Life on Mars in a college

24th March 2006 at 00:00
Life on Mars, the BBC television drama where a detective fell into a coma and woke up back in the 1970s, was a big success. The first series has just finished, but there are plans afoot to start filming a new one in a few months.

Is this wise though, I wonder? What worked once might not seem so cute second time around. So why not abandon the police format and set the second series in an FE college instead?

To freshen up the idea, our time traveller could go forwards, not backwards, getting his tap on the head in 1973 and resurfacing in 2006. We would have to restyle the name too - so how about Life Up Uranus as a working title?

I'm not sure what the central plot would be, but most people think that FE lost the plot long ago. Scene one would open with college lecturer Kevin coming round, glancing at the calendar, and declaring: "Shit. That was some party. It looks like I'm 33 years late for class."

We cut to the front of the college, just as Kevin, dressed in flares, a kipper tie and sporting a Herman's Hermits haircut, races up. He stops and looks bemused at the assembled throng. What are all these people doing here? he wonders. He has a quick count-up: three men and two women in the uniform of something called Colwatch, plus three more in civvies sitting at a glittering desk marked "Reception". In 1973 there was just old Stan on the door.

After some confusion, one of the security men puts a call through to the principal's personal assistant's personal assistant. "We've got some nutter in fancy dress turned up claiming he works here."

A few moments later, Lavinia appears and listens sceptically as Kevin tells his story. You can tell she does not really believe him, but after a while she relents.

"I haven't much on at the moment, so I'll show you round. I think they might have sent your class home by now, though."

Cut to Student Services, where Kevin stares open-mouthed at the carpet, the soft furnishings and the rows of smiling staff. "What do they all do?" he asks.

"Well," says Lavinia, "they provide services, to students."

"Like teaching?" asks Kevin.

"Don't be silly," says Lavinia.

The camera follows them down the corridor and into the Learning Centre.

"Ah, now I remember," says Kevin. "This is where the library was. What happened to all the books?"

"We've still got a few out the back," says Lavinia. "But our students get most of their information online these days."

"On what?" asks Kevin.

He looks curiously at all the little TV sets sitting on the desks, and the rapt students peering at the screens. Then he slowly counts all the supervisory staff, giving up with a slow shake of the head when he runs out of fingers.

"What I'm going to show you next," Lavinia says brightly, "will really impress you. We're going to see our quality team and what they're doing to ratchet up standards."

"Great," says Kevin, "I'd love to see some ratcheting."

We fade to another office. Half-a-dozen people are hammering away on keyboards. The incessant chatter of printers fills the air.

"But they just seem to be churning out great quantities of paper," says Kevin.

"Yes," says Lavinia, "magnificent, isn't it?"

The scene switches to another office - publicity and marketing.

"This is our creative team," Lavinia says.

Kevin looks at more sofas and the huge number of fresh-faced creatives scurrying hither and thither.

This was Ted's office," he says at last. "He'd lost his nerve in the classroom, so they let him put together the prospectus in here every year."

"How quaint," says Lavinia. "Was that on Quark?"

"No," says Kevin, "I think it was on Banda."

Next we go into a high-speed sequence of shots, as a bemused-looking Kevin is given a whistle-stop tour of all the other departments without which no modern college can possibly function: admissions, advice, additional support, finance, estates, exams, technical services, trackers, counselling, careers, business liaison, aim higher and learndirect allfly by.

On the management floor he hurtles past the firmly closed doors of all the deputy and vice-principals now on the payroll, not to mention the directors and assistant directors.

"You know Lavinia," he says at last, "something seems to be missing from all this."

"Of course," says his guide, "human resources. But I'm afraid they're all away on a team-bonding course at the moment."

"No," says Kevin. In close-up his face has taken on a desperate tinge. "I mean the classrooms. The students. The teachers."

"Ah," says Lavinia. "We've had to do some modernising in that area. There are a lot fewer of them than in your day. And, of course, they all have to work a lot harder."

"Really," says Kevin, "I thought we worked quite hard then. But I suppose you've turned the survivors into a highly-paid elite?"

"Well, yes," says Lavinia, as the shot fades to black and the credits start to roll, "you could say that."

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