This new series of the Morse prequel has returned in the midst of a busy and great period for British crime drama It might only be the first week of the new year but crime drama wise we're already we are spoiled for choice. We've always championed Endeavour and four series in we barely think of it as a Morse prequel, it's far more than that. It's a show that oozes class and sophistication. It uses its 2 hour episode length to tell complex crime stories that other shows would struggle with. It's a become something we look forward to every year and miss when its short series come to a close. With No Offence, Silent Witness, Unforgotten, Death in Paradise and Sherlock all airing at the moment you may feel a little crime drama-ed out but Endeavour is a beast all of its own.
At the end of the last series, Joan, daughter of Roger Allam’s Detective Thursday, left home unexpectedly and we find Morse and Thursday still reeling from her sudden departure. The always wonderful Shaun Evans returns playing the young Morse and now seems to now have perfected John Thaws’ contemplative looks along with the occasional powerful aggressive outburst. His anger is compounded when it is revealed he has failed his Sergeant’s exam as his papers went missing. Chief Super Bright (played superbly by Anton Lesser) suggests Morse has made enemies and should consider a transfer out of Oxford.
Things kick into gear with the discovery of three separate drownings which at first glance seem completely unrelated but slowly reveal a deep and disturbing connection centred around a chess match between a Russian master and a new computer system which predicts moves. The connection comes to the light when Morse discovers the first victim is one of the professors working on the computer program.
As the discovery of the drownings continue the tension between Thursday and Morse is apparent as Thursday dismisses Morse's view that the other two drownings are also linked. Thursday is clearly struggling without his daughter and not focused on the case. Morse on the other hand is throwing himself into his work whilst flirting with the possibly appropriately named WPC Truelove who fans will remember was introduced last year.
Each drowning is accompanied with a clue, only linked when Truelove notices chess notation in Morse's notebook. Once again there is a good subplot involving a reporter and editor at the local newspaper, a young ambitious reporter, Ruby Thomas, finds part of the link between the drownings and a local Doctor in Binsey, Oxford. But in her ambition for the scoop ends up being a victim by drowning.
As we've come to expect from the series the complex story lines weave brilliantly together, following the discovery of the drowning victims being chosen as part of a bizarre chess game by the deranged Dr Castle (chess links!). He makes plaster cast masks of the victims as a throwback to masks made by his Father for WW1 disfigurement victims. Castle has also struggled to come to terms with the death of his sister who herself drowned years earlier.
One of the reasons I love Endeavour is how it unravels over two hours, slowly revealing information and how sometimes Morse gets it wrong before the final capture or reveal. Writer Russell Lewis takes his time using every inch of his allotted time to weave his story together. It's a show that rewards viewers who take time to invest in the complex storyline. In a world where we told people don't have the attention span for long form TV, Endeavour demands you pay attention and every moment of it is a pleasure.
I don't think the third series was perfect, an episode where Morse and Thursday ended up in a maze with a wild tiger was a rare low point but I can forgive one odd decision. Morse and Thursday bounce off one another perfectly with Allam equally matched by Evans' understated and quiet performance as the pensive detective. Although this opener saw both men struggling with the loss of Thursday's daughter it also proved how much the pair need one another. In a TV landscape where every other thing on your telly box is most likely a crime drama it can be hard to know which to choose, for us Endeavour will always be superior. Make sure you enjoy it while you can as we've only three left before it disappears for another year!
Contributed by Gary Redrup