Daily Archives: August 3, 2013

The _Inspector Morse_ prequel series is a worthy _Endeavour_.

My wife and I just watched the _Endeavour_ season finale that aired on Sunday’s _Masterpiece Mystery_, on PBS On Demand. The series
is very interesting in how it’s fleshing out, without direct involvement from Colin Dexter (other than his famous cameos), a character who has never revealed much about his personal life in the books or TV series, so they have a lot of room. They give us an Endeavour Morse who is not yet insisting on being referred to only as “Morse,” who is optimistic rather than cynical, is a believer rather than an atheist, and, in the pilot, is a teetotaler but takes his first drink. So, in the season finale, he just misses being there for his father’s death (their last conversation having been a request from his father to bet on a horse, and his father then saying, ‘I’ve never liked police’), and it closes with Morse alone in his apartment, finishing off a bottle, foreshadowing his future alcoholism, as Barrington Pheloung’s classic theme (the rhythm being “M-O-R-S-E” in Morse Code) fades out (being typically, and annoyingly, cut off by PBS for the _Mystery_ theme–I always preferred watching the original series on A&E, which would play the theme through).
Just as the Agatha Christie Estate declared David Suchet the definitive Hercule Poirot, so author Colin Dexter said that John That’s portrayal of Inspector E. Morse (up until the second to last book and episode, when people would ask “What’s your first name,” like Columbo saying “Lieutenant,” Morse would say, “Inspector”) was so perfect that he didn’t want any other adaptations of his books being made. The TV producers got around this by doing the follow-up series _Lewis_, in which Kevin Whately reprises his role as Morse’s former Sgt., Robbie Lewis, now an Inspector. _Lewis_ has run for 7 seasons, with the final 3 episodes having aired earlier this year in the UK and still upcoming on PBS. There is talk of a possible one-shot in 2014, but both Whately and co-star Laurence Fox (Sgt. James Hathaway) have said they want to do other projects: with 27 episodes in 7 years, _Lewis_ has almost had as many episodes as _Inspector Morse_ (33 between 1987 and 2000). _Endeavour_ has had an additional 5, giving the franchise a total, to date, of 65 two-hour episodes.
Abigail Thaw, daughter of the late John Thaw, plays Morse’s newspaper contact, Dorothea Frazil. When they first meet in the pilot, she says he looks familiar, and asks if they’ve met. He replies that he doesn’t think so. She says, “Maybe in another life.” At the end of the episode, Inspector Thursday asks Morse where he sees himself in 20 years, and Morse looks into the car mirror, where the face of actor Shaun Evans is morphed into that of John Thaw.
Casting younger actors in roles as the “same person” an older actor plays is problematic, as I’ve complained previously about the casting of _X-Men First Class_ (though promo pictures for _X-Men: Days of Future Past_, which will feature both Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy as Professor Xavier, and both Ian McKellan and Michael Fassbender as Magneto, have answered the question: Stewart and McAvoy’s faces blend very well,

but I still say McKellan and Fassbender don’t like anything alike).

Anyway, that said, I’m impressed with the casting of James Bradshaw as pathologist Max De Bryn (played in the 80s by Peter Woodthorpe). Neither of these pictures is in the role of “Max,” but they capture the resemblance between the two actors, who are clearly portraying the same guy:
James Bradshaw

Similarly, Sean Rigby nicely passes as a young Jim Strange (James Grout).
Sean Rigby
James Grout
One of the questions I’ve had about the show is how Strange is just a uniformed Constable when he and Morse meet in 1965, yet by 1987, he’s Morse’s superior, yet one of the premises is that Morse is being considered for promotion relatively early in his career. Evans is in his early 30s, and Morse is supposed to have just recently joined the police force after a stint in the Royal Army, having been quickly promoted to Detective Constable, and now already being considered for the rank of Sergeant. The episode _Rocket_ establishes that Morse was attending Oxford at the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, setting his birth year at somewhere between 1931 and 1935, so at the time of his TV death in 2000, he should have been in his late 60s. Actor John Thaw was only in his late 50s at the time, and died 2 years later at the age of 60.
Despite the morphing scene, I find it difficult to see Shaun Evans as a young John Thaw, especially seeing what Thaw looked like in his earlier career:
Shaun EvansJohn Thaw, young
John Thaw, old
In any case, Evans’ portrayal of the character is fantastic. One thing that has impressed me about both spin-offs is that, while they’ve kept some of the tone and themes and methodology of the original series, they haven’t tried to directly copy it. In _Morse_, Morse is cynical and unconventional, a “gentleman detective” in spite of his own working class background (his father was a taxi driver who apparently supplemented his income illegally), and Lewis is by-the-book. Morse is the Oxford drop out with a love for Opera and the classics, while Lewis has typically blue-collar interests (in one early episode, Morse is listening to an opera, and Lewis asks, “Is that from _Cats_?”). In _Lewis_, the roles are reversed a bit: Lewis has adopted his former partner’s methodology, and his awareness of opera has grown. He’s a bit more world-weary following the deaths of Morse and of his wife (early in the series, he has a _Monk_-like quest of finding his wife’s killer, which ends in an interesting manner), but he’s still essentially the same fellow. Sgt. Hathaway, who graduated from “the Other Place” and then dropped out of seminary, is now the intellectual detective, but he’s also the more “by the book” one of the pair, questioning Lewis’s methods the way Lewis once questioned Morse’s. In _Endeavour_, the roles are reversed a bit more: Morse is the intellectual, with his unorthodox detective practices, while Inspector Thursday is a more welcoming mentor (though the season finale puts some tension in their relationship), though due to pressure from Superintendent Reginald Bright, Thursday has to constantly remind Morse to follow proper procedures.
It’s a fantastic continuation of the series, and it would be interesting to see how long it continues both in ratings and the interest of Evans in the role. It would be cool if Dexter changes his mind, and one day Evans stars in remakes of the original novels.
My only other comment is the character of Sgt. Peter Jakes, the intermediary between Thursday and Morse, who resents being pushed out when Thursday feels Morse is better suited to a case. Usually, as Superintendent Bright insists Morse should be performing “regular duties,” Morse stumbles into a murder while investigating an apparent natural death or car accident which, in the fashion of classic “meddling detectives” like Adrian Monk and Jessica Fletcher, he points shows evidence of murder (for example, an old lady who has two settings for tea but supposedly died alone). It would make more sense to me if, again, the position held by Jakes had been held by future Superintendent Strange, or else by the character of Dickson/Dixon, Morse’s foil in the novels (I don’t know if he’s ever mentioned in the shows).