Life on Mars Wiki
LOM Episode 16.jpg
Air Date: 10 April 2007
Written by: Matthew Graham
Director: S. J. Clarkson
Antagonists: Leslie Johns
Leslie Johns' gang
Donald Sykes
Frank Morgan
Previous episode: The Shooting
Next episode: Deja Vu (Ashes to Ashes)

The eighth episode of the second series, and overall finale of the time travel police procedural television series, Life on Mars, was first broadcast on 10 April 2007. The episode, known erroneously as "Undercover", was produced by Kudos Film & Television for BBC One.

DCI Gene Hunt, DS Ray Carling and DC Chris Skelton returned for the sequel series Ashes to Ashes in 2008.


Sam learns that an operation is to be conducted on him in 2006 to try and revive him from his coma. However, he believes that to return to the twenty-first century, he has to betray his colleagues in 1973—but can he regard them as imaginary, or are they real—at least for him?


DI Sam Tyler hears, via Jimmy Savile on the radio, that he has a tumour on his brain that is operable and could bring him out of his coma. He then hears his mother Ruth say that the surgeon’s name is Mr. Morgan. DCI Frank Morgan — the policeman from Hyde — then phones him to say that he must destroy DCI Gene Hunt. Sam interprets this to mean that Gene is a metaphor for the tumour and is the remaining obstacle to his return to the present day.

The coppers find a murdered man called Danny Croucher, who was secretly informing the police. Sam is angry that Gene didn’t offer him protection in return. Frank later explains that Gene must be exposed for his criminal negligence, prompting Sam to explain about what happened with Danny. Frank promises to bring Sam home once he has the necessary evidence and tape recordings.

Sam tells WDC Annie Cartwright that he is going far away and wants to spend more time with her. Before they can speak further, Don Sykes is brought in for interrogation in the store rooms. Sam has hidden a tape recorder and it captures Gene and DS Ray Carling brutally treating the man in order to gain answers. The methods work and the name Leslie Johns is supplied.

That night, Annie arrives at Sam’s flat for a word. After a heart to heart, Sam asks for one night together with her, but Annie rejects the short-term proposition and leaves. He then sees the demonic Test Card Girl enter his flat and suggest that he’s being operated on.

Gene Hunt plans an undercover operation to arrest Johns and an armed gang planning to stage a heist on a train carrying wages. Sam believes that without trained firearms experts involved, the officers are being placed in unnecessary danger. Gene then meets Johns, passing himself off as Don Sykes, and ensures that he is part of the armed gang. After this meeting, Gene plans the operation and informs Sam, Annie, Ray, and DC Chris Skelton that they are also to go undercover posing as the train’s staff.

Although Sam is still convinced that the operation is risky and irrational, there is a telling moment where Gene Hunt defends his actions, saying, "I know we're dealing with a cop killer, but I have a responsibility to this city, and I will move heaven and earth to stop this man, now he doesn't play by any rules so neither should we." Sam then looks at Gene with a pained expression, realising for the first time just how difficult he will find it to expose him. Despite their differing methods of policing, it appears as if Sam recognises and respects Gene's simple honesty and fierce sense of duty in his work.

Sam meets Frank to inform him of the latest developments and evidence. He asks to return home, but Frank says he must stay on as part of an anti-corruption unit. That isn't what Sam expected and he then starts talking about the coma and the brain surgery in the future, but Frank is dumbfounded. Frank thinks that the crash Sam had on his way to "A" Division left him with amnesia, with Frank listing the symptoms of hearing doctors’ voices.

Morgan takes Sam to a cemetery to show him the tombstones of Sam’s dead parents, who have the surname Williams. Next to their graves are tombstones bearing the name Tyler, which is where Morgan says he took his undercover name from. Shortly afterwards, Frank gives Sam a radio with which to contact him for backup during the train operation.

Sam is now genuinely confused as to whether he's Sam Tyler in a coma or Sam Williams with amnesia. At the Railway Arms, Nelson the barman then tells Sam that he is only alive when he can feel.

Sam later gives Annie a big hug and confesses that he was always going to leave and that he is working undercover for Morgan to gather evidence against Hunt. Chris and Ray walk in and Sam also tells them the truth about his links with Hyde. They are not pleased, despite Sam’s protestations that he wants to save their lives. Feeling cheated, Annie slaps Sam hard across the face.

Despite the friction, the team goes ahead with the mission as Gene has already gone undercover. When their train is being robbed, sounds from Sam’s police radio given to him by Morgan alert the crooks to the deception. As shots are fired, Gene breaks his cover to join his colleagues in the shootout. Sam radios Morgan for backup but none arrives. Promising that he will return, Sam makes a break for it and bumps into Morgan at the end of the train tunnel who tells him there is no backup and he is happy to let the officers die to prove a point, thereby discrediting Hunt posthumously.

A bright, white light appears at the tunnel as Sam’s colleagues make a run for it and are shot down one by one screaming for his help. Sam follows the light and wakes up on a hospital bed to see surgeon Morgan’s face. His mother sits silently at his bedside. Later, as Sam leaves hospital, we see that he has been in the Hyde Ward, Room 2612: a reference to the place and phone number Sam had been contacting Morgan on.

Back in the present day, Sam rejoins the police force and undergoes psychiatric evaluation. He also visits his mother, explaining to her that in some ways he felt more alive in his coma than he’d ever been before or since. The promise he made to Annie in the train that he’d return starts to haunt him.

At a police meeting, Sam feels nothing. He has no opinion when asked and cannot feel that he was cutting his hand inadvertently. He slips off to the top of the building, alone, and surveys the landscape. With no one to hold him back this time, Sam walks, then runs towards the edge and leaps off…

Sam then returns to 1973 and shoots Leslie Johns in the train tunnel before he can put a bullet into the wounded Hunt.

Now back on good terms with his colleagues and enjoying a drinking session down the pub, Sam slips outside for some alone time with Annie, where he asks her what he should do. She says: "Stay here. Forever." They begin to make out. Gene interrupts them by pulling up in his Ford Cortina with Ray and Chris to inform them that a robbery is in progress and they must go. The radio on the car has a surgeon’s voice saying that "he’s slipping away from us", but Sam switches channels. The car speeds away into the distance as the banter continues between the pair. David Bowie’s Life on Mars? plays on the radio and a group of children run out of a backyard gate; the Test Card Girl is among them. She stops, goes up to the camera and reaches out to turn the television off, whereupon the image disappears into the centre in the manner of an old television set.

After Life on Mars[]

It is revealed in the first scene of the series premiere of Ashes to Ashes that Sam was extensively debriefed and studied by police psychologist DI Alex Drake of the Metropolitan Police Service, who was writing a book of psychological case studies, and intends to devote another book specifically to Sam's case. The date of Sam's leap from the roof is revealed in that scene to be April 2007, and Sam's mugshot in his service file is over-stamped "SUICIDE".

Later in that episode, Ray Carling reveals that Sam continued to serve with him, Gene and Chris in the Manchester Police (which their former Manchester and Salford Police became through a 1974 merger) until 1980 when, in pursuit of robbery suspects, Sam crashed his car into a river. He is presumed dead, although his body was never recovered. A distraught and divorced Gene transfers to the Metropolitan Police Service in London, bringing Ray and Chris along. Newspaper articles covering Sam's death and praising his life hang on the wall of Gene's office in London.



  • There are no jubilant friends or colleagues, or even Sam's former girlfriend Maya Roy, present at his return from a coma. Maya's absence leaves ambiguous whether or not she actually survived the events of the first episode, a question further complicated by the revelations in the last episode of Ashes to Ashes.
  • Just prior to his jump from the roof, Sam surveys Manchester in the same panoramic style in which he surveyed the landscape in the first episode upon waking up in 1973; the music is also the same in the two scenes: David Bowie’s "Life on Mars?". Later in that first episode, he had concluded that, in order to return to 2006, he would have to absolutely commit to that reality, and thus prepared to jump from the roof edge to commit a suicide of sorts, killing off his 1973 fantasy life; Annie Cartwright talked him back from the edge in that episode.

Cultural references[]

  • Sam gets news from 2006 from Jimmy Savile’s voice on the radio. Excited by the prospect of going home, Sam shouts, “fix it for me, Jim!” Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile, OBE, KCSG (1926–2011) was a British disc jockey, television presenter, and charity fundraiser. In 1973 he was well known for hosting Top of the Pops on TV and for his radio programmes, Savile’s Travels and the discussion show Speakeasy. Sam would know him best for his BBC television show Jim'll Fix It, which ran from 1975 to 1994 and granted the wishes of several viewers (usually children) on each programme. Jimmy Savile also fronted a series of commercials promoting seatbelt use which used the phrase “Clunk! Click! Every trip.” Ray recites the slogan in Series 1: Episode 8 (Since Savile's death, his reputation has been destroyed for reasons that can be found in Wikipedia and elsewhere.  It should be noted that the scandal was unknown at the time Life on Mars was made).
  • When Sam tells Gene he should charge him with speeding, Gene replies, ”Oh, shut up, Dorothy.” This is the usual slur on Sam’s manhood, but also another reference to the main character of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy.
  • Gene expresses his policing philosophy: “Grab 'em by the balls, and their hearts and minds will surely follow. This phrase is not original to Gene, but its origins are unclear. It is frequently attributed to American President Theodore Roosevelt, but it became a popular phrase in the US during their Vietnam War.
  • Chris, grinning happily, holds up the Photo-fit of a suspect. “It's Bruce Forsyth!” Sir Bruce Joseph Forsyth-Johnson, CBE (1928–2017) is a British TV personality. He became known through the series Sunday Night at the London Palladium (1958–60, 1961–64), and went on to host game shows, best known being, The Generation Game (1971-82). In Sam’s time, “Brucie” was still going strong, co-hosting the popular Strictly Come Dancing. He was knighted in 2011.
  • Sam’s philosophy of policing: "Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law." Gene asks if he learned that in training college, but Sam says, “RoboCop.” RoboCop is a popular 1987 American science fiction-action film directed by Paul Verhoeven. Set in a crime-ridden Detroit, Michigan in the near future, RoboCop centres on a police officer who is brutally murdered and subsequently re-created as a super-human cyborg known as "RoboCop".
  • Sam explains his interest in the copy of Just Jugs magazine (which he’s using to hide a tape recorder) by saying, “there's an interview with Kingsley Amis …” Sir Kingsley William Amis, CBE (1922–1995) was an English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher. He wrote more than 20 novels, six volumes of poetry, a memoir, various short stories, radio and television scripts, along with works of social and literary criticism. According to his biographer, Zachary Leader, Amis was "the finest English comic novelist of the second half of the twentieth century." He was well known in both 1973 and 2006.
  • Sam, seeing Gene in his undercover guise, says, “Bloody hell, he looks like Andy Capp.” Andy Capp is a British comic strip created by cartoonist Reg Smythe (1917–1998), seen in The Daily Mirror and The Sunday Mirror newspapers since 1957. Andy is a working-class figure who never actually works, living in Hartlepool, a harbour town in northeast England. The title of the strip is a pun, a rendition of that region's pronunciation of the word "handicap", as well as a reference to the main character's trademark flat cloth cap. Reg Smythe died in 1998, but the strip was continued and would have been well known to Sam.
  • Responding to Chris’s boyish enthusiasm for undercover work, Sam says, “It's not the Famous Five, Chris.” The Famous Five is a series of children's novels written by British author Enid Blyton from 1942 to 1962. The five children of the title always get caught up in an adventure, the location of which varies from book to book. Despite the last book appearing before Sam was born, it is no surprise that he knows of them since they have gone on to become one of the biggest-selling series for children ever written with repeated adaptations to movies and television.
  • Gene assigns Ray and Sam to take the place of the NUM security and ride with the wages. “NUM” is the National Union of Mineworkers.
  • Gene asks Ray if he’s “up for a little play-acting.” Ray says, “Doddle, guv. It's not Hamlet.” Sam comments, “That's good, because... Hamlet is a tragedy.” The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written around 1600. It is Shakespeare's longest play and among the most powerful and influential tragedies in the English language.
  • Annie enters the station early in the morning and sees Sam fiddling with the radio. She says, “it's only just gone six. I didn't know you like the Shipping Forecast. The Shipping Forecast is a radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the coasts of the British Isles. It can be heard four times a day on BBC Radio 4, including an early morning broadcast.
  • At the Railway Arms, Nelson tells Sam, “I see folk who walk about in a sunken dream 'cause they feel nothing. Are they alive?” This uses a phrase from David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”:
But her friend is nowhere to be seen,
So she walks through a sunken dream.
  • Ray says, "Guv's in like Flint." In Like Flint (1967) is a US spy spoof/parody movie starring James Coburn as Derek Flint, the sequel to Our Man Flint (1966). The film title itself was a play on the phrase "in like Flynn", which had come to mean succeeding easily, particularly in the context of seduction, inspired by noted ladies man, actor Errol Flynn.
  • The duality of Frank Morgan as both a 1973 DCI enlisting Sam's aid against Gene, and Sam's 2006 surgeon trying to repair Sam's injuries is another of the programme's allusions to the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The film features actors portraying different but related characters in Dorothy's Kansas reality and her Oz dream-world—most significantly, actor Frank Morgan who portrayed both the Kansas charlatan Professor Marvel and the Wizard of Oz (as well as several ancillary Ozian characters). 
  • In another reference to The Wizard of Oz, the sequence after Sam leaves hospital in 2006 is accompanied by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's ukulele rendering of Over The Rainbow, the song originally made famous by Judy Garland in the role of Dorothy.


  • In the scene in Morgan's car, he produces a folder titled:

Metropolitan Accountability and Reconciliation Strategy


  • The surname on the headstones of the graves of Sam's "parents" is Williams. This was originally to be Sam's surname on the show, but Kudos felt that "Sam Williams" was not striking enough. Co-creator Matthew Graham consulted his daughter and she suggested Tyler after Rose Tyler, from Doctor Who.

Viewing figures[]

Compared to other episodes in this series, this episode gained a very large audience, with an average of seven million viewers (a 28% audience share), despite competition from UEFA Champions League football on ITV1.


Characters Creatures Events Locations
Organisations and titles Vehicles Weapons and technology Miscellanea


Dramatis personae

Other characters

  • Frank Morgan
  • Nelson
  • Leslie Johns (First appearance)
  • Leslie Johns' gang (First appearance)
  • Donald Sykes (First appearance)
  • Phyllis Dobbs
  • Ruth Tyler
  • Test Card Girl
  • DI Alex Drake (Mentioned)
  • Jimmy Savile (First appearance, voice)
  • David Williams (First appearance, grave)
  • Brenda Williams (First appearance, grave)
  • Vic Tyler (First appearance, grave)
  • Ruth Tyler (First apperance, grave)
  • Sam Tyler (grave) (First appearance, grave)


Organisations and titles


Weapons and technology


  • 2007 (First appearance)
  • Operation M.A.R.S. (First appearance)
  • Just Jugs (Second appearance)
  • Gravestone (First appearance)
  • Scotch


Original broadcast[]

  • "My Coo Ca Choo" - Alvin Stardust
  • "Love Lies Bleeding" - Elton John
  • "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You" - Tom Waits
  • "Decision/Indecision" - Atomic Rooster
  • "Over the Rainbow" - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
  • "Life on Mars?" - David Bowie
  • "Changes" - David Bowie

International version/DVD release[]

  • "My Coo Ca Choo" - Alvin Stardust
  • "Love Lies Bleeding" - Elton John
  • "Decision/Indecision" - Atomic Rooster
  • "Over the Rainbow" - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
  • "Life on Mars?" - David Bowie
  • "Changes" - David Bowie

Critical reception[]

  • Two days after this episode's transmission, Life on Mars was attacked in the British press by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, who claimed that Gene Hunt's use of homophobic insults in the programme could encourage copycat bullying in schools. The BBC stated that Life on Mars was targeted at an adult audience, and argued that Hunt's characterisation was "extreme and tongue-in-cheek".


  • While the final episode is merely one of several from the series to feature substitutions to the popular music soundtrack for the DVD release and international broadcasts, it is notably the only one in which a track has simply been removed rather than replaced with an alternative - "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You" by Tom Waits plays over the scene where Sam and Annie talk in Sam's apartment in the original broadcast, but in the DVD/international version, no popular music plays in this scene and it is accompanied instead by background score, presumably composed by Edmund Butt. Despite the change, the song's title still appears in the DVD subtitles during this scene.

External Links[]

Script at Monastic Productions web site

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)