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The Bombing
Air Date: 3 March 2007
Written by: Julie Rutterford
Director: S. J. Clarkson
Previous episode: The Safe-Cracker
Next episode: Suburban Swingers

The third episode of the second series of the British time travel police procedural television series, Life on Mars, was first broadcast on 3 March 2007. The episode, known erroneously as "The Bombing", was produced by Kudos Film & Television for BBC One.


An anonymous caller reports that the Provisional Irish Republican Army is to start a new bombing campaign in Manchester. Sam doesn't think the warning rings true, but when a colleague is injured in an explosion, the team loses faith in him and starts to target the Irish community.

Detailed Plot Summary[]

DI Sam Tyler is getting ready for work in the morning, watching Open University as he dresses. The lecturer suddenly starts talking about Sam’s medical condition, saying he expects a full recovery. The radio points out that the mind is fragile and that Sam could wake up with impaired judgement. WDC Annie Cartwright arrives, telling Sam about an IRA bomb planted outside a school and due to go off in fifteen minutes.

At the bomb location, CID watch a car parked in front of the school. It’s already past the deadline and the bomb squad are unreachable. Sam tries to convince everyone that it’s a hoax because the IRA don’t use dynamite and no other terrorist groups are active. DS Ray Carling suggests Sam go check it out if he’s so sure. Sam agrees, but Ray says it's just to impress Annie. Sam stops and ends up goading Ray into checking the bomb, confident nothing will happen. Several yards from the car, Ray is blown back by the explosion.

At the station, Sam endures the icy stares of his colleagues. He tries to explain to Annie that he was right about the IRA. She points out that he was wrong about the hoax and his judgement led to Ray being hurt. DCI Gene Hunt drags Sam off to investigate missing dynamite at a builder’s yard.

The owner, Frank Miller, tells them that 50 pounds of TNT are missing from a storage shed. With only a few pounds needed to blow up a car, most of the dynamite is therefore still missing. When Gene learns the workers are mostly Irish, he decides to haul them all in for questioning.

Searching the workers’ lockers, Sam finds a list of street names in a jacket pocket and Gene finds political documents in Patrick O’Brien’s locker. Gene radios in to have O’Brien’s associates picked up, while he and Sam go to O’Brien’s address. The landlady tells them he hasn’t lived there for months, that she kicked him out for not paying his lodgings and for being Irish.

Sam and Gene try a local pub but are greeted with hostility by the Irish clientele. Gene spots a poster for a labour meeting at the Irish Centre and decides to head there. They find O’Brien preaching labour activism to Irish workers to get equal wages. Gene drags him out, with a punch to the gut for good measure.

Back at the station, O’Brien is just one more Irishman being rounded up. Frank Miller walks in complaining that they’ve arrested his whole workforce. DC Chris Skelton reports that the dynamite used in the car bomb matches the dynamite from Miller’s yard, and Gene tells him to check out the street names from the list in O’Brien’s locker.

Sam and Gene question O’Brien, but he refuses to say anything except to give them a joke name, enraging Gene. As Sam pulls the Guv off O’Brien, WPC Phyllis Dobbs reports another bomb threat: Irish accent, no code words, car bomb.

At the bomb location, outside the Three Ships, the police are evacuating everyone. The bomb squad are on their way from another call. Sam finds the bomb and goes underneath the car with pliers. Each time he goes to cut the red or the yellow wire, he loses his nerve, unable to trust his own judgement. With seconds to go, a hand reaches under the car and snips the red wire. The bomb squad finally made it.

Being in custody at the time, O’Brien can’t have made the call, but Gene thinks he’s still involved. Sam is wavering. Chris points out that the street is one of the ones on O’Brien’s list.

In the cells, Gene tries to beat information out of O’Brien as Sam cringes. Sam finally pulls Gene off the badly injured Irishman. When Gene taunts him for caring more for a suspect than his own colleague, Sam furiously walks out.

Sam enters the Railway Arms to a round of silence. Shortly after, Ray enters, looking rough and dazed, and is applauded by all, including Sam. Sam apologizes to Ray, who doesn’t respond. Gene buys the hero a drink as his friends all greet him, but Sam quietly tells Gene that it’s too early for Ray to be back at work, which the Guv scoffs at.

Back at his bed-sit, Sam is taunted by the Test Card Girl, who makes him choose between a red wire and a yellow wire, assuring him that he’ll pick the right one. Sam chooses and she yells “bang!” and asks how many more will die from his bad judgement.

The next morning, Sam has pulled himself together when Gene barges in to tell him that O’Brien has escaped from hospital and a bomb threat has been called in for 2:00 p.m. Sam says it still doesn’t feel right, but Gene is intent on finding O’Brien. They race to the Irish Centre with Ray in the back of the Cortina looking stunned and dangerous.

Inside, Gene manages to start a fight in record time while Sam and Ray take off after O’Brien. They chase him though an empty swimming pool, but Sam realizes it’s not O’Brien and yells at Ray not to shoot. Ray ignores the order and shoots the fleeing man. As they wait for an ambulance, Sam yells at Ray for disobeying him, but Ray just says that at least he did something.

Outside, Gene and the team go in search of O’Brien, but Sam walks away until he spots a church. He enters the confessional and expresses his doubts about the case and his dilemma of following his instinct or the facts. The curtain opens to reveal that the “priest” is really O’Brien. Sam says he won’t tell Gene, but makes sure O’Brien stays put by handcuffing him to the confessional.

Sam tries to recruit Annie to help him, but she leaves with the rest of the team. He goes to Frank Miller’s yard and breaks in to his trailer office. Sam finds a final demand letter for thousands of pounds, then breaks into a drawer to find a map. As he examines it, Annie startles him by entering the trailer. The Guv told her to bring Sam back, but he tells her what he’s found and she decides to stay to help. They find all the bomb locations marked on the map, plus a new one on Kennel Road. Realizing there is a bank there, the two rush off.

Back at the station, Sam tells Gene that Frank Miller is the bomber. When a bomb is called in for Clay Street, Sam convinces Gene that this is the perfect diversion for Miller blasting into the bank in Kennel Road.

Using Miller’s map as a guide, the team enter a tunnel under the bank until they find wires. Ray takes the lead, but in the darkness, is grabbed by Miller who holds him at gunpoint and threatens to kill him if anyone approaches. Gene goads him, but Annie suddenly steps in and makes Miller think of his family and what this will do to them. Sam joins in and convinces Miller to turn over his gun.

Gene and Sam drop O’Brien off and he even gets a half-hearted apology from Gene. O’Brien lectures Gene on the terrible treatment of the Irish by the English and vows not to do their dirty work again.

Arriving in the pub, Sam is greeted by applause, but he gives due credit to Annie. Ray is handed the collection tin and Sam drops in his contribution. Later, Gene opines that the Irish, because they like drinking so much, would never bomb a pub.

Sam answers the pub phone and a voice tells him he must continue to believe in himself.


Cultural references[]

  • Sam, talking to the television, says to the Open University lecturer, “I wouldn't get too smug, mate. One day you'll be replaced by the lovely Lorraine Kelly.” Lorraine Kelly (1959–) is a Scottish television presenter and journalist best known as a presenter for morning television programs including TV-am, GMTV, ITV Breakfast, and Lorraine.
  • Gene asks Sam, “If it wasn't the IRA, or any other terrorist group who blew up that car, then who? The WI?” The Women’s Institute, or WI, is a British, community-based organisation for women. It was formed in 1915 is now the largest women’s voluntary organisation in the UK.
  • A "Paddy" is a slang term for an Irishman. As demonstrated by Gene, it is frequently used as a derogatory form of address. “Paddy” is the pet-form of the male forename Patrick (Irish Pádraig), name of the apostle and patron saint of Ireland and one of the commonest Irish names.
  • Gene mentions "Rotters Club". "Rotters" was the name of a nightclub on Oxford Road, Manchester in the 70s and 80s. It had formerly been a cinema.
  • Gene describes O’Brien as having a, “touch of the Trotskys.” Leon Trotsky (born Lev Davidovich Bronstein, 1879–1940) was a Marxist revolutionary, theorist, and Soviet politician. He was an important figure in the formation of the Soviet Union, but his dislike of Joseph Stalin led to his expulsion, exile, and eventual assassination. Gene is referring to O’Brien’s political activism on behalf of the Irish workers.
  • Gene says O’Brien has “more lip than Mick Jagger.” Sir Michael Philip “Mick” Jagger (1943–) is a British singer and songwriter, and lead singer and founding member of the Rolling Stones. Mr. Jagger is famous for his unusually big lips, and Gene’s comment is a pun on “lip”, meaning, “insolent or impertinent talk.” He became, “Sir Michael” in 2003.
  • Gene: "How do you think I spend my time here, Tyler?" Sam: "Building a Death Star?" In Star Wars, the Galactic Empire's ultimate weapon, the Death Star, was a mobile battle station that mounted a directed superlaser weapon capable of completely destroying a planet with a single shot. Star Wars was released in 1977, leaving Gene in the dark as to Sam's reference.
  • "Frank Miller", the yard manager and villain in the episode, is also the name of the bad guy in the classic 1952 western, High Noon. The film is one of Gene's favourites and he has a poster of it in his office. In this episode, the last bomb is set to go off "right in the middle of lunch hour"—high noon.
  • Gene tells O'Brien, "you should be on the Wheeltappers and Shunters" referring to the Granada TV variety show, The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club. It was set in a fictional working men's club in the North of England and was hosted by comedian Colin Crompton. The programme originally ran from 13th April 1974 to 9 June 1977. "Wheeltappers" and "shunters" were railway workers commonly employed on British railways prior to the 1970s, and the name was meant to be typical of the social clubs set up by railway workers in the 19th century, many of which are still in existence.
  • Inside the building site office are a number of nude pictures from men’s magazines. On locker 43 is a page in black-and-white, depicting a woman having “undergarments” painted on her body. This originally appeared in Fiesta magazine, volume 3, number 3, from 1969. Fiesta is a British soft-core pornographic magazine, published by Galaxy Publications. It was launched in 1966.
  • Gene: "You see, the pub, it's the one safe place the IRA would never touch." This is an ironic reference to the Birmingham Pub Bombings of 21 November 1974, when the Provisional IRA blew up two pubs in Birmingham, killing 21 people and injuring 182 others. A third explosion had been planned but the device failed to detonate. Public outrage after these attacks led directly to the passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974.
  • Gene says, "up 'til now, Colin Bell is what I call a hero". Colin Bell MBE(1946–) is a former English football player, most famous for his time with Manchester City between 1966 and 1979. He is widely regarded as Manchester City's greatest player. He was part of the famous 60s/70s trio of players that also included Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee.
  • Shocked at Gene’s suspicion of anyone Irish, Sam sarcastically suggests they, “pull in that well-known terrorist suspect, Dana.” Dana Rosemary Scallon (born Rosemary Brown, 1951–), is an Irish singer and politician. In 1970, while still at school, she won the Eurovision Song Contest with "All Kinds of Everything". It became a worldwide million-seller and launched her music career. Dana was still releasing albums in Sam’s time.
  • Sam sarcastically suggests to Gene that they pull in Val Doonican. Michael Valentine Doonican, (1928–) is an Irish singer who regularly appeared on UK TV (1965–1968) on ITV/ABC and from (1970–1986) on BBC1. He often sang songs sitting in a rocking chair. Gene mentions Val Doonican in Ashes to Ashes Series 1: Episode 7.
  • Annie: "Maybe we'd be better off if a woman did run the country. She couldn't make a worse job of it than the fellas have done." Sam: "I've got a feeling you might regret saying that one day." Sam is referring to Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. Although she won three straight majorities, she was strongly disliked by those on the left for what they regarded as extreme right-wing policies. Her legacy is an ongoing matter for debate.
  • Annie requests a Kit Kat from Sam as a thank-you, and Sam says, "seeing as it's you, I'll make it a Chunky one." Kit Kat is a chocolate-covered wafer biscuit bar created in 1935 by Rowntree's of York, England. The larger Kit Kat Chunky, however, would not appear until 1999. This leads Annie to think that "chunky" is an insulting reference to her figure.


Viewing figures[]

This episode only had an audience of 4.8 million viewers by episode three, a large slump from Helpless, despite being heavily trailed and publicised.


  • "How Can I Be Sure" - David Cassidy
  • "The Big Spell" - Audience
  • "Hellraiser" - Sweet
  • "Poor Old Ireland" - Lindisfarne
  • "When The City Sleeps" - Barclay James Harvest

External links[]

Birminham Pub Bombings at Birmingham Mail

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)