of this series and last.
    Unfortunately for me it was the biggest end of series cop-out(no pun intended) since the last episode of The Prisoner.
    Seems to me that the test of a scriptwriter’s art is to create a massively complex series of plot threads and apparent paradoxes then resolve them. When it works, it’s like watching a magician bring off a really difficult illusion – you know it’s not real, but you admire the seamless consistency and skill.
    Not to attempt to resolve any of the paradoxes – as with last night’s LoM – is an attractive trap.
    One option is what Chris Carter always did in The X Files – simply ignore all the plot threads, walk away and leave them hanging.
    Or, as last night, you can make things even more complex, saying it’s for the viewer to make his own mind up, and best of all, what is reality anyway?
    But it all amounts in the end to an abrogation of the responsibility and art of the writer.
    I’m left feeling cheated and let down.
    Disappointed of London

  20. Mark Johns

    This programme has really dominated my life for 2 series and I cant help but feel let down by the ending? I read it as though Sam couldnt cope with reality and like a previous post said just went back into his own mind.
    I didnt like the “wizard of Oz” ending with Frank Morgan being the surgeon. It will be interesting to see how Ashes to Ashes develops but if, as i understood it with the Testcard girl switching the tv off, Sam died how will they progress with that?

  21. C Soron

    I thought it was wonderfully done, despite the trepidation at the start! The sheer joy with which Sam decided where he wanted to be was a wonderful scene. The redherring set up with the plausible alternative indicating he was weakening in the op was actually plausible (‘cept for names of swinging couples etc).
    But the only concern is the news afterwards – a retread, only with a woman (presumably the person who he sends the tape of his experiences to so she knows who they are)? Where ending it at 2 series was an intelligent decision too many series writers seem incapable of making (ensuring this fine show was never going to jump the shark), this sounds too much like a proxy 3rd. They’re going to have to do something exceptional to make it seem more than a retread, although everyone will watch for Gene, Ray and Chris.

  22. funkg

    i am really looking forward to ‘ashes to ashes’
    i hope they dont try and make it all too unbeleivable and cast a sassy ‘girl power’ ethic minority character, it just will not ring true for 1981

  23. Brian the Snail

    In the spin off they can just say she read about the characters in sam’s head and she knows them well enough to imagine them.

  24. sandra Redmond

    Ian my tennis chum, have just watched the final episode and I managed to avoid all press today (its called ‘working’ by the way..) and am blown away by the ending. To me it felt as if Sam Tyler is in his heaven and all is right with world… Great stuff and hugely satisfying.

  25. RJ

    What did I think of tonight’s ending?
    Very striking. I had tears in my eyes when I saw Sam on the roof and knew what he was thinking — but not knowing whether he would act on it or not.
    Touching, sad, and very moving. Well done. I also really enjoyed the bits of interview where it was revealed that a more tame ending had been planned — waking back in the modern world and simply taking some of Gene’s moxy with him (I expected that to surface in the present-day boardroom scene, actually). It would have been a completely understandable plot choice, but I’m very, very glad that it didn’t go that way.

  26. Super Womble

    zayida – the reason everyone recovered quickly from their shotgun wounds (I think) is that when Sam ‘went back’ his mind conveniently forgot he was an undercover spy, and that they’d been shot, which is why everyone was still pally with him.

  27. Ed

    Before you try and explain Life on Mars, try and explain life on earth! I think this show is merely an ode to our lifetime – in other words, what do we really know?

  28. Dan

    Life On Mars….Think The Matrix and your half way there.
    Good Ending tho.

  29. Noel

    Was I the only one that as shed a tear as Sam jumped off the roof. It was very strangely life affirming. The writers deserve all the praise they are getting and the use of Bowies music (and others) is toally inspiring.
    The acting is just superb. But I think they were right to leave it at 2 seriies. This is a drama that will live on for many many years to come.

  30. Simon

    I still think that it would have been a blast if they’d gone ahead with Sam imagining Gene Hunt walking into a bar and promptly smashing up (fist wise) some unruly customers.
    Even so, the ending was brilliant.
    To explain the quick recovery:
    – Frank Morgan must have ended up either disappearing or being disgraced for trying to destroy A-Division – Hunt with it.
    – Shotguns do very little beyond the range at which the hill-top gunner hit Ray and Chris. Seeing as they used shot as opposed to slugs or fletchettes, they’d probably get very minor injuries, except for Gene, who was shot from behind.
    – Sam came back to help out his team, something which probably would earn you a bit of your reputation back.
    Can’t wait for Ashes to Ashes. Drake sounds like she has a much more intricate back-story than Tyler did.
    Has anyone else asked what happened to Gene’s wife? He’s married.

  31. George Sweetnam

    I was so glad that we had Annie given voice to sum up her entire relationship with Sam Tyler in the first half of the finale – and all to the excellent music and lyrics of Tom Waits.
    I hope that we see Sam Tyler again in a second series of Ashes to Ashes to discover more about Sam Williams, the undercover identity used to investigate Frank Morgan, a fake one constructed in the same graveyard as the Sam Tyler undercover story used to investigate Gene Hunt, as well as the real identity of the person the 2006 Sam Tyler woke up inside at the opening of Life on Mars, and if there are any more alter egos inside Sam yet to come out.
    What I am really waiting for is a real doppelganger story where Gene Hunt gets to swap places with Meatloaf.

  32. Chloe

    Life On Mars is amazing! I am so lucky to be allowed to watch it, as I am only 13. It is just so original! There’s absolutley nothing like it!

  33. John-William DeClaris

    In June of 2007, I discover this tv show purely by accident. I live in the US and LoM was not aired here, but I managed to see an episode on got hooked instantly. I have since bought the DVD.
    In my humble opinion, this is probably the best tv show ever made. Each episode was thoughtful, edgy, and made you consider where we were in 1973 and where we are now. Yet, it was also entertaining and all of the actors were GREAT!
    Running two years was a cool idea and it will be very interesting to see how the characters evolve in 1981. Too bad John Simm and Liz White will not return, but their characters will live on in our imagination .. or perhaps in a special version of “Chamberwick Green”.

  34. ifun

    I loved LoM- just like everyone else here. Though I felt let down by the strange suidide ending.. I was all set for the more standard return to your on life and see how it all ended-changed. For instance- all the criminals he caught, including the first episode’s.. none of it happened at all!
    And now with Ashes to Ashes we have a figment of Sam’s delusions as a MAIN character and another modern DCI come to meet him, this time as a SIDE KICK?! What are we saying now? That Gene is a real person back in time afterall? Or that he is an angel or something- based on the wrtier’s assertations that Sam died at the end..
    Also our new modern cop is leaving behind her own daughter in mortal danger?! How can she NOT go back and finish that?
    Having doubts about it all.
    But willing to watch to find out!

  35. james decosta

    some very interesting things i noticed sam is called a judas by ray just as john simm’s character danny in the lakes sam i believe did time travel well he set up tony cray by stopping cray in series 2 episode 1 how would he do this by the whole thing being a dream?he then saves the life of annie from vic tyler before that

  36. CAZ

    How come Sam couldn’t feel anything when he woke back up in 2006?

  37. Richard Wilson


  38. Anne Feaver

    can you tell me if Ashes to Ashes has been on before & when it came on.
    thank you
    from Anne Feaver

  39. Ian Wylie

    Anne – Ashes To Ashes starts on BBC1 next Thursday (Feb 7). It has not been screened before. Click on “Ashes To Ashes” in the “Categories” menu – top right hand of this page – for many more Ashes blogs.

  40. James Johnson

    If Ashes To Ashes is as good as Life On Mars then it will be another great BBC HIT. Don’t move your surrounded by armed Ba****ds (DCI GENE HUNT)

  41. A G

    when frank Morgan said to sam that it was real i thought YES! i thought it was his real life and i was glad because the 70’s suited him more but when the white light shone and you saw him in the hospital bed i was gutted he was in a coma, i loved every second of life on mars i thought it was amazing from start to finish. and iv just watched the start of ashes to ashes and i was so!!! GUTTED to find out that sam was dead and it was set in LONDON! it should still be in Manchester and sam should be dead in real life but be in Alex’s mind because she didn’t make the characters up, sam did, so he should be there as a part of her imagination because she new sam AND IT SHOULD BE SET IN MANCHESTER!!!! NOT!! LONDON!! overall im really going to enjoy the rest of ashes to ashes it going to be really fab but obviously not as good as life on mars. it was the best bludy tv programme and still is that EVER came on to our television screens.

  42. Alison

    As a huge fan of British shows including The Sweeney, The Professionals, Callan, Minder and much more, Life on Mars brought back many memories of life in the 70’s (my birth year is 1961). Tonight’s finale was quite emotional for me after following Sam’s journey.
    All I can say is that it’s the best result you could ask for. I could die tonight and be happy.

  43. jean elliott

    i loved life on mars it was very good tv. but ashes to ashes well i fell in love with it. it just took me back to the 1980s the best years of my life. and the cast the wonderful ..Keeley Hawes and Philip Glenister and the boys. and not to forget Montserrat the lovely Shaz’ Granger.thank you for makeing the best tv show ever love you lot load 4 this brill tv.10/10 thank you jean bean xxxxx

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