Monday, 25 June 2007

It's The Freakiest Show

This time last week, I'd never seen Life On Mars. Doctor Who represented the first time I'd ever seen John Simm travel backwards through time. Recently I have seen the first couple of episodes, and I remain fairly convinced that Doctor Who remains the only time I've seen John Simm travel backwards through time.

I've heard that the ending of Life On Mars was terribly ambiguous, but I've not seen that, and to be fair the start was wholly unambiguous. A man is hit very hard by a car, then he has a strange little vision, then he wakes up in a slightly wrong version of the past, hearing random snippets of hospital conversation, in a coincidentally very similar situation to what he was doing in 2006.

So what are the theories? Is he mad, in a coma, or back in time? Well, he's clearly in a coma. I mean, sure, I can't prove he's not actually travelled back in time, and the fact that there's a huge bridge missing isn't just artistic license, and the hospital snippets aren't just hallucinations, and the fact he landed in the past with an ID and a coherent backstory aren't just, er, whatever would explain landing in the past with a backstory. And I can't prove he isn't a genuine 1973 cop who just imagined his entire life from 1969 to 2006 (and again, the fact that there's a huge bridge missing isn't just artistic license, and the hospital snippets aren't just hallucinations). Or maybe he's in a coma and back in time somehow, although that still raises all the same questions about the bridge and his backstory. But really, which is more likely? (Hint: "in a coma" is necessarily more likely than "in a coma and back in time".)

I tell you, that Richard Dawkins would have a word or two to say about believing the back-in-time version.


Mark Taylor said...

Er... I'm pretty sure the lack of the Mancunian Way is just artistic license. I can't see them putting it in in an attempt to confirm he wasn't really back in time, firstly because picking out clues in that regard is blatantly not what the show's about and secondly because everyone who noticed would just assume it was a cock-up. Whereas having him wake up somewhere that looks totally unfamiliar but turns out to be the building site where the road he was on will one day be is Potent Stuff.

More to the point, I don't think that whatever uncertainty there is around the reality of Life on Mars (and I reckon Sam's uncertainty is far more important than the audience's), it's not there as a puzzle to be solved. Its dramatic implications are much more interesting; what emotional involvement is to be had with another man's fantasy? Even if everything suggests its just a coma, can we detach from it any more than any other piece of fiction? And here it all gets thorny in ways I don't intend to muse on in your comments section. There's certainly a lot more to be said on the matter than you're going to get at approaching it like this, though. If you really want a mystery where the satisfaction's in the solution, well, luckily you've got a detective story to boot.

Andrew said...

No, I agree.

But there's been a lot of speculation about the "mad, in a coma, or back in time" question and it just seems to me that all that speculation is somewhere between Reading Too Much Into Things and Clutching At Straws. And that annoys me. It's as if people want to be uncertain, and will cling to that uncertainty unless the finale ends with big printed letters appearing on the screen saying "PS HE WAS IN A COMA".

I mean, you could approach Friends that way. What if Joey was in a coma all that time? Or if Chandler had really been in 2032 but had been zapped back in time by an accident with a hovercar? I mean, we can't know, can we?

I agree with you entirely: people should just watch the show and enjoy it for what it is. There's no need to try to shoehorn in this extra layer of Mystery that was never supposed to exist.

Personally, dramatic implications don't interest me, but I like the idea of "here is a man who doesn't know if the world he sees is real". That's in interesting setup for a story, and the reality of the matter doesn't necessarily matter much. But all I ever heard about the show while it was on was speculation about exactly that reality.