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Inspector Morse - Television Series Review

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by Mihaela Schwartz (subscribe)
I am a freelance writer and an avid traveler.
Published April 3rd 2013
Decoding the murder code
First broadcasted in the UK on January 6, 1987, Inspector Morse is a benchmark in the field of detective TV series and a must-see for all those who appreciate quality mystery solving stories. Although the last seasons are obviously better than the first ones, the series met a phenomenal success from its very beginnings. The first episode alone had 16 million viewers and the series was later broadcasted in over 200 countries.

Made up of 7 seasons (29 episodes) shot and broadcast between 1987 and 1993, the TV series Inspector Morse is followed between 1995 and 2000 by four TV films (off-season episodes). The last one ends with the protagonist's death, leaving no hope to Morse's fans for a possible return of their favorite detective on the screens, especially since the actor who so skillfully played Morse's role (John Thaw) died of cancer two years later.

Inspector Morse
Inspector Morse


Set in the history rich and scenic region of Oxford (which seems to have become the British murder capital), the series often takes on interesting cases related to the academic environment, to the artistic and intellectual elite, as well as to the British middle class. A less known fact is that the series' soundtrack (signed by Barrington Pheloung) is based on the Morse code for the main hero's name, weaving in some other characters' names.

Inspector Morse
Inspector Morse Oxford setting


As the title clearly suggests it, the whole series evolves around the protagonist Chief Inspector Morse and his relationships with the other heroes, especially his subordinate and faithful aid Detective Sergeant Lewis (Kevin Whately) and his boss Chief Superintendent Strange (James Grout), whose presence becomes more prominent during the second part of the series.

Each episode follows a particular case, presenting the intricate murderous mind as well as the ingenious detective connections Morse succeeds to make starting from a crosswords puzzle, a book he is reading or a headline he sees by accident. Although the cases are rather interesting, they seem to be just another pretext to portrayal the protagonist.

Thus, we gradually find out that Morse is an Oxford graduate and an intellectual snob in love with good literature, opera and classical music. We often see him attending opera shows, listening to Verdi or other such music pieces at home or in his car (to Lewis' despair). The cases he solves often involve opera singers, music teachers or other individuals coming from this particular world.

Inspector Morse
Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis


Based on Colin Dexter's books, the TV series has a novel like construction both in the way the plot is built and in the type of characters featuring it. While the elitist and convinced bachelor Morse is the protagonist, his subordinate is the antagonist. Without being a negative figure, Lewis' character is built in opposition with the main one. He is a family man, with only basic education and simple values. He often finds himself in the position of being ridiculed by Morse for his grammatical mistakes (especially the misuse of "who" and "whom"), for his slow thinking as well as for his literary and artistic ignorance. Morse's habit of quoting from the classics is seen by Lewis as the chief inspector's peculiarity.

However, the relationship between the two becomes softer while the series goes on. In the last episodes, when Morse is facing his illness and eventual death, Lewis is deeply affected by the loss of his boss, despite his willingness to advance in the Force.

In a nutshell, Inspector Morse can be considered a classic of the detective movies genre. Featuring a totally different style than the American crime series, Inspector Morse is another example (besides Midsomer Murders) of the British cinema's quality.

Asked for another Morse story, the novelist Colin Dexter came up with a prequel (instead of a sequel, whose success would have been doubtful since the main character already died). This story was turned in 2012 into a movie (directed by Colm McCarthy and featuring Shaun Evans in the role of the young detective Morse) called Endeavor (Morse's first name) and set in 1965. The ITV producers are still pondering the movie's success in order to decide whether it is worth turning into a long term TV series.
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