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The Good Father
Air Date: 27 February 2006
Written by: Matthew Graham
Director: John Alexander
Antagonists: Vic Tyler/The Morton Brothers
Previous episode: Wrongful Death
Next episode: Helpless (Series 2)

The eighth, and final, episode of the first series of the British time-travel police-procedural television series, Life on Mars, was first broadcast on 27 February 2006. The episode, known erroneously as "The Good Father", was produced by Kudos Film & Television for BBC One.


Manchester CID is intent on stopping a new gang in town, the Morton brothers, but they have to find them first. The trail leads from a pair of armed thugs to Vic Tyler, Sam Tyler's father. Sam tries to prove his dad is just an ordinary citizen trying to protect his family from gangsters, but Gene Hunt finds the evidence pointing to Vic as a major player. Sam, remembering that his dad left the family about this time (1973), becomes convinced that by making Vic stay, he will get home himself. Events come to a head at a family wedding where Sam learns the truth about his father and his own past.

Detailed Plot Summary[]

DI Sam Tyler is woken up by a visit from the Test Card Girl. She seems to mock him for being unable to get home, but he insists he’s here for a reason. Sam has an Unreality Flash that we’ve seen before—a heartbeat, the woods, the buckled shoes, rapid breathing, a glimpse of an arm dressed in black or dark blue, a child's voice whispering, “Where are you?"

DCI Gene Hunt, with Sam, DC Chris Skelton, and DC Ray Carling in the car, are chasing armed thugs and run them into a dead end. As the crooks are about to reverse into the officers, another car smashes into them, killing them both. Gene is disappointed as the dead men were their only lead to the Morton brothers, mysterious gangsters looking to take over from Mark Warren (see Life on Mars Series 1: Episode 4). Sam finds a postcard in the car that leads them to a hotel room.

CID burst into the hotel room to find a man who claims to know nothing about the Mortons. Sam is shocked to recognize the man as his long-lost father, Vic Tyler.

Back at the station, Sam has more visions, and hears his mother’s voice telling him that his father has gone away, just as his real mother told him when he was four. Once again, he confides in WPC Annie Cartwright. He tries to convince Gene that Vic is innocent and should be let go. Gene wants to stop the Mortons, and questions Vic until he admits he was at the hotel for a card game, but still claims he is just a salesman who gambles a bit.

Vic is released, but Gene insists on searching his house. Sam is sheepish when his young mother recognizes him from the events in Series 1: Episode 4 and he has to admit his name is Tyler and not “Bolan” as he claimed. After the search, Sam endures Gene’s crude remarks about Mrs. Tyler. Sam wants to leave Vic alone, but Gene produces a bookie’s receipt he found in the house, and they go to check it out.

At the bookie’s, Gene leans on Jimmy Lips, who directs them to a snooker club where they find a pornography operation. Back at the station, Sam dials a number found at the club and is shocked to hear his younger self answer the phone. He tells Gene the number was disconnected.

In the corridor, Sam has more visions and hears the radio race commentators saying that his condition in 2006 is improving. He tells Annie that he believes stopping his father from leaving the family will send him back home.

Meanwhile, CID have discovered footage of Vic Tyler at one of the porn film shoots. Questioning him again, Vic claims he was forced to peddle porn by the Mortons to pay off gambling debts.

CID decide to use Vic to draw out the Mortons. Vic and Sam go to a phone box to wait for a call Vic was told to expect. While they wait, Sam gets his dad to kick around a ball on a nearby green. When the call comes, Vic tells Sam that he’s to go to the snooker club. At the club, Sam, Gene, Ray, and Chris are waiting outside when they hear gunshots. Rushing inside, they find two men shot, one of them Jimmy Lips. Vic is found cowering in the back room, but claims he saw nothing. Before Jimmy dies he says, “key” to Gene. Meanwhile, Vic disappears.

Sam and Annie go to the Tylers’ house in search of Vic, but no one’s there. Sam lets them in with a key from under the bin. Sam tries to convince Annie that the Tylers are his parents, but she is still sceptical. When he finds a Bobby Charlton cigarette card, Sam is sure his dad will return for it. Annie recommends a psychiatrist.

Hours later, Sam is woken by his father entering the house. Vic seems moved by Sam’s plea that he stay with the family and vows to do so. After Vic leaves, Sam hears voices from his future hospital bed and is sure he’s about to wake up … then, nothing.

At the Railway Arms, Nelson offers sage advice. Gene comes in and they realize that Jimmy Lips’s dying clue could mean “quay”, not “key”. At a building by the canal, CID find another porn shoot going on. Gene vows to bring Vic Tyler in and demands Sam’s help. Sam remembers that his dad left them at a family wedding, and he fights his way past Gene to leave.

At the Woodbank Community Centre, Sam spots his parents inside, dancing. His recurring vision becomes clearer and he sees his father hitting a woman in a red dress. Sam spots Annie, wearing a red dress and telling Gene over the radio that she’s following Vic into the wood. Sam then has the bizarre experience of telling his younger self to wait while he goes to find his daddy.

In the wood, Sam relives his vision. He interrupts Vic and Annie just as Vic starts to hit her. Vic drops a gun, which Sam picks up. Vic wants it back, and Sam seems about to give it to him when Gene arrives and explains his theory that the “Morton brothers” are really just Vic Tyler. During a stand-off between Gene and Sam, Vic runs off.

Sam catches him and gives him the gun. To Sam’s horror, Vic tries to shoot him, not knowing that Sam removed the bullets. Sam reveals that as a lad of four he saw Vic beat and kick a woman police officer in a red dress and then run off, but that he had blocked the memory until now. Sam starts to arrest Vic, but Vic says that if he stays it will be in prison and that finding out what he is will ruin Ruth and little Sammie's lives. Racked with emotion and besieged by voices, Sam realizes his dad really is a crook and that he is, and was, right to leave his family. Sam lets him go.

Sam returns to the wedding and tells his mother that Vic is gone and to tell little Sammy he’s on the road — just like his mother told him. Annie tells Sam he won’t wake up because this is real. Sam disagrees, but touches Annie’s cheek, telling her he doesn’t hate everything about this place.

Chris laments having lost a bet on whether Gene or Sam would be the first to pull a gun on the other. Sam wants to go home, but a quick vote sends them all to the pub.


Cultural references[]

  • As the thugs drive toward the team, Chris says they have to stop because, "we're the force" and Sam replies, "may the Force be with you".  This is the phrase made famous by the film Star Wars and its sequels. The film series was created by George Lucas (1944–). The original Star Wars was released in 1977, four years after Life on Mars is set.
  • Clunk, click, every trip.” says Ray, looking at the thugs killed in the car crash. "Clunk Click Every Trip" was the slogan of a series of British public information films sponsored by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), commencing in January 1971 and starring then-popular radio and TV host Jimmy Savile. The ads highlighted the dangers of being thrown through the windscreen in a traffic collision and reminded drivers that the first thing they should do after closing the door ("Clunk") is fasten their seatbelt ("Click"). DI Alex Drake would say the same thing to Ray in Series 1: Episode 8 of Ashes to Ashes. Jimmy Savile's voice on the radio gives Sam information on his condition in Series 2: Episode 8.
  • Vic Tyler plays cards with Chris using a deck of Siemens Ediswan playing cards. Siemens Ediswan was a light bulb manufacturer formed in 1883 as the Edison & Swan United Electric Light Company. It became a major manufacturer of vacuum tubes and was renamed Siemens Ediswan in 1957. The company was merged into Thorn Lighting Ltd. in the mid-sixties.
  • Gene accuses Sam of thinking of Vic as Pippi Longstocking. Pippi Longstocking is a fictional child character in a series of children's books by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, and adapted into multiple films and television series. By saying Sam thinks of Vic as Pippi Longstocking, Gene seems to mean “a harmless innocent”, but there may be some irony in the fact that Pippi was not what she seemed—she also had super-strength and semi-magical powers.
  • Remarking on Sam’s and Vic’s common last name, Gene says, “somebody call Esther Rantzen”.  Esther Louise Rantzen, CBE (1940–) is a British journalist and television presenter, best known for her work on the BBC television series, Braden’s Week, starting in 1968 as a reporter and becoming the presenter in 1973 when the program was renamed, That's Life!  Ms. Rantzen remained with the show until 1994.  Although a consumer affairs programme, it also included light-hearted features, such as (Gene seems to imply) a police officer and a suspect having the same last name.
  • After searching the Tylers’ house, Gene finds a betting slip used for a bookmark in a Puffin paperback copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is an 1865 novel written by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. It tells of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. The tale plays with logic, giving the story lasting popularity with adults as well as children. Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) is the sequel to Wonderland. The themes and settings of Through the Looking-Glass make it a kind of mirror image of Wonderland. In it, there are many mirror themes, including opposites, time running backwards, and so on. Penguin Books is a publisher founded in 1935. It revolutionised publishing in the 1930s through its high-quality, inexpensive paperback editions (the world's first), and in 1940 began publishing children’s books under the imprint “Puffin”. The specific edition seen here was published in 1965. It is 247 pages and contains 92 illustrations by John Tenniel and sold for three shillings and six pence.
  • After visiting the Tyler household, Gene crudely remarks about Sam’s mother, “I wouldn't mind giving her a good old going-over with the old tickling stick. As Sam glares at him, Gene says, “tatty-hilarious.” A tickling stick is the name given a colourful feather-duster wielded by British comedian Kenneth Arthur "Ken" Dodd, OBE (1927–). Dodd, famous for his wild hair and protruding teeth, has had a multi-decade career as a comic, singer-songwriter (with over 100 million record sales), and actor and achieved such success that he would have been well known to both Gene and Sam. “Tatty-hilarious” is an expression popularized by Dodd meaning, funny, but a bit cheap, too.
  • Jimmy Lips says he's heard that the Mortons "work the races" and dismisses them as being "tic-tac men with a bit of front." Tic-tac is a traditional method of signs used by bookmakers to communicate the odds of certain horses. It is still used in on-course betting in the UK. A tic-tac man will usually wear bright white gloves to allow his hand movements to be easily seen. 'Front' in this context would be courage or chutzpah.
  • Gene announces CID's arrival at the snooker club with, "Ding-Dong, Avon calling,” the well known branding catch phrase of Avon Products Inc., famous for selling cosmetics door-to-door. PC Sharon "Shaz" Granger would use the same expression in Series 1: Episode 7 of Ashes to Ashes.
  • During the raid, Gene notes the title of the porn film the punters are watching is Once Upon a Time in Her Vest, from Sergio Leone's 1969 "spaghetti" western starring Henry Fonda (1905–1982), Once Upon a Time in The West
  • Ray says the title of the film being viewed back at the CID room is, The French Letter Connection (a "French letter" being an old term for condoms).  This parodies the title of the 1973 US film, The French Connection, the hard-boiled police thriller starring Gene Hackman (1930–) as Popeye Doyle with Roy Scheider (1932–2008) as his partner.
  • Later, Sam, looking at the porn film titles, reads off, "A Fistful of Donnas," and "A Few Donnas More." Gene replies, "If Sergio Leone knew what they were doing...." A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More are two “spaghetti” westerns made by Italian director Sergio Leone (1929–1989) and starring Clint Eastwood (1930–). They are generally considered part of the "Dollars Trilogy", the third being The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Gene has the movie poster in his office. In Series 1: Episode 3 of Ashes to Ashes, Gene dresses like the Clint Eastwood character for a party.
  • Sam scoffs at the description of the porn films as "hard-core", claiming he's "seen worse on Channel 4." Channel 4 is a British public-service state-owned television broadcaster, which began working on 2 November 1982. It has at different times shown risqué films unedited.
  • As the porn films are running, Gene refers to the male genitalia as a “John Thomas”.  This is a euphemism that is known in print since the 1870s.  Its origin is unclear, but it is probably one of the many expressions that use “John” to refer to any man, and common masculine names to refer to the male member.  Sam would likely know this expression but consider it old-fashioned.
  • Gene refers to the Morton brothers as “the Brothers Grimm”.  Jacob Grimm (1785–1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786–1859), were German academics who together collected and published folklore.  They are among the best-known tellers of folk tales, popularizing stories such as "Cinderella", "The Frog Prince", "Hansel and Gretel", "Rapunzel", and "Snow White".  Their first collection of folk tales was published in 1812.  Gene’s remark however, is a purely a pun on the name “Grimm” and the word “grim”.
  • Gene says that they need to stop the Mortons "before they blight this town like a dose of Colorado beetle." The Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata), also known as the Colorado beetle, the ten-striped spearman, the ten-lined potato beetle or the potato bug, is a serious pest of potato crops. Once controlled with pesticides, it has developed significant resistance to them over time. In the UK, the beetle is a "notifiable pest" meaning citizens are to report any sighting of it so as to head off an infestation. Throughout the series, there are occasional glimpses of information posters about the Colorado Beatle.
  • Gene playfully refers to Sam as "my little Deputy Dawg." Deputy Dawg was a cartoon character from a series of syndicated shows produced by Terrytoons. Although only a small number were produced in the early sixties, they were re-run more than long enough for Gene to know the character in 1973.
  • In flashback, Sam sees his father “flying” a Thunderbird 2 toy. The Thunderbirds was a British mid-1960s television show by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. It was made using marionette puppetry and scale-models, a technique dubbed "Supermarionation". The series followed International Rescue, an organization that used technically advanced equipment and machinery to help people in danger. The main characters were ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy (head of the organization), and his five sons who piloted the "Thunderbird" machines. Thunderbird 2 was a supersonic, heavy-equipment transporter, and one of the most iconic aircraft of the franchise. A popular show, the series is still shown today and has inspired a number of subsequent television programs and films.
  • Ray says his bird Wilma, "goes on about her origami. Like that programme they run at lunchtime on the telly". Ray is mixing up Wilma's actual concern with the Japanese art of paper-folding. The lunchtime programme he mentions was a series of 10-minute programmes done for ITV as part of its "Look-In" magazines for children. It was presented by magician Robert Harbin who demonstrated origami. Originally screened in 1968, it was re-run, usually early Saturday or Sunday mornings around 9.45 am., well in to the 1970s.
  • Sam turns off the portable TV in his parents' house as the titles of Play School begin. Play School was a British children's television series produced by the BBC which ran from 1964 until 1988. It ran at 1:00 and 4:20 each weekday and was the first UK children's programme to be transmitted in colour. According to a BBC press release, the show used "songs, music, poetry, games and stories providing ideas for activities to help children and their mothers after the programme is over."
  • At his parents’ house, Sam tells Annie to open a box, predicting correctly that it will play “The Blue Danube” by Strauss. “The Blue Danube” is the common English title of “An der schönen blauen Donau”, (German for, "By the Beautiful Blue Danube"), a waltz by the Austrian composer Johann Strauss II (1825–1899). It was composed in 1866 and has been one of the most consistently popular pieces of music in the classical repertoire.
  • Under the music box at Sam’s parents’ house is a copy of the long-running British comic, Buster.  Launched in 1960, it carried a mix of humour and adventure strips, although, later, humour predominated. The title character, Buster, appeared on the front page and was originally billed as the son of comic strip character Andy Capp. This association was dropped after a time, although Buster continued to wear a similar flat cap.  The particular issue seen in this episode is 20th October 1973 and sold for 3½ new pence.  Buster ceased publication in 2001.
  • Bobby Charlton cigarette card

    Sam says, "My dad gave me this cigarette card. Signed. Bobby Charlton." Cigarette cards are trade cards issued by tobacco manufacturers to stiffen cigarette packaging and promote their brands. Sports heroes, such as Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton, were popular subjects. The particular card seen here was part of the A&BC Chewing Gum set featuring footballers of the 1968/69 season.
  • Visible on the Tylers' coffee table are other football cards from same set as Sam's Bobby Charlton card (see above). They are, Nottingham Forest Left Half, Jim Baxter (1939–2001); Chelsea Outside Right, Charlie Cooke (1942–); Tottenham Hotspur Right Half, Alan Mullery (1941–); and Newcastle United Inside Forward, Jim Scott (1940–).

    The Hotspur, August 1st, 1970

  • On the Tylers’ coffee table are two copies of The Hotspur. The Hotspur was a boys’ story paper launched in 1933 and was one of publisher DC Thomson's "Big Five" publications aimed at young boys. In 1959, it revamped itself as The New Hotspur with more emphasis on picture stories, and with the numbering starting again at 1.  The word "new" in the title was dropped with issue #174. As the market for “boy’s own” comics declined, The Hotspur merged with The Hornet in 1976, and with The Crunch in 1980. In 1981 The Hotspur finally merged with The Victor under the latter's name. The topmost paper in the scene is visible and is the August 1st 1970 issue (#563) and sold for six pence, or half a shilling (pre-decimalisation).
  • After CID raid the porn shoot at the quay, Gene, looking through some papers says, "looks like they've been thinking up titles. Listen to this: 'On Her Majesty's Secret Cervix'". This is a crude pun on the film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Released in 1969, it is the sixth spy film in the James Bond series, and is based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Ian Fleming. It starred then-unknown actor and model, George Lazenby in the part of James Bond and Diana Rigg (1938–) as Contessa Teresa "Tracy" di Vicenzo.
  • The climactic scenes of this episode take place near the Woodbank Community Centre. This is a real community centre located at Turncroft Lane, Offerton, Stockport, and is now part of the Stockport Metropolitan Borough. In 1973, it was still the County Borough of Stockport. Stockport is now one of ten districts making up the Greater Manchester city region. It is seven miles from Manchester and close to Manchester Airport, a short drive along the M60 motorway.


Viewing figures[]

  • This episode gained 7.1 million viewers and a 28% audience share.


  • In the original timeline, during a wedding reception, Sam Tyler as a child witnesses his father, Vic Tyler, beat a woman in a red dress, presumably Annie Cartwright. In the altered timeline, Sam Tyler instructs little Sam Tyler to stay inside, changing history, preventing little Sam from witnessing his father beat Annie. The reason Annie Cartwright was present at the wedding reception in the first place was from Sam Tyler's future knowledge of his father's location. Annie Cartwright being present at the wedding reception in the original timeline presents a grandfather paradox since she would not have known Vic Tyler's location without Sam Tyler's future knowledge.


  • "Friday the 13th" - Atomic Rooster
  • "The Rock" - Atomic Rooster
  • "Ear in the Snow" - Atomic Rooster
  • "Tokoloshe Man" - John Kongos
  • "Devil's Answer" - Atomic Rooster
  • "See My Baby Jive" - Wizzard
  • "Life on Mars?" - David Bowie
  • "Meet Me on the Corner" - Lindisfarne
  • "Little Bit of Love" - Free

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)