Last month I signed on with Netflix and for the last week or so, I’ve been enjoying watching the Inspector Morse series (1987 – 2000) based on the books by Colin Dexter and starring John Thaw and Kevin Whately from the very beginning. I’m in season 3 now and had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed this series and why. Morse (John Thaw), who never is called anything but Morse and doesn’t like people to know that his first name is Endeavour, is actually a bit arrogant about his classical education, always correcting Detective Sergeant Lewis’ grammar and denigrating his lack of knowledge of classical stories, Latin phrases, and the world of opera, church music, and crosswords. He likes to attend the opera and drives a very distinctive Regency red Mark II Jaguar. (The car is actually available to make limited public and commercial appearances.) Despite this, Morse actually seems to like Lewis (Kevin Whately) and for his part, Lewis from time to time comes up with a spark of inspiration that helps Morse discover the truth in what is inevitably a murky scenario determined to lead him astray. The other side of Morse is the one that likes a beer to get his grey cells working, enjoys a pint in a pub, and as often as not begins to fall for the female suspect who turns out to be the murderer. Ah, Morse!
The one I watched tonight, S3 E1 — “Ghost in the Machine”, shows us another side of Inspector Morse. Uncomfortable with heights and corpses, Morse relies heavily on the Thames Valley police pathologist, Max De Bryn (Peter Woodthorpe), and is a bit of a chauvinist. In this episode, however, we are introduced to pathologist Dr. Grayling Russell (Amanda Hillwood), extremely competent and very female. It’s a bit of a struggle for Morse to come to a comfortable working relationship with the pretty and charming Dr. Russell, and while he is able to get her to reveal her first name, she is unsuccessful at getting him to reveal his.
Interestingly enough, this particular episode involves a baronet who indulges in what one might call classical pornography and pornographic photography. In the original books, it was Morse who had a penchant for pornography and seedy striptease clubs. Appropriately omitted from the TV series.
Probably everyone is by now aware that the music at the beginning of the episodes is actually Morse code, sometimes spelling out Morse’s name, sometimes the name of the killer, and sometimes the name of a red herring character. Something possibly not as well known, is that the author, Colin Dexter, often had a cameo role in the series, appearing as a patron in a pub.
Despite the disparate backgrounds between Morse and Lewis, they make a great team, and despite the fact that Morse often calls Lewis a fool, he does frequently acknowledge his contributions and seems to have a genuine liking for him. I do love the way Morse’s “imagination” leads off one way, then reverses itself, and then, often, reverses itself again. It’s what is so much fun and keeps the viewers guessing.