After 10 years we’re saying adieu to the Morse original series.
When Inspector Morse debuted on ITV in 1987, no one could have predicted that in 2022 we would still be lapping up the convoluted investigations of the Oxford-based detective.
True, the original series of 33 two-hour episodes, based on the popular novels of Colin Dexter, ended in 2000 with the death of Morse himself (played by John Thaw). But the story continued from 2006-2015 with the adventures of Morse’s sergeant, Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whateley) and sidekick James Hathaway (Laurence Fox), for another nine seasons (again, 33 episodes).
Then after a pilot in 2012, Endeavour, the adventures of the young Morse, started in 2013.
It’s now up to 34 episodes, so it has overtaken its progenitors. But with the announcement that the ninth series of three episodes will be the last, it seems we are closing the book on the character, voted the greatest British crime drama of all time by Radio Times readers in 2018.
So, will we be sorry to see the end of Endeavour, or has it served its time?
Certainly, the series sparked controversy with fans. As a period piece, starting in 1965, the series had a lot to tackle – it had to be convincingly dressed to reflect the society, mores and issues of the time, and to form a backstory for the older Morse that was both consistent and filled in some gaps. Part of Morse’s appeal was always his contradictory and enigmatic character; we didn’t even know his first name until late in the series’ history.
Endeavour certainly filled in a lot about Morse’s backstory – his upbringing with Quakers, his dislike of the establishment, his beef with the Masons, where he got his Jaguar car, where he got his limp, how he got his house, his drinking habits and so on. The series also introduced some regular characters with their own appeal – Roger Allam’s Inspector Fred Thursday, Abigail Thaw’s Dorothea Frazil, Superintendent Bright, the young PC Jim Strange, the young Dr Max DeBryn, for instance. Some came and went for no apparent reason (whatever happened to WPC Shirley Trewlove?) but most established themselves with the audience, which is huge.
But while the quality of the scripts was initially good, there was always some doubt about Shaun Evans’ portrayal of the character – the actor gave some contentious interviews in which he denied basing his performance on John Thaw’s. Inconsistencies started to emerge.
Then, whether as is rumoured under the influence of Shaun Evans or not, the direction of the scripts seemed to change around season six. Later episodes featured rushed and unsatisfactory conclusions, ludicrous coincidences or endless in-jokes referencing other films and TV series that often detracted from the plot. The end of series seven – a prime example – descended into operatic farce, with Endeavour becoming involved in a doomed relationship culminating in a shoot-out in Venice.
As the start of season nine is set in 1972, we must assume that there will always be a gap in time between the end of Endeavour and the start of Inspector Morse; something that may serve to excuse some of the inconsistencies that have arisen. The last season will have to resolve at least one big issue – why the older Inspector More never mentioned his former boss Fred Thursday (we know, this may be a pedantic point, but writers are paid to resolve such matters).
So, if everyone concerned with Endeavour feels that now is the time to bring it to an end – and its 10th anniversary is as good a time as any – we won’t argue.
Perhaps it has served its purpose, and there are new detectives to move on to (we rather like Roger Allam as Antoine Verlaque in Acorn TV’s Murder in Provence, for one). We just hope that the final season of Endeavour returns to the high level of its earlier episodes, and serves as a fitting tribute to the one, the only, the original Inspector Morse.
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