Life on Mars Wiki
LOM Episode 10.jpg
The Safe-Cracker
Air Date: 20 February 2007
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Director: S. J. Clarkson
Antagonists: Harry Woolf
Dickie Fingers
Arnold Malone
Previous episode: Helpless
Next episode: The Bombing

The second episode of the second series of the British time travel police procedural television series, Life on Mars, was first broadcast on 20 February 2007. The episode, known erroneously as "The Safe-Cracker", was produced by Kudos Film & Television for BBC One.


Sam's mentor from 2006 arrives at the station as a young, black Detective Constable, Glen Fletcher, and is immediately the target of racist jokes. DCI Hunt leads an investigation into a spate of armed robberies, said to involve notorious safe breaker, Dickie Fingers, who was sprung when Sam, Ray and Chris were bringing him in for questioning. But as Sam investigates deeper into the robberies, he finds that there is more to this case than meets the eye - clearly there's a powerful puppeteer pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Detailed Plot Summary[]

DI Sam Tyler, DS Ray Carling, and DC Chris Skelton arrive at a prison and take custody of safe cracker Richard Hands, a.k.a. “Dickie Fingers”. While driving back to the station, the coppers are high-jacked by armed thugs who kidnap Dickie.

Gene gives the detectives a good dressing down, but DCI Harry Woolf tells him to go easy. Woolf has decided to help on the case since his nemesis, Arnold Malone, is behind the kidnapping. Malone is an extremely dangerous career criminal and Woolfe believes he sprung Dickie Fingers for a big job.

CID question several informants on Dickie’s whereabouts, with no luck. Disgusted that he has to do everything himself, Gene takes Sam to see Dylys who runs a newsstand. Sam sees the notice-board for the day's news headline: "SAM TYLER: WE ARE SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS" in huge letters. Looking at the newspaper, Sam finds out that his mentor, DCC Glen Fletcher has died in 2006. Fletcher was one of the force’s first black recruits who went on to become a highly respected officer and an inspiration to minorities.

Gene has little sympathy for Sam, but he does have a name behind the kidnapping—Harcourt. Gene tells the team to go through 30 years of records to find the name. Sam balks, but Gene introduces some help in the form of a young black recruit named Glen Fletcher. Sam is stunned, WDC Annie Cartwright and Chris are friendly, but Ray acts the “resident Neanderthal” as Sam puts it, making racial remarks. Fletcher meanwhile tries to fit in by making fun of himself, much to the dismay of Sam. Fletcher says he heard Sam’s name when he was in Hyde, and everybody gets ready for a juicy story but WPC Phyllis Dobbs interrupts to report a wages van being robbed.

Sam and Gene arrive to find the van driver bound and gagged in the street. He reports three armed men robbed him and a skinny man opened the safe. The detectives figure they’ve found Dickie Fingers.

Anticipating more robberies, Sam proposes creating a “league table” of likely targets. Gene takes a more straightforward approach—nabbing Malone at gunpoint. Questioned at the station, Malone says he doesn’t have Dickie. When Woolf comes in, Malone taunts him and Sam has to pull Woolf off the villain. To prove to Gene he doesn’t know where Dickie is, Malone reveals that Dickie will be at a post office robbery in one hour. Gene quickly organises the team to be undercover at the Post Office, although Sam thinks they could be walking into a trap.

In the locker room, Sam finds Harry Woolf slouched over in a chair. A hip flask on the floor makes him think Woolf is drunk, but the DCI reveals that he is taking pain killers for cancer and that he has a year or less to live.

Sam and Woolf arrive at the post office. Phyllis, Annie, and Chris are working the wickets. Sam worries there are still too may real customers out front when Annie complains to Gene that she’s been given a gun without having firearms training. Gene is as unsympathetic and insulting as usual, and Annie, much to Harry Woolf’s amusement, hopes Gene doesn’t end up in her firing line.

At four o’clock exactly, masked robbers burst in and order everyone down on the floor. Annie and Phyllis are forced to lead the crooks to the safe. The safe cracker takes the stocking off his head: it’s Dickie Fingers. As soon as he gets the safe open, CID charge in, capturing the gang.

Back at the station, Dickie Fingers refuses to say who’s behind the robberies with Gene in the room. Alone with Sam, Dickie tries to get Sam to figure it out himself, but finally blurts out that it’s Harry Woolf. Sam doesn’t believe him, but Dickie’s story makes sense. Dickie begs Sam for protection because he knows too much and fears for his life.

Meeting Sam in the corridor, Harry Woolf tells Sam to ship Dickie back to prison. Sam makes up a story about questioning Dickie on a new case and asks for 24 hours. Woolf agrees.

Sam talks it over with Annie, who is sceptical. So is Sam, but he feels he has the duty to investigate. Gene interrupts and Sam is forced to repeat the allegations. Gene laughs so hard Sam joins in, but the next sound is Dickie Fingers screaming as Gene bashes his hand with a phone receiver.

Sam wants to quietly follow up on the accusation, but Gene is disgusted and angry and tells Woolf about Dickie’s statement later in the Railway Arms. As Sam leaves the pub, Woolf startles him as he rounds the corner. Woolf quietly talks over the allegations with Sam and reassures him that as a good copper, Sam should investigate and report if he thinks it right.

The next morning Sam and Annie arrive at the front desk to find out from Phyllis that a fight broke out in the cells and Dickie Fingers disappeared in the confusion. Sam is worried because Dickie feared for his life, and the front desk duty roster is missing, but Phyllis assures him it’s a “cock-up, not a conspiracy.”

Upstairs, Glen Fletcher doesn’t want to go with Sam to follow Harry Woolf. Sam lectures him about responsibility, principles, and how Glen wants to be remembered. Glen comes along.

Sitting in the car together, Glen wonders why Sam is showing such an interest in him. DCI Woolf interrupts, knocking on the window, and cheekily confesses to having made a phone call from the bookies. Gene screeches around the corner in the Cortina and, when Sam approaches, grabs him by the collar.

A moment later, at the station, Gene opens the boot of the Cortina to reveal Sam jammed in it. As the two argue and fight, Phyllis tells them they’re wanted at the mortuary: Dickie Fingers is dead, a professional killing. Sam starts to see that Woolf was perfectly placed to spring Dickie from prison, set up the robberies, snatch him from the cells. Annie interrupts and gets Glen to admit he was on duty when Dickie disappeared. Sam is outraged and Gene demands answers. Glen says he was following orders from Harry Woolf.

Woolf tells Gene and Sam that he let the safe cracker out to see what he would do, but lost him. Gene and Sam go back to see Malone who is angered by the killing of Dickie Fingers. He tells them Woolf is dirty and that he has all the proof they need. Gene calls it all lies and stalks out, but tells Sam afterwards that Malone’s story makes sense and that he now thinks Woolf masterminded the robberies.

Sam assigns a reluctant Glen Fletcher to get Harry Woolf out of the way for an hour or two. While Woolf is gone, they search his office. Gene smashes a photo and finds an incriminating building society account book, which also shows Woolf’s full first name—Harcourt, the name Gene got from his “snout”. They also find cash, just as Phyllis reports that Glen got dumped out of a car. Woolf is on his way back, and he knows Sam and Gene are onto him.

Sam and Gene meet Harry coming out of the lift. Harry tries to play innocent one more time, but soon gives it up. He explains that he got sick of seeing villains like Malone living the high life, and decided to frame him and get some cash for himself. Gene is ready to arrest him, but Harry reveals he is dying and asks Gene to give him the money and let him disappear. Gene refuses and they both draw guns, but Gene can’t shoot and lowers his. Glen appears with a gun, but Gene resolves the stand-off by shooting Harry in the leg. Waiting for the ambulance, Harry implores Gene not to remember him like this.

Afterwards, Glen thanks Sam for not reporting him for letting Dickie Fingers go. Sam replies that he can pay him back by being a good example.

Alone at his desk, Sam takes out a piece of paper and asks the operator for Hyde 2612 (see Series 2: Episode 1). The voice tells him not to call there again, that the voice will call Sam. The line goes dead.

Together in the Railway Arms, Sam and Gene discuss staff appraisals, which Gene doesn’t see the point of. Sam offers to appraise Gene, but he declines. He says that Harry will lose his stolen money and his pension as well, but Gene will make sure he doesn’t die alone and penniless. Before he gets the next round in, Gene looks at Sam and quietly says, “thank you.”


Cultural references[]

  • When Sam and Gene are about to burst in on Malone, Gene hands him a gun and tells him to look tough. Sam says, "Have you ever heard of 'softly, softly'?" Gene answers, "Yes, but I prefer Z Cars." Sam's remark is the short version of the old proverb "softly, softly, catchee monkey", meaning that a stealthy approach will help you reach your goal. Gene's reply is a play on words based on the title of detective drama series Softly Softly (1966–1969), a spin off from Z Cars (1962–1978), the long-running BBC police drama series. Coincidentally, Philip Glenister's father, John Glenister, directed episodes of both series.
  • Driving up to the prison entrance, Chris says, “What if I was wrongly accused of murdering me wife like David Janssen in The Fugitive?” Sam replies, “You mean Harrison Ford.” David Janssen starred in the television series The Fugitive from 1963 to 1967 on U.S. network ABC. Sam is more familiar with the 1993 movie version starring Harrison Ford.
  • At Dilys’s newsstand, Gene, wanting to get rid of Sam, hands him a paper and says, “Here you are. Go read Fred Basset". Fred Basset is a comic strip about a male basset hound by Alex Graham and printed in the Daily Mail since 1963. It has since been syndicated around the world.
  • Finishing with Dilys, Gene sees a pair of twins on a tandem bike near Sam. In his usual charming way, he says, “Oi! Bill and Ben, sod off. We're working here.” Bill and Ben were characters on a BBC children’s program, The Flower Pot Men. It followed the adventures of two little men made of flower pots who lived at the bottom of an English suburban garden. First transmitted in 1952, it was repeated regularly for more than 20 years.
  • Seeing Sam’s shocked face after reading of Glen Fletcher’s death, Gene remarks, “What's up with you? You're as white as a pint of Gold-Top.” Channel Island milk is sometimes called “gold-top milk” after the colour of the milk bottle top. It is a creamy, light-beige coloured milk originally from the Channel Islands.
  • Talking about Sam, Gene says to Harry Woolf, “Oh, he's a right little smart-arse." Then to Sam, "So, what do you suggest, Buddha?” Buddha usually refers to Siddhārtha Gautama, a spiritual teacher from ancient India who founded Buddhism. In most Buddhist traditions, he is regarded as the Supreme Buddha of our age, "Buddha" meaning "awakened one" or "the enlightened one".
  • The van driver complains about how easily Dickie Fingers got into the safe. “That safe's supposed to be unopenable. Advert said it would take a ton of explosives and Albert Einstein to get in there. And all it took was a scrawny thief.” Albert Einstein (1879–1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the greatest intellects in human history.
  • Phyllis says "Oi! Laurel and Hardy!" Laurel and Hardy were the comedy team of thin Englishman, Stan Laurel (1890–1965) and rotund American, Oliver Hardy (1892–1957). They became well known during the late 1920s through the mid-1940s for their slapstick comedy with Laurel playing the clumsy and child-like friend of the pompous Hardy.
  • Harry Woolf says to Sam that he hopes to “have enough information about Malone's activities for us to make something sticky, even if it's tax evasion.” Sam replies, “Ah, the old Al Capone trick.” Alphonse Gabriel "Al" Capone (1899–1947) was a notorious American gangster who was finally brought to justice, not for his violent crimes or bootlegging, but for not paying tax on his illegal income.
  • Gene refers to Annie as "Sindy", Sindy was a UK fashion doll introduced in 1963 and manufactured  by the Pedigree Dolls and Toys company in Exeter, England. The doll's "girl next door" look made her more popular than Barbie in the UK. 
  • Harry Woolf asks Sam, “You read much Freud, DI Tyler?” to which Sam replies, “I'm more of a Dan Brown man.” Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis. Woolf is referring to Freud’s theory that all boys harbour an unconscious desire to take their father’s place. Dan Brown (1964–) is an American author of thriller fiction, best known for the hugely successful 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code.
  • Gene finds Harry Woolf's bankbook hidden behind a photo of Malcolm Allison. Malcolm Alexander Allison (1927—2010) was an English footballer and manager, nicknamed "Big Mal". In 1965, he became assistant manager to Joe Mercer at Manchester City. After Mercer departed in 1972, Allison was left in sole charge at City, but the team struggled and fans became hostile, and in March 1973, he resigned.  



  • "Sweet Jane" - Mott the Hoople
  • "In the Summertime" - Mungo Jerry
  • "Ain't Got No" - Derek Wadsworth
  • "Love Machine" - Uriah Heep
  • "Bird of Prey" - Uriah Heep
  • "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" - The Hollies
  • "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" - Elton John

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)