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REVIEW: Inspector Morse (Series 3, 1989) August 21, 2014

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Television Reviews.
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INSPECTOR MORSE

Series 3 (1989)

A Television Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2014

Third series (or season) of Inspector Morse shows what a successful television show looks like after reaching maturity. The creators, by that time unburdened with the need to blindly follow Colin Dexter’s original novels and with the character and setting already established, had more creative freedom. That resulted in a show  looked diverse than in previous two seasons, while the season functioned as more coherent whole in terms of plot.

The most noticeable change could be seen with the introduction of another recurring character – Dr. Grayling Russell (played by Amanda Hillwood), pathologist who replaces Morse’s old friend Max and who happens to be an rather attractive woman. Morse, being notoriously weak towards the opposite sex, can’t ignore it and the scripts of all four episodes chronicle how their relationship slowly evolves from professional towards something more personal, dropping all kinds of charming little hints about the way they differ in lifestyle, worldview and musical tastes. Third series also introduces audience and fans to some previously neglected details of Morse’s past, namely his Oxford studies and befriending people from academia, while retaining mystery about his first name.

First episode, Ghost in the Machine, is the best. Julian Mitchell’s script begins with rather mundane theft of aristocrat’s erotic art leading to complicated murder mystery which forces Morse to use small army of policemen at victim’s vast country estate (which still doesn’t prevent another murder). The case, which also provides some insight into Oxford University’s inner workings and office intrigues,  is resolved in a simple but elegant manner and features an excellent acting by Patricia Hodge in the role of aristocrat’s “stiff-upper-lip” wife. The colourful locations, which feature old architecture,  also play an important role – not only by providing a specific atmosphere, but also  by being the key for resolving mystery.

Second episode, The Last Enemy, is significantly worse, and this could be, in most likelihood, explained with its basis in Dexter’s novel The Riddle of the Third Mile. Writer Peter Buckman changed the some of important details from the book, yet it retained its complex plot, making it almost incomprehensible for most of the average viewers. Its resolution at the end proves to be quite banal. The general impression of the episode is rescued by fine acting, especially thanks to Barry Foster, one of Britain’s most reliable and most recognisable character actors, as Morse’s old friend.

Third episode, Deceived by Flight, benefits from show producer’s increasing creative freedom. The basic idea for the plot was inspired by Kevin Whately, actor playing  Sergeant Lewis, Morse’s loyal sidekick, and his real-life love for the game of cricket. Dexter devised the basic plot that would revolve around the cricket match and even allow Whately to display some cricket skills with his character infiltrating cricket team as undercover investigator. Anthony Minghella provides good script, yet the most impressive of all is the cast, that, among others, includes Sharon Maughan as murder victim’s wife and one of the most intriguing of all Morse’s women. One of the smaller parts is played by Nathaniel Parker, who could later star in his own British police show as Inspector Lynley.

Final episode, The Secret of Bay 5, is a rather loose adaptation of Dexter’s novel The Secret of Annexe 3. It begins with one of the most intriguing openings in the show – scene of Mel Martin in underwear  suggesting that her character would play important role in the plot, either as victim or femme fatale triggering murders. By the time one of those two assumptions is revealed to be correct, Martin is, for the most part, absent from the screen. The other characters and fine plotting, however, keep audience’s attention. The episode’s ending – which often happens to be weakest element in the show – is here quite satisfying, with mystery being revealed through Morse’s clever trick rather than through convenient coincidences. Although not the best, this episode concludes the general impression of Series 3 as the best in show until that point.

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