It’s all change for young Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) as we reach 1969. Led Zeppelin is on the radio, Bright is in Traffic, and Strange is in admin – but what of Morse and Thursday?
Posted to Woodstock and transferred to uniform, estranged from Fred Thursday and daughter Joanie, Morse has grown a moustache in protest. A visit from Strange does nothing to heal old wounds, only reminding Morse that the killing of colleague George Fancy was never solved.
Morse is pootling around in a police Austin 1100 (registration number 264 HZ – is this a musical reference?), tied up with investigating vagrants, horse thefts and burglaries, when he finds the carefully posed body of a missing schoolgirl, Ann Kirby, at the base of an electricity pylon.
DCI Ronnie Box (Simon Harrison) is put in charge of the case, and makes himself unpopular with Morse – as Dr Max says, he’s hardly a graduate of Lucy Clayton (the charm school, alma mater of Joanna Lumley, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, Jean Shrimpton and the like). Fred Thursday is in tow, none too happy about playing second fiddle.
Morse files his report at the new Thames Valley police headquarters (the exterior is actually the University English Faculty Library, known as the New Cross building), and finds Thursday (who has been reduced in rank after the events of the last series) chilly, but not unreceptive to his ideas about the murder, and an earlier case. But when Morse catches a vagrant in possession of the dead girl’s satchel, it seems like an open-and-shut case.
The suspect, Stanley Clemence (Aston McAuley), says he found the satchel, but Fred remembers taking him out of his house when his father killed his mother; Fred’s daughter Joan is also involved, through her new job in Social Services.
Morse takes it upon himself to do some investigating, and digs up some other suspects, including a sweaty vicar, a squat full of druggies and a shifty farmer; but we have our eyes on a seedy school photographer, Croglin. Then another girl, Rosie, is taken – but has someone planted evidence on Clemence, who has broken out of hospital?
Box is dismissive of DCI Bright’s offer of help – he calls him Johnny Morris, after the Animal Magic zookeeper, because Bright has been on TV promoting pelican crossings (correctly referred to here as Pelicon).
Traffic cops pick up pervy Crozier College lecturer Sheridan, who has a collection of Lewis Carroll kiddie photographs, a tin of opium and a suspicious hat; but they can’t pin anything on him. Likewise local pervert Gilbert, who is snapping kiddies in the park (using a Russian Zenit E camera). Fred feels guilty about beating up Gilbert, and about the execution of Clemence’s father – was he framed for the murder of his wife?
Looking for evidence of Clemence Sr’s being framed, Morse actually finds conclusive evidence that he was guilty; scant consolation for Fred. Morse also finds Clemence Jr dead of an overdose; has he been killed to shut down investigations into the child murders?
In the end, it’s evidence from a mobile library that points to the unwitting killer of Ann, learner driver Maggie Skynner (Katharine Bubbear). But who then has taken the second girl, and who planted evidence implicating Clemence Jr?
Fred confronts Box over the planted evidence, and isn’t convinced by his protestations; Morse realises from a Degas sculpture that some of Sheridan’s Victoriana is, in fact, modern, that his so-called daughter is, in fact, a kidnap victim, and that he must have taken Rosie. The cops track Sheridan down to an abandoned manor house, and find Rosie drugged but alive; Fred takes a pop at the perve and Morse has to drag him off.
In the end, Morse reburies the evidence of Fred’s failings, and Strange pulls strings to get Morse reassigned to CID – we knew the uniform wouldn’t last, and surely the moustache is next to go.
A satisfyingly layered and plausible case, then, except for the question of why Sheridan has reported the theft of his snuff boxes, when it would bring him and his faux daughter to the unwelcome attention of the police.
As usual Colin Dexter makes a cameo appearance (on a retirement party poster); and Abigail Thaw puts in a very brief appearance as Dorothea Frazil. But as for WPC Truelove, she’s out of it, another dead end in Morse’s abortive love-life.
With Thursday now under the thumb of Box, the tension in this short season (only four episodes this time rather than the usual six) seem to be whether Box will get his comeuppance and whether Fred will survive to the end of the series; if you’ve seen the ITV season trailer featuring his character in a forest gunfight, you wonder whether he can have much longer to go. With the partnership of Thursday and Morse damaged, and Fred’s family disenchanted with him, he may be doomed. But we’ve been saying that for five seasons now, and so far he’s proved bulletproof.
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