“EVERYONE just calls me Morse,” the opera-loving, Jaguar-driving sleuth would say when asked his first name.
Only in episode 31 of 33 of the popular detective series was his first name revealed: Endeavour after Captain Cook’s ship.
That’s now the name of the latest Morse spin-off on Seven, a prequel to the original and highly popular series starring John Thaw.
The character Morse was killed off in the series in 2000 and Thaw sadly died afterwards. But if fans thought Morse should be left to rest, they can take comfort in the involvement in Endeavour of author of the Morse books Colin Dexter and in knowing the new series has much appeal.
Just like the spin-off series Lewis, featuring Morse’s sergeant Robbie Lewis who’s now a detective inspector himself, Endeavour feels familiar to fans, set against that glorious Oxford scenery, with a similar structure and style, albeit featuring a much younger and more awkward Detective Constable Morse.
The links to Thaw’s character are there; the rookie detective likes opera, drives a classic car and delights in solving crosswords; already his skills with word puzzles have helped him unravel clues left by a priest so he could redeem himself and solve a misleading crime.
Other aspects also provide a link between “young” Morse and the grey-haired detective we all love so much: Endeavour readily loses his heart to women but proves unlucky in love and already bucks at the “system”.
“I’m a good detective,” young Morse insists. “And a poor policeman,” his boss Detective Inspector Fred Thursday replies.
The young Morse is also a loner, and we can see hints of the moody, stubborn, flawed but brilliant man he will become.
Morse was a role synonymous with John Thaw and it must have been a challenge to cast someone as Endeavour. The role is played by the relatively little known Shaun Evans and he is believable as an introverted but clever young officer, living in a boarding house and ironing while an aria plays on a record player. We see him eyeing a red Jaguar that he can’t yet afford, knowing Morse in later years will drive such a car.
Set in the 1960s, the 20-something Morse has dropped out of Oxford and joined the police force. When he’s about to quit, his superior Detective Inspector Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) takes him under his wing, recognising his rare talents.
The trick for the writers has been combining the fact that Morse is a rookie – who we’d suspect might be performing more mundane jobs – with his involvement in murder cases so that he is placed to show his keen intelligence and unveil the killer.
So far the series, showing on Seven on Sunday nights, has much appeal for mystery fans and the good news is that ITV in the UK has renewed it for a second series.
With Oxford as its colourful and intriguing backdrop, just like Lewis, this latest series reflects the city and the changing times. Being set in Oxford means we still have plenty of eccentric academics living in ivory towers, and plenty of historic spires and buildings for Endeavour to drive past while dramatic operatic music plays.
Combine the setting with a solid murder mystery, red herrings and twisted clues that only the clever young officer can decipher in his quietly determined way and Endeavour is a satisfying addition to the Morse stable.