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The Deadline
Air Date: 13 February 2006
Written by: Matthew Graham
Ashley Pharoah
Director: John Alexander
Antagonists: Reg Cole, Derek Litton
Previous episode: The Footie
Next episode: Wrongful Death

The sixth episode of the first series of the British time travel police procedural television series, Life on Mars, was first broadcast on 13 February 2006. The episode, known erroneously as "The Deadline", was produced by Kudos Film & Television for BBC One.


Sam Tyler hears his mother's voice from his own time (2006) telling him that his life-support system will be switched off at 2:00, unless he shows signs of brain activity. Almost immediately, a report comes in of a man holding hostages at the Manchester Gazette offices. The man says he will start shooting people at 2:00, leading Sam to believe that resolving the crisis will save his own life. However, Sam's efforts to follow modern procedures are frustrated by Gene's cowboy tactics and meddling from DCI Litton. Seconds from execution by the gunman, Sam thinks back to a happy fourth birthday with his family, and smiles. He is saved (in 1973) when DCI Litton and the other officers burst in, and (in 2006) when his mother refuses to switch off his life support after she believes she sees him smile.

Detailed Plot Summary[]

DI Sam Tyler enters CID to find the offices in disarray after a birthday party for DS Ray Carling. Hearing a phone ringing, Sam goes into DCI Gene Hunt’s office and answers it, despite the phone being disconnected. He hears his mother’s voice on the line telling him that she will disconnect his life support at 2:00.

Distraught, and determined to show signs of life to his doctors in the real world, Sam begins throwing things around the office. He doesn’t care when WPC Phyllis Dodds comes in to report a hostage-taking, until she mentions the gunman has threatened to kill someone at … 2:00. Sam tells DC Chris Skelton to rally the troops and vows, “Nobody dies today.”

The hostages are being held in the Manchester Gazette building. At the site, Sam struggles to follow procedure but is frustrated by Gene’s drinking and cavalier attitude. A reporter is able to identify the hostages, but didn’t recognise the gunman. Gene scoffs at the “journo” and their mutual dislike is obvious. Sam tries to start a dialogue with the hostage-taker while Gene recommends waiting for a clear shot. Annie meanwhile brings a witness to Sam who is able to describe the gunman and identify his van. Opening up the vehicle, Sam discovers the man’s name, Reg Cole, and his address. Searching his place, Sam and WPC Annie Cartwright discover Reg is an avid reader of romance poetry and admirer of great heroes. A Korean war medal seems to indicate he’s a veteran, but Sam can’t figure out why a man like that would do such a terrible thing.

Returning to the Gazette offices, Sam discovers that Gene raised the heating in the building hoping to get a clear shot when the gunman opens a window. The scheme backfires as Reg, holding a gun to reporter Jackie Queen, demands the heat be turned down. Jackie tells them that a secretary, Doris, has taken sick, and Sam tries unsuccessfully to get Reg to let a doctor come in or let Doris out.

Back at the crisis centre, Sam and Gene butt heads over how to proceed, when Annie suggests she go in dressed as a nurse. Reluctantly, Sam sees the logic of the plan, and, getting agreement from Reg, Annie goes in. It’s 11:45.

Things go from bad to worse when DCI Derek Litton and the Regional Crime Squad show up and try to take over. As Litton and Gene compete to see whose megaphone is bigger, Sam desperately convinces Litton that “no lives lost” would look great in a headline. It’s 12:00.

Delivering sandwiches Reg asks for, Sam tries to reason with him while he holds Annie at gunpoint. Gene appears from behind Sam and forces a standoff, neither he nor Reg backing down. Desperate, Sam grabs Gene’s gun and throws it away.

Inside with the other hostages, Reg reveals that he wants his story printed in the Gazette’s evening edition. Sam tries to understand Reg’s motive, but is interrupted by Annie who is worried about Doris’s condition. In her excitement, she calls Gene “Guv”, thus blowing her cover and prompting Reg to say that the price for such dishonour is death at 2:00, only an hour away.

Handcuffed to a radiator with Gene, Sam finally gets some insight into Reg Cole. As a lover of literature and poetry and an admirer of great heroes, he feels isolated in a “cheap world obsessed with easy glory.” Suddenly Annie cries out that Doris appears to have had a heart attack. Reg reluctantly agrees to let Sam help and he performs CPR, reviving the stricken secretary. Sam persuades Reg to let Doris go.

Becoming annoyed with the paper’s editor, George, asking to be let out to plead Reg’s case, write his biography, or otherwise make him immortal, Reg scoffs at this interest in him. After revealing a few home truths about George’s drinking and how Jackie really runs the paper, Reg angrily reveals that he has worked at the Gazette for eight years fixing and maintaining the building. Thinking Reg won’t shoot, George tries to leave, but gets a bullet in his arm.

Gene has removed his handcuff with a paperclip and starts to work on Sam’s. Gene fakes sick, punches Reg, and he and Sam herd everyone to the exit. But the door is firmly locked and Reg has them again. For the escape attempt, Reg vows to execute the three police officers at 2:00.

Now locked together in a small storeroom, Sam, Annie, and Gene each talk about their happiest memories. Sam recalls his fourth birthday when, not expecting his father to be home, suddenly heard him whistling. Instead of turning around, young Sam stood there smiling, savouring the moment. Gene reveals that his dislike of Jackie stems from an incident where he shot a young kid who he thought had a gun. Jackie had pilloried Gene in the paper, for which Gene never forgave her.

As 2:00 approaches, Sam is prepared to die. A last appeal to Reg’s sense of honour fails; he’s decided to be a famous villain instead of a hero. As he waits, Sam remembers his fourth birthday and smiles broadly as in his head he hears his father's voice. Just then, Litton’s men, with Chris and Ray, burst in, distracting Reg. To avoid a stand-off between Reg and Litton, Gene kicks Litton, then tells Reg to put the gun down. Reg shoots Gene in the chest and is tackled by the police.

The shock of Gene’s shooting is short-lived as he sits up, revealing that a flask in his jacket pocket stopped the bullet. Lucky, but given the number of flasks about Gene’s person, not so unlikely. RCS lose their grip on Reg who grabs a gun and puts it under his jaw. This time Sam convinces Reg to surrender.

Outside, Gene, the hero of the moment, talks to the press and seems confident of a positive story from Jackie. Back at the Railway Arms, Sam hears his mother’s voice through the phone saying she won’t switch off the life support because at 2:00, she saw him smile.


Cultural References[]

  • The Manchester Gazette newspaper which features in this episode (and is mentioned in others) is a fictional newspaper. However, there was at one time a real Manchester Gazette, founded by William Cowdroy in 1795. The paper changed hands a few times, and struggled to compete with the Manchester Guardian founded in 1821. The Gazette finally folded in 1828.
  • Reg quotes to Sam, “Unhappy the land that has no heroes. No, unhappy the land that needs heroes.” This is from the 1943 play, The Life of Galileo by German playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956). As Galileo returns from his trial, having recanted his beliefs to save himself, his disappointed young student Andrea shouts, “Unhappy the land that has no heroes.” Galileo replies, “No, unhappy the land that needs heroes”.
  • Searching Reg Cole’s apartment, Annie finds books by Browning, Shakespeare, Tennyson, and, to her surprise, Giles. Robert Browning (1812–1889) was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of dramatic verse, especially dramatic monologues, made him one of the foremost Victorian poets. William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, (1809–1892) was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria's reign and remains one of the most popular poets in the English language. One of his best known works is the Charge of the Light Brigade, eulogising and glorifying soldiers who had died in a futile charge during the Crimean war. These would be considered “high-brow” reading in comparison to Giles. Ronald "Carl" Giles (1916–1995), was a cartoonist most famous for his work for the British newspaper the Daily Express. Giles' cartoons often captured the zeitgeist of the '50s, '60s and '70s in particular, although he continued to produce new material until 1991.
  • Annie complains that no one but Sam knows how to handle the situation, that everyone else is "running around like David Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," thus mixing up two references: David Cassidy (1950–) an American actor, singer, and songwriter best known for his role as Keith Partridge in the 1970s musical sitcom The Partridge Family. He was one of pop culture's most celebrated teen idols, immensely popular in the 70s and still performing in Sam's time. Cassidy's recording of "How can I be sure" is used in Series 2: Episode 3Butch Cassidy (1866–1908?) and the Sundance Kid (Harry Longabaugh, (1867–1908?) were notorious western American outlaws famously depicted in the 1969 film named after them, where they were played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford respectively.
  • Litton greets CID with, “Guten tag, gents.” Guten tag is German for “good day”.
  • During the siege, Reg asks for Spam sandwiches. SPAM is a canned pre-cooked meat product made by the Hormel Foods Corporation and the name is a contraction of Spiced Ham. Reg Cole is old enough to have gotten a taste for it during the days when rationing made Spam a British household staple. In 1973, SPAM was still being produced in nearby Liverpool.
  • The water Gene and Sam take in to the hostages is in a "Quosh" bottle, Quosh is a flavoured squash or weak cordial to which water is added. It was first produced in the UK in the 1950s in orange, barley water and lemon flavours and a version can still be bought today.
  • Jackie tells Reg that his article is too florid and suggests a version that concentrates on the impending violence. Referring to Reg’s version, she says, “I’ll get the Carnegie Award for this.” The Carnegie Medal is a literary award established in 1936 in honour of Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and given annually to an outstanding book for children and young adults. Ironically (and likely unknown to the script writers) the winner for 1973 was Penelope Lively’s The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, about a young boy and a mischievous poltergeist who eventually decides it’s time to move on to the next life.
  • Reg compares himself to “the Connecticut Yankee in the court of King Arthur. A man out of time, stranded in a heathen world.” This refers to the famous 1889 novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court  by American writer Mark Twain (a.k.a Samuel Clemens, 1835–1910). The novel is about Hank Morgan, a 19th-century resident of Connecticut who, after a blow to the head, awakens to find himself inexplicably transported back in time to early medieval England at the time of the legendary King Arthur.
  • After reviving Doris with CPR, Annie says, “I've never seen that technique before.” CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is an emergency procedure which is performed in an effort to maintain blood flow until proper measures can be taken to restore circulation and breathing in a person in cardiac arrest. In 1973 this was a relatively new technique, and efforts to teach it to the public had not become widespread. Here, as in other television programmes, the technique is shown as restarting the heartbeat, something that happens rarely when performing CPR.
  • Gene says to Reg about his biography, “They could turn it into a film. Richard Burton'd be a dead spit for you.” Richard Burton (1925–1984) was a handsome and charismatic Welsh actor widely regarded as one of the greatest of his generation.
  • Annie recounts her graduation day, “jumping off a twenty-foot bridge into a weir, with a bottle of Mateus Rosé in one hand.” Mateus is a brand of medium-sweet sparkling rosé produced in Portugal and popular in the UK in the 60s and 70s. In 1973, Elton John mentioned it in the song, “Social Disease”: "I get juiced on Mateus and just hang loose."
  • After being shot, Gene lets everyone know he’s still alive by saying, “I want ‘Love Me Tender’ played at my funeral.” "Love Me Tender" is a romantic song adapted from the American Civil War song "Aura Lee". It was written by Elvis Presley (1935–1977) and Vera Matson (credited), and George R. Poulton and Ken Darby (uncredited). Presley recorded it in 1956 for the movie of the same name.
  • At the pub, Annie puts "What a Wonderful World" on. "What a Wonderful World" was written by Bob Thiele (as George Douglas) and George David Weiss. It was first recorded by American jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong (1901–1971) and released as a single in 1968. The song sold fewer than 1,000 copies in the U.S. due to distribution issues, but it was a major success in the United Kingdom, reaching number one on the UK Singles Chart and becoming a well loved classic. Gene Hunt's seemingly drunk lawyer does an impression of Louis Armstrong in Series 2: Episode 7, although the homage may also be intended to be the basso profondo of Paul Robeson.


  • The Manchester Gazette Office exteriors were shot in the inner court of the former "Great Universal Store" on Devonshire Street, Ardwick, in Greater Manchester.
  • "Tuesday's Dead", the sixth episode of the U.S. series, is an adaptation of this episode.


  • "What a Wonderful World" - Louis Armstrong

Episodes of Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes
Life on Mars:
Series 1 (2006): Episode 1   Episode 2   Episode 3   Episode 4   Episode 5   Episode 6   Episode 7   Episode 8
Series 2 (2007): Episode 1   Episode 2   Episode 3   Episode 4   Episode 5   Episode 6   Episode 7   Episode 8  
Ashes to Ashes:
Series 1 (2008): Episode 1   Episode 2   Episode 3   Episode 4   Episode 5   Episode 6   Episode 7   Episode 8  
Series 2 (2009): Episode 1   Episode 2   Episode 3   Episode 4   Episode 5   Episode 6   Episode 7   Episode 8  
Series 3 (2010): Episode 1   Episode 2   Episode 3   Episode 4   Episode 5   Episode 6   Episode 7   Episode 8  
Mini Episodes:
Fire Up the Quattro (2008)   Ashes to Ashes does Sport Relief (2010)