Oxford can’t get enough of murder. When Inspector Morse à la John Thaw died back in 2000, Lewis was there to step up to the mark and keep this city of creative killers under control. But apparently that wasn’t enough, because Morse is back, twenty years younger, in the shape of Endeavour. A prequel to the original series, the now-Constable Morse is just starting out, but reluctant to do basic police work when there are elegantly convoluted murders to be solved via hymn numbers and periodic tables.
But does anyone really care about the murderer? Whilst Shaun Evans’s performance as the young Morse is excellent, it very quickly becomes apparent that Oxford itself is the true star of the show. Opening with a sweeping aerial shot of the city, Endeavour is spire-porn at its best. Not only that, but it’s old, oh so old. A Broad Street full of antique cars, bikes and old-fashioned buses settles us in to the misty, sepia backdrop of 1960s Oxford. It is a beautiful city, which makes me wonder why it has lasted for so long as a murder hotspot. As the plot develops I begin to see why. While Morse digs around looking for answers, a complex web of characters emerges: ranging from the academic and social elite to the working class chap in the post office. The city of dreaming spires is shown to be as dysfunctional as any other – if not more so.
Russell Lewis, the series’s writer, gives social issues and police politics considerable attention, and these subjects are handled well. Unfortunately, at times this is to the detriment of the murder mystery plot, which, as you can imagine, is a significant issue for a detective drama. At points, it became confusing what was important information, and what was just bulking out the social background of Oxford fifty years ago. There is nothing wrong with a red herring, or indeed well-developed characters, but surely the moral issue surrounding the Oxford professor-cum-atomic bomb inventor and his angry student deserved some resolution.
Despite this, Endeavour is a good watch. In this first episode, the desire to reintroduce the characters and the city in their younger skins slightly overshadowed the plot at times, yet not enough to stop me wanting to know whodunnit. The characters are strong, and seeing the origins of Morse Senior’s infamous character traits (love of crosswords, the pub and classical music) would also make it a satisfying two hours for any old Inspector Morse fans. For new viewers, Shaun Evans is a fresh face in a very old place, in a very old series – and the spires look great.