In the opener for this valedictory run (well, it has a look of finality about it) of the dreaming spires police procedural the world has suddenly shifted on its axis; we have been flung into a topsy-turvy alternative universe where nothing makes sense anymore. It’s often said that little stands between Oxford and The Urals, but a chill wind certainly seems to be blowing through it. Gone are the chocolate-boxy, National Trust hues that used to bathe the city-scape and were so popular with foreign audiences – just feel that icy Nordic blast.
It strikes us that the producers have been studying their box sets of The Bridge and The Killing and replaced the series’ older brand of Morse moroseness with a bleaker, more Scandi sensibility. Mixed with a little New Tricks, minus the whimsy.
The steady and avuncular Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whately) has taken a back seat and is spending his time messing around building boats in an unconvincing retirement.
Meanwhile, Hathaway (Laurence Fox) has been bumped up to DI (we knew he was just attention-seeking when he told everyone he was jacking in his career in the previous run). He’s being very mysterious about his sabbatical, walking to Santiago de Compostela in Spain (not on a pilgrimage, he protests).
He also has a foxy new sidekick, DS Lizzie Maddox (Angela Griffin), whom he treats like a rookie.
His first case on getting back to work is investigating the shooting of an arrogant neurosurgeon, and there is no shortage of suspects. Was it his partner in a field sports business, his estranged and very young ex-wife (played by ex-EastEnder Kara Tointon) and her junior doctor boyfriend, or the parents of a young animal rights protestor who was left in a vegetative state after the surgeon botched his brain surgery while drunk? Or was it animal rights activists who had already sabotaged property at the shoot’s site? Or the batty old woman (former Juliet Bravo actress Anna Carteret) diddled by the blood sports partners in a land deal? She is certainly very handy with a rifle.
Then one of them is murdered – impossibly by a bullet from the same gun that the police had already confiscated.
We know that Hathaway is book-clever rather than people-savvy, and of an all too petulant temperament to negotiate his way easily through the superior class of suspects that this series throws up. He won’t give his DS an easy ride either.
Lewis, although older and more curmudgeonly than he (or we) ever expected to be (he’s taken eons coming to terms with the loss of his canny lass Val), has always had a lot of empathy with his fellow humans. Chief Superintendent Innocent (Rebecca Front), facing a manpower shortage, calls on him to act as a consultant.
So within minutes the retired plod retakes his rightful place as titular character. Hathaway clearly thinks it’s his party but is persuaded to let Lewis in on the case.
The move subverts the professional pecking order of Morse and Lewis, as the seasoned cop is now, on paper, a subordinate.
The kids do seem to be taking over everywhere, so it’s a bit confusing for suspects expecting to see some seniority. “Who’s in charge here?” asks one.
You can’t help but feel sorry for Robbie Lewis – often pushed around and disregarded as Morse’s bagman and now being all but sidelined by his own protégé. Not only that, but his innate good nature and cautiousness have seen him outflanked in the promotion stakes by younger fast-tracked graduate careerists like Innocent.
He’s also out of patience with all the changes in policing (does he ever recall chivvying old Morse about his failure to keep up with the times?). Plus ça change…
But of course what we are really happy about is Robbie’s domestic bliss with Dr Hobson, pathologist of this parish. Lovely Laura (Clare Holman) has waited so long for Lewis, who has been in mourning for far longer than is natural. Go on, man, put a ring on her finger.
Going back to Front, she has to be in line for a damehood (if Olivia Colman gets one then Rebecca should). Rarely the star, she does the heavy lifting – comedically and dramatically – in anything she graces. For about 20 years she has been the June Whitfield de nos jours to so many; who could forget her Abba medley scene with Steve Coogan in Knowing Me, Knowing You?
Her stint ‘Lewising’, as she’s called it on Twitter, has been far better than the scripts deserve, given that Innocent seems to exist only to nag her subordinates. All we are saying – before Ms Front takes out an injunction against us for stalking her – is that we hope she gets some juicier scenes before the series bows out.