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REVIEW: Inspector Morse (Series 5, 1991) September 13, 2014

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Television Reviews.
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INSPECTOR MORSE

Series 5 (1991)

A Television Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2014

Fifth series of Inspector Morse faced show’s creators with the another challenge of sticking to the familiar and popular formula while providing audience with something new. The answer to that was apparently very simple. They decided to make Morse “bigger”. This was achieved in two ways – by increasing number of feature-length episodes from four to five and through larger budgets, that would become apparent in the last episode of the series.

The series begins with Second Time Around, episode that could be described as “standard” Morse mystery, with rather simple plot but very well-written and, what is even more important, well-acted characters. Violent death of veteran police official leads Morse to re-open the investigation of unsolved child murder and also gives opportunity to display protagonist’s liberal views on law enforcement and criminal justice (which could be interpreted as creators’ attempt to atone for Morse’s Dirty Harry-like antics in Series 4). Those views are highlighted thanks to the presence of Morse’s old and more conservative colleague, played by Kenneth Colley (best known as Admiral Piett and original Star Wars trilogy). His presence makes the episode interesting, together with dependable character actor Oliver Ford Davis (another Star Wars veteran) as one of murder suspects. Young Christopher Ecclestone also does very good job out of otherwise thankless role of a disturbed youth.

Fat Chance provides the series with one of the weakest script, at least to those who watch the show while expecting something like complex and intriguing murder mystery. It is also an episode in which the authors try very hard to wear left wing and social liberal views on their sleeves. It reflects in plot that connects struggle for female priesthood in Oxford with slimy entrepreneurs who exploit frustrations of overweight women and peddle dodgy slimming products. The way those two plots are connected is rather easy to guess and, actually, nothing much happens in the episode. The fans of the show, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t mind much. The acting and direction is very good and the episode turns to be one of those rare occasions in Morse when the titular character actually gets the “girl” – in this case played by charming Zoe Wanamaker.

Who Killed Harry Field? is an episode title that suggests lack of inspiration. Despite that, the script by Geoffrey Case successfully connects the subplots involving world of art with subplots of political corruption. The episode is also one of the first to acknowledge that Oxford with its ancient architectures and traditions didn’t completely stick to the past, and that at least some of its citizens got involved with Swinging Sixties. Much of the plot actually deals with the way baby boomers had to abandon bohemian lifestyle and anti-establishment ideals of their youth and had to (or failed to) conform to 1980s realities. Like in many Morse episodes, murder mystery is not as interesting as characters; the latter again provide opportunity for some fine acting. The most memorable is Freddie Jones as murdered victim’s father. On the other hand, the subplot dealing with Morse’s loyal Sergeant Lewis seeking promotion and transfer from his boss looks more a way to fill running time and ends rather predictably, since most fans of the show also happen to be fans of Kevin Whately.

Greeks Baring Gifts is a superb example of a murder mystery that allows scriptwriters to cover many different social issues. Script by Peter Nichols begins with a killing of a Greek immigrant cook that hints at multiculturalism in modern Britain and related conflicts to be the main issue. After a while Morse’s investigation and the plot makes a different turn and plot explores the conflict between the “old money” establishment and self-made entrepreneurs from working class. Experienced Morse viewers know that the resolution of murder mystery has little to do with both subjects, just like the presence of dark and sinister-looking James Faulkner (now best known as Pope Sixtus VI in Da Vinci’s Demons) as the most obvious villain points towards someone else as actual murderer. The end of the episode is one of the more melodramatic and one of the most disturbing; despite that Greeks Baring Gifts is one of the better written, directed and acted Morse episodes.

The season finale, Promised Land, represents greatest departure – both for Morse and its titular character. Death of imprisoned gangland boss and possible judicial review send Morse and Lewis to Australia in order to protect key witness who lives under new identity. This plot allows the most spectacular change of scenery – small town in Australian outback proves to be very different from Oxford, and the script by Julian Mitchell uses opportunities to explore many cultural differences. The best thing about the episode is a way it highlights differences between Lewis and his superior – while Morse, being high culture snob, doesn’t like common Australian cuisine or country music, his loyal working-class sergeant appears more in tune with the locals and their way of life. This also allows for a rare scene of male cop bonding between Lewis and his local colleague (played by John Jarrat). The acting in the show is great and the most recognisable face belongs to young Noah Taylor playing one of the more straightforward characters of his career. The episode ends with one of the more spectacular shots of the entire show, that connects the Australian setting with titular character’s love of opera.

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