VOL. 13, No. 21
SHAUN EVANS...as the young INSPECTOR MORSE
Welcome to the rookie years of a famous sleuth
By RON MILLER
In the 1990s, there was no more popular TV sleuth in England than Inspector Morse, a brilliant, but flawed police detective whose popularity had spread around the world, thanks to the novels of Colin Dexter and the superb television series starring John Thaw as Morse.
But things started falling apart in 1999 when Dexter published "The Remorseful Day," the final novel in his series. Unwilling to simply retire from writing about Morse, Dexter wanted to make sure nobody else picked up the saga and went on with it, perhaps with less spectacular results. So, he had Inpsector Morse die after solving his last great mystery.
Then, in 2002, it seemed the door was really permanently closed on Morse when actor John Thaw died. Nobody could imagine anyone else playing the opera-loving, Jaguar-driving, temperamental sleuth whose bad luck in the love department was legendary. Thaw was a beloved actor and he owned the part.
But the public sometimes just won't give up on a character. Conan Doyle learned that lesson the hard way when he killed Sherlock Holmes off in the story called "The Final Problem" and had to bring him back to life when millions of fans around the world kept demanding more Holmes. Holmes went on detecting until Doyle himself died in 1930--and lots of other authors have kept the legacy going in books, movies and on television right up to the present day.
Dexter approved one solution to the problem of the public longing for Morse. He permitted Morse's longtime assistant, Sergeant Lewis, to be promoted to Inspector for a new TV series called "Inspector Lewis," starring the equally popular actor Kevin Whatley, who originated the role in the series with Thaw.
Now the British ITV company has taken the issue even further by literally resurrecting Morse, not as the cranky, beer-swilling sleuth we all remember so well, but as a young rookie on the Oxford police force. He appears for the first time on Sunday, July 1, at 9 PM on most PBS stations in "Endeavour," a snigle episode of "Masterpiece Mystery!," the successor to the old PBS "Mystery!" series where "Inspector Morse" ran for many years. (Check your local TV listings for exact times, dates and stations in your area.)
Beleive me, if you loved "Inspector Morse," you are going to love this special movie, which is surely the pilot for a whole new series documenting the early years of Morse as he developed the skills that made him the master detective we all revere, Shaun Evans, who plays young Morse, is superb and the story crafted by Russell Lewis, with the full approval of Colin Dexter, is a first-rate mystery.
The title--"Endeavour"--will have special meaning to Morse fans. For nearly the entire run of the novels and TV shows, Morse declined to reveal his first name, which he detested. In the iinal pages of the next-to-last Morse novel, Dexter gave up that long held secret and had Morse send Sgt. Lewis a letter signed "Endeavour" Morse. "Endeavour" also has special meaning for nautical fans. It was the name of the vessel comanded by Lord Nelson, England's greatest naval hero.
When we first meet Endeavour Morse in this episode, he is fed up with police work and about to submit his resignation. We can see right away that he's an intellectual young fellow who needs constant stimlation of what Hercule Poirot would call his "little gray cells" in the brain. He has not been getting that in his duties as a constable in Osford, but then he's briefly assigned to join the team investigating the murder of a young woman.
Morse quickly reasons out a solution to part of the mystery that involves crossword puzzles published in the newspaper and a cryptic note found in the dead girl's poetry book. These are the ki;ds of clues that only Morse might sniff out and, fortnately, he has a superior officer who appreciates his reasoning powers.
So, what you have in capaule form here is a test of the powers and skills that the more mature Morse would bring ot bear on baffling mysteries, but here you see them taking form in the young man's mind for perhaps the first time.
The program is also loaded with special nostalgic touches, too. The Morse we first meet isn't a drinker, but we watch him discover the wonders of a good ale. We also see him look longingly at a red Jaguar that he passes on a auto sales lot and we can only imagine how he's thinking that maybe someday he'll get behind the wheel of jsut such a car.
Even more charming is the moment when his superior officer asks him to think ahead of his future with the police and young Morse glances into the car mirror and sees himself with the trademark white hair that John Thaw had in his greatest years as Inspector Morse. Such moments just make you glow with the brilliance of their clever insertion into this fascinating mystery case.
Naturally, I had trepidations about any attempt to portray Morse as a young man because it could have been done so sloppily perhaps even by casting a young actor who resembled John Thaw too much. This version plays no such tricks on us and just handles the issue with the utmost respect. You will begin to see the young MOrse in the fomring stages and dleight in the subtlety of the approach.
I'm happy to report that another season of "Inspector Lewis" follows right on the heels of "Endeavour," so it promises to be a very cheerful summer start for mystery fans who still ache with the need for "Morse"-quality detective yarns.
©2012 by Ron Miller. The photo is courtesy of PBS. This column first posted June 25, 2012.
You can comment on this column online via our TALKBACK page. Please address your e-mail message to either "The Editors" or RON MILLER at Syndpack @aol.com
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