Take a look at the lawmen: David Bowie and ‘Life on Mars’

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It’s only a few weeks since David Bowie fans woke up to the news that the musician, artist, actor, visionary and more besides had passed away from cancer just two days after the release of his 25th album, Blackstar.

Few had expected it and there has been reams written since on how the great man shaped popular culture. Yet television was one of the few worlds the Thin White Duke didn’t conquer; leaving the medium for others to interpret his many facets.

Certainly Bowie would not have expected his creativity to be attached to the story of two very modern day police officers being thrown back in time to the 1970s and 1980s where they hook up with a decidedly un-PC policeman to solve crimes and work out if they were dead, in a coma or back in time. But I suspected he was probably amused and flattered by Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes.

Here’s how he fits in to the world of Gene Hunt…


The shows’ titles

Life on Mars

Life on Mars has Sam Tyler cast back to 1973. ‘Life on Mars’ was released two years before on the album Hunky Dory. It appears throughout the series – on Sam’s iPod as he is run over and on an eight track cartridge in the car he later finds himself in – and most notably in the last episode when Sam, having decided to stay in Gene’s world, drives off into the distance with the gang as the Test Card Girl skips up to the sounds of Dame David and switches the action off.

‘Ashes to Ashes’ comes from the 1980 album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) released the year before the series is set. The cover and video features Bowie dressed as…


The clown

Ashes to Ashes clown

As the Test Card Girl tormented Sam Tyler, so the clown (who resembles Bowie’s get up from that era) haunts Alex Drake.

As the pieces of Season 1’s arc come together, it’s revealed that the clown is a representation of Alex’s father, believed dead with her mother in a car bombing incident that is the focus of the finale.


The Gene Genie

Ashes to Ashes Philip Glenister

Gene Hunt. Prehistoric, sexist, offensive, violent for violence’s sake – who also gets results and commands loyalty. Both Sam and Alex have love-hate relationships with their boss, who cheerfully uses the title of the hit song from Aladdin Sane as a nickname, though one suspects Bowie’s genderbending wouldn’t be to Hunt’s personal taste.


There are of course other Bowie songs on the soundtracks – ‘Changes’ and ‘Space Oddity’ included. Both series are full of enough cultural references to fill another article though!