Sam Tyler (John Simm) is a police officer in a coma. He can hear what's going on around his hospital bed in the present but he's physically in Manchester in 1973 working cases as a policeman--a time when he would have been a young boy. While doing detective work, he runs across his parents and very nearly encounters himself.
Looking back on the technological and social changes of the past few decades, you might reflect on 1973 as though it was another planet--if you didn't answer the phone, the call was lost, and remember the thick, scratchy polyester? These are the pre-Lycra days when your bathing suit took days to dry. It seems Mars-like to Sam who encounters out of date social mores and unsystematic to unethical police procedures as well as widelegs and lambchops on a lot of his co-workers.
You have to admire everyman Sam's determination as he works as a detective sergeant while being interrupted by hallucinations, memories, and phone calls from the present. Is it all a dream? Is he delusional? Life on Mars reminded me a bit of Dr. Who but without the zaniness and gadgetry and it's no wonder, John Simm appeared in The End of Time episodes according to IMDB and you may also remember him from State of Play and an episode of Cracker. I haven't checked out the U.S. or Spanish remakes of the original BBC series which runs for two seasons (4 dvds each). So far we've only caught one anachronism in the show: Sam's wristwatch has a digital display --these didn't show up until the late 1970s. If you enjoy David Bowie and Nina Simone, you'll like the music.