Star cop­per comes from an­other planet

Life on Mars 8.30pm, ABC1

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Stephen Romei

I HAVE been an ad­mirer of Bri­tish ac­tor John Simm since his break­out per­for­mance in the 1997 BBC drama se­ries The Lakes . His phi­lan­der­ing, gam­bling Danny Ka­vanagh was an an­gry yet in­trigu­ing and even lik­able young man, a per­sona Simm took to the sum­mit five years later as Raskol­nikov in a BBC adap­ta­tion of Crime and Pun­ish­ment . ( Note to UKTV: please, please re­peat that su­perb twoparter.) He was good, too, a year later as the in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist in yet an­other BBC se­ries, the po­lit­i­cal thriller State of Play .

I re­mem­ber be­ing ex­cited at the prospect of see­ing Simm in Life on Mars when the BBC an­nounced the se­ries in late 2005, but for some rea­son I didn’t man­age to catch it, per­haps due to the 16- month gap be­tween its de­but in Bri­tain and its first screen­ing here. So this re­view is based solely on tonight’s episode and any­one who has been watch­ing the se­ries will know more about it than I do. We’re also com­ing in half­way through the sec­ond and fi­nal se­ries, though a Simm- less se­quel, Ashes to Ashes , has just started in Bri­tain.

The first thing to say is that Simm is a star, an ac­tor who com­mands at­ten­tion when­ever he is on screen. Pro­ducer Davis Sn­odin put it well when ex­plain­ing why he was cast as Raskol­nikov, a ‘‘ man you want des­per­ately to get away with mur­der’’: ‘‘ He is in­tel­li­gent and sexy, but not in a con­ven­tional way. He can com­bine charm with ar­ro­gance.’’

Simm would be ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing a show such as Life on Mars , but he doesn’t have to, thanks to a solid sup­port cast led by Philip Glenis­ter, an ac­tor who gives Ray Win­stone a run for his money in por­tray­ing the rugged vul­ner­a­ble type.

Here’s the set- up: De­tec­tive Chief In­spec­tor Sam Tyler ( Simm) is hit by a car in 2006. He wakes up in 1973. ( The se­ries ti­tle is taken from a 1971 David Bowie song.) Is he in a coma, has he gone in­sane or has he re­ally trav­elled back in time? We don’t know, but un­til we do he’s back on the force, sec­ond- in- com­mand to DCI Gene Hunt ( Glenis­ter), and strug­gling to rec­on­cile mod­ern polic­ing proce- dures with the meth­ods of a squad straight out of The Sweeney . He has an ad­mirer in the to­ken wo­man on the force, whose pres­ence pro­vides her su­pe­ri­ors with lines such as ‘‘ Ex­cuse me, mis­sus wo­man!’’

Tonight they in­ves­ti­gate a kid­nap­ping linked to a child mur­der. The Sweeney it is not, but it is solid, wellacted en­ter­tain­ment.

Time trav­eller: John Simm as the po­lice­man trans­ported to the 1970s

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