Continual references are made to The Wizard of Oz (1939). In episode 1.1, Tyler leaves the station with the intention of walking back to reality. He says to Cartwright that he is going to 'follow the Yellow Brick Road'. In episode 1.2, after the principal drama has resolved, Tyler suggests to Hunt that he transfers him back to the division he came from. Hunt obliges, picking up his phone and saying that 'the Wizard will sort it out because of the wonderful things he does'. Throughout the series Hunt insultingly refers to Tyler as 'Dorothy'. In episode 2.2, Elton John's song 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' can be heard in the soundtrack while in the final episode (2.8), the song 'Over The Rainbow' can be heard in the soundtrack.
Sam is given messages by the girl off Test Card F, who comes out of the television with her clown doll. At the end of the series, she can also be seen running down the street and switching off the television from the inside. (Ashes to Ashes (2008) also refers to her with the clown motif.) The real life Test Card girl, Carole Hersee is estimated to have been on British television for 70,000 hours, equivalent to nearly eight years, and so is in the "Guinness Book of World Records" for the longest television appearance in history.
The character name Superintendent Frank Morgan in later episodes of Season 2 was a tribute to 1970s police series The Sweeney (1975) in which Superintendent Frank Haskins was played by actor Garfield Morgan. Also, Frank Morgan was the actor who played the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz (1939).
Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah, the writers of Life on Mars, took the original script to the BBC who initially rejected it. Then it nearly got made by Channel Four. By the time the BBC made it, the show had taken 8 years to reach the screen.