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Chris Hicks: 'Mars' among TV shows now on DVD

These TV series are among the latest to arrive on DVD, led by the original British version of "Life on Mars."

"Life on Mars: Series 1" (Acorn, 2006, four discs, $59.99). The American adaptation of this show ran just one season and was canceled after 17 episodes. The British version ran two seasons but racked up a total of just 16 episodes. Make of that what you will.

This English original stars John Simm as a police detective in modern-day Manchester who is hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. Is he hallucinating in a coma or has he actually time-traveled to the past?

While adjusting to the zany '70s — before cell phones (or "mobiles," as the Brits say), before police brutality was frowned upon and before forensics had become an all-inclusive science — he solves crimes that seem to lead him closer to answers about his situation.

Funny, fast-paced, action-packed, laced with "classic rock" songs and loaded with quirky characters, this is a delightful police procedural with a twist, and a nice introduction to the U.S. version (which is coming to DVD on Sept. 29).

Extras: widescreen, eight episodes, audio commentaries, featurettes, outtakes

"A Touch of Frost: Season 14" (MPI, 2008, two discs, $34.98). This collection of three gripping episodes is labeled the final season but in fact David Jason returned to the character for the BBC earlier this year. And that one can't cross the pond too soon for me. Jason has lost none of his grit or humor as the gruff police detective who is less than popular with his bosses, but who, of course, gets the job done.

These episodes involve a 20-year-old missing-persons case with a surprise twist, a chilling tale of a bizarre kidnapping and, the least of these, a ritualistic killing with a surprise ending that is really no surprise at all.

Extras: full frame, three episodes

"The Spectacular Spider-Man: The Complete First Season" (Sony/Marvel, 2008, two discs, $28.96). The first season of this recent animated series begins with 16-year-old Peter Parker discovering his powers and finding he must hide his identity, battle villains and still pass his high school exams.

A real jolt to the mythology for fans.

Extras: widescreen, featurettes

"Wire in the Blood" (E1, 2008, four discs, $59.98). Robson Green ("Touching Evil") is very good in this British series about a criminal psychologist who gets into the heads of serial killers, though the show itself can get awfully grisly.

He teams with a detective inspector (Simone Lahbib) to solve cases involving a killer who tortures and eats his victims alive (and who returns for the last episode of this season), and another who targets prostitues and psychologists.

Extras: widescreen, four episodes

"Doc Martin: Series 2" (Acorn, 2005-06, three discs, $49.99). Think "House" crossed with "Northern Exposure" to get an idea of this British comedy-drama about a rude, arrogant London surgeon who relocates to a seaside village where he encounters all kinds of eccentrics.

This season he's less than enthused about the return of a local resident. It's the boyfriend of the schoolteacher whom Martin awkwardly woos. Funny stuff with Martin Clunes just right in the lead.

Extras: widescreen, nine episodes

"Armchair Thriller: Set 1" (Acorn, 1978, four discs, $59.99). This low-key English anthology series (which reminded me of the old Alfred Hitchcock TV mysteries) is composed of thrillers, each a feature-length story made up of several half-hour episodes. The four mysteries here are quite chilling and surprising, and the first, about a man who believes he's a target for murder, stars a young Ian McKellen.

Other plots include a kidnapping, a wife who vanishes and an innocent girl looking to meet her father but who falls into the hands of terrorists. Each is much more complicated and clever than that description sounds and none will fail to please mystery buffs.

Extras: full frame, four episodes

"Agatha Christie's Poirot & Marple" (A&E, 1985-92, 17 discs, $134.95). This is essentially a reissue of "The Agatha Christie Megaset Collection" — but with eight more Poirot episodes for roughly the same price.

Included here are the nine "Miss Marples" starring Joan Hickson that were in the original set, the four "Poirots" starring David Suchet that were also in that set, plus eight more "Poirots," including "Death on the Nile" and "Mystery of the Blue Train."

Considered to be the epitome of the many Christie adaptations — and Hickson and Suchet to be the best representations of Marple and Poirot — respectively, this is a great buy for fans.

Extras: full frame, 21 episodes, text biographies, Hickson filmography, Poirot and Marple story indexes

e-mail: hicks@desnews.com