Writer of hit BBC shows Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes reveals plot for planned sequel series after commissioning blows

THE writer of hit BBC shows Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes has hinted at what the plot for a hypothetical new sequel series would look likes, following commissioning blows.

Ashley Pharaoh and Matthew Graham were the writers of the series, both of which were named after David Bowie songs, that followed modern day police officers being sent back into the 1970s and 1980s.

Both series followed Sam Tyler and Alex Darke respectively, as well as fan favourite DCI Gene Hunt, as they tried to escape from their time-travelling comas and return to their present day lives.

Co-writer of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, Ashley Pharaoh.

However, the latter series, Ashes to Ashes, finished airing on 21 May 2010 and subsequent attempts to reboot the franchise have been shot down.

Ashley and Matthew claim to have been pitching the idea of a follow-up series called Lazarus for the last three years but say that no television channel gave the green light to revive the project.

The creators say they have since been desperately looking for new avenues to get the project off the ground and revealed further details of the hypothetical show at a recent event.

Originally, in June this year, Matthew took to social media to announce that the planned series would not be made.

He said: “Some sad news folks. After many months of planning, we will now not be making Lazarus. I can’t go into details, but the hurdles were financial not creative.

“Naturally all who were involved are sick as a jungle full of parrots. Not least myself and Ashley Pharoah.

“It was a cracking concept – pertinent to our times. It had a whole new round of things to say about the relationship between the public and the police.

“And it was bloody funny too. But that as they say is showbiz baby.

“Forgive us if we don’t take questions on the decision or on what happens next for Gene, Sam and the gang.

“But we wanted to let those who were interested know so that you could instead raise a pint of tan n bitter to the Guv.

“Really disappointing news but we gave it a proper crack. We’re still thinking of a way to either share the script with you or bring it out in another form. Until then… pub?”

This Sunday co-writer Ashley Pharaoh hosted a sold out one-time only live script reading at the BFI Southbank, London at the NFT 1 screen.

Live Lazarus table read at BFI Southbank, London.

The event ran for 90 minutes and promised to offer an “opportunity to see what might have been” for the third part of the trilogy, with a table reading of the opening episode.

Speaking today co-writer Ashley Pharaoh revealed: “Lazarus was going to be the final part in a trilogy after Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes.

“Those shows were always about the police’s relationship with the public, told through the ironic, knowing prism of the 1970s and 1980s. And also, about how we portray the police on TV.

“With that relationship at an all-time low, it seemed a good time to bring our characters and our world back, to tackle some big themes but always through our ironic high concept rather than through realism.

“That and we liked the idea of Sam Tyler driving a Nissan Leaf.

“It was all up for grabs, but we were thinking of two series of six episodes each. We’d start in the present day, in London, with Sam a weary detective and Gene in a care home drinking too much cheap scotch.

“They don’t seem to remember each other. Then we’d end episode one in 1977, in Manchester. The first series would be mostly in 1977 and then we’d pivot to 1997.

“It was just too tempting to have Gene at Number 10 during that infamous Cool Britannia party.

“Obviously we hadn’t had time to talk to every single actor, but we were pretty confident that there would be a lot of interest in coming back.

“We showed the script of episode one to some of the actors and there was a lot of enthusiasm.

“It’s hard to put a finger on why it hasn’t been picked up yet. A cluster of things, I expect.

“There are finite slots and resources and bringing back an old show means there’s less room for a new one: perhaps some diffidence about spoiling the memories of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes.

“My hunch is that the relationship with the police is so bleak at the moment that telling stories through irony and humour might make executives anxious.

“Is Gene Hunt still funny in a world where Wayne Couzens exists?”

Ashley continued: “For us it was never meant to be a nostalgic victory lap, we had things we wanted to say about contemporary policing and its roots in earlier decades.

“I was a bit surprised that the script hasn’t attracted more interest, purely in a business sense.

“They are much-loved shows and have followings across the world and there would have been a lot of media interest. But hey I’m a writer, not a commissioner.

“But Matt and I are not annoyed or bitter in any way, we’ve both been doing this a long time and rejection is part of a professional screenwriter’s lot.

“We just dust ourselves down and think of something else.

“Also, it’s worth remembering that it took eight years from having the idea for Life on Mars and getting it made. Very senior commissioners told us it would ‘end careers’, so we’re used to biding our time.

Cast of Life on Mars
The cast of Life on Mars. Credits: BBC.

“Then Dick Fiddy from the British Film Institute got in touch and put forward the idea of a table read for episode one of Lazarus.

“I was a bit dubious at first then I thought that if this was a last hurrah it would be great to share it with the fans as they have been incredibly supportive over the years.

“It was an amazing afternoon, actually. They sold out NFT 1 in a matter of hours and the warmth and affection for the show was palpable.

“Obviously I was a bit nervous about how this new iteration of the world would go down, but Sam and Gene were soon doing their magic.

“Both shows were a joy to write for as you’re not shackled by realism, you can plunder the dustbin of popular culture, it can be funny, exciting, romantic, emotional.

“How many shows could you write that had Gene Hunt ‘beating up a nonce’ on Camberwick Green?

“And the reaction from the public was wild, way beyond any of our expectations. A truly humbling, thrilling experience.”

Ashley concluded: “We never give up. And we know from experience that wheels turns and commissioners come and go but we are also exploring other ways of getting the story out there.

“Maybe a graphic novel. Not quite sure yet, a few plates are spinning.”