Just realised I didn’t post this at the time, because it’s not yet finished. A job for next Saturday night, perhaps.
Bearing in mind that 1.01 was probably the third episode I saw, I think it was the calm and confident authority of the opening sequence that impressed me. I don’t react well to being told what to do, or to having things pointed out to me that I can see for myself, so I really liked that we were given this understated, unexplained sequence of shots of cars rolling.
The confidence shows in the fact that there is no obvious desperation to drag us in; no action, no shouting, no overt excitement for the first forty seconds or so. There was also just something about the way John and Phil’s names appeared so quietly on the screen. I still have no idea why that was so gripping, but for me it was, and it set the tone of the show as being something that demanded my full attention, much as a very quiet singer may command the room more easily than someone who makes a lot of noise to drown out the audience.
TO BE CONTINUED
I have far more experience with books than films or TV programmes, and just occasionally a “first novel” comes up which is so good, so astounding in its originality and scope, that it entirely justifies its own air of calm expectation of huge success and global approval. Typically, I can only think of one right now - “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay. Life on Mars had much the same effect on me.
I thought Sam was intriguing right from the beginning; he didn’t come across as sexy or anything, but he did come over as being totally confident in what he was doing, if not particularly happy about it. Obviously the framing helped, but it was clear from everyone’s attitudes who was in charge. He had no swagger about him but a sense of absolute rightness in being that man in that place at that time.
As the cavalcade rolls on, we cut to a nondescript terrace of houses, and the camera angle isolates them from the rest of the road, but there’s a block of flats immediately behind them. I’m not sure what that’s meant to convey, but it seemed unusual to me.
1.08 I’ve never before noticed Sam looking out of the kitchen window!
1:12 I don’t normally like wibbly-wobbly camera stuff, and if I’d seen this ep first I would have been put off by it, but luckily it doesn’t happen very much, and it is appropriate to the action here. Is it significant for later that Sam is seen running through roads and houses and alleyways from varying time periods? Something about the confrontation in the alleyway - Colin Raimes up against the wall with his dustbin lid – reminds me of the scene where ?Gene? arrests Graham Bathurst. He proves later to have arrested entirely the wrong man, as has Sam here. Is it meant to be ambiguous as to which of them the boy is encouraging when he says “Smash his face in?”
1:40 Contrary to all later talk, Sam is very ready here to knee the guy to bring him down.
2:55 “That particular entry is not awash with ambiguity”. Yay! First sign of snarky Sam! First indication that there is a sharp intelligence and a sense of humour behind the straight face and the plodding adherence to procedure. And Colin Raimes is shaking slightly.
3:35 Oooh, “synthetic”! I don’t think we ever get told how Sam came to think Raimes was his man, but here we see him retreating from – presumably – information given, or instinct, back into the certainty of forensic procedure.
4:30 “What use are feelings in this room?” I think this is the first indication of Sam not being confidently in control of his world. He is more upset than angry.
5:20 Jacket fully buttoned when he arrives at the scene, unlike when he’s in the office in control.
5:50 That overhead shot of the playpark fixes the scene in the present day. Playparks didn’t use to be brightly coloured with safety surfaces!
6:15 And now an indication that this man really can feel.
6:50 First time I saw this, I started getting nervous at this point. Obviously everyone knows he’s in a car accident, but I had no clue whatsoever how that accident happened. And then when it did, even though I’d been anxiously waiting for it, it still came as a total shock, a real “WTF” moment. Just so quiet and sudden and understated. And the first mystery. The car has stopped, but no-one ever gets out.
8:24 The lyrics “the freakiest show” come up just as we start to get a glimpse of Sam’s unexpected new surroundings. Good editing! I watched and rewatched this scene when I was writing the final scene of An Unhappy Man, and it was difficult but somehow very exciting (how sad am I?) trying to fit together what Sam Williams would be thinking with what we saw on Sam Tyler’s face. I remember the worst bit was trying to stretch his real-time thoughts to fit the slow-motion shot of Sam getting up.
8:53 Jeez, I’ve been at this for 40 minutes so far, and I’m committed to doing the kids’ breakfast in another forty minutes.
9:13 John is so good at acting with just his eyes. Puzzlement and just a touch of fear. And I laughed in recognition at the 8-track! And then we get Sam’s new, very hesitant, speech patterns coming in.
9:55 “I’m a DCI.” Ooh, the PC has challenged his authority and suddenly the arrogant DCI is right there amongst all the confusion.
10:45 This series just would not work without the magnificence of the Simm. His face is just so expressive, I’m totally buying in to his increasing fear and dislocation.
11:20 And again brilliant editing around the song – the song comes to its climax and starts winding down as Sam arrives at the station.
11:45 Slow-mo is just right for this bit! As Sam walks into “his” office, the slow-mo makes it all very strange and dream-like. You can just imagine him feeling dizzy and completely unsettled. He’s so thrown by what he’s seeing that he probably can’t feel his feet on the ground. It occurs to me that this is the state of mind I was trying to convey when Gene couldn’t feel the floor beneath his feet in Watching.
13:00 This scene becomes so completely cringe-making that it overwhelms everything that went before, but just before he goes completely apeshit, there are signs of them accepting his authority, appearing to be nervous because the new Boss is angry.
14:00 This is the bit that really has me wishing I’d seen this episode first of all. I would give a lot for this to have been my first glimpse ever of Gene Hunt. One of the best character introductions ever. God, the sneer on Sam’s face at this point is magnificent!
14:40 I love watching this bit; you can read it in different ways according to your mood and purpose. On the one hand it’s a wonderful introduction to the violence and alpha magnificence of Gene, and the fear and shock that Sam feels when confronted with all this uncivilised behaviour. On the other hand, you can easily see it as Sam’s introduction to the delights of close pelvic contact with one of the greatest unconventional heroes ever. The expression on his face could be fear, but it could equally well be “OMFG keep doing that, I like it. A lot.”
15:02 I’m going to have to stop commenting on John’s acting else I’ll never get through this, but just one more: folding his arms tight round himself, expression of terror on his face – wonderful. We know everything we need to know about how Sam feels at this moment.
15:23 There are just so many tiny, clever little touches in this. Naturally Sam’s first instinct would be to phone someone he knows, and given that he’s already in CID, and whoever they are, they’re not there, then he’s going to phone their mobile. And mobile numbers all start with a zero, which in 1973 was the number you dialled to get the Operator.
15:40 “A Virgin number.” “Don’t you start that sexy business with me young man.” Oh yes, I can’t remember when Virgin Records started, but I do remember the name being thought quite shocking, and we were a little embarrassed to say it in the beginning. And this woman has never even heard of Virgin, so now Sam knows he really is in a different universe!
16:00 I never noticed that before – “He’s slipping into unconsciousness”. So has he been conscious all this time in 2006? Another mystery!
17:00 I always get a bit confused at this point as to how much time has passed since Chris announced the finding of Suzie Tripper; presumably that’s deliberate, to show us how Sam feels. And I like the little character touch there, of Gene going to the pub to brief the media!
OK, stopping there for now. This has taken just over an hour so far, so I really don’t know if I can continue at this level of detail, but I’m no good at overview and deep thinking, and this is the way that comes naturally to me. I just want to note everything I see.
TO BE CONTINUED