Sam Tyler from Life on Mars (BBC)
In one of my English classes, we talked about something called cultural estrangement, which is, in a nutshell, what happens to civilized people when stuck in uncivilized places. A good example of this is Heart of Darkness, "Outpost of Progress," Lord of the Flies etc. It explores what makes a person really human -- science fiction actually provides a lot of tropes to explore this idea of humanity in inhuman situations, and Life on Mars explores it with Sam Tyler.
1973 was a different world than the 21st century. Women and minorities weren't treated like individuals, civil rights were disregarded as seen fit, etc. Yet, Sam Tyler is always fighting against this. In 1973, he's placed in a position where he could give in to his baser, darker instincts and probably not suffer any sort of negative consequences. After all, he'd just be going with the flow, doing what everybody else does. Instead, he sticks up for what's right -- sometimes to his humiliation (honestly, I've never seen a protagonist physically put down so often in a single series) and usually to his slight alienation from the rest of the team. He's one of those rare human beings who struggles to say no, to do the right thing, while, at the same time, he's not unrealistically (and annoyingly) good. He's human - intensely so. He doesn't assimilate well to 1973, he encounters his breaking points in a realistic and utterly believable fashion, and he makes mistakes. I honestly believe that the character of Sam Tyler was (is?) one of the most intensely human characters I've ever encountered in fiction. It's beautiful and painful and exquisite all at the same time.
I liked the way they played with the time travel aspect of it (even though it was revealed to be more dream than weird funky time travel, which honestly put me off so it's a good thing it was only of secondary importance) -- a lot of times, shows will have a time travel episode and people just seem to assimilate naturally - or when the few times they do something not quite timeworthy, they're moments of comic relief instead of moments of any real significance. But Simm, as Tyler, played the timey-wimey aspects of this situation beautifully and significantly.
Gorgeous. Absolutely Gorgeous.
And just for the pure hilarity of it (no spoilers, just an opening for an episode in series 2):