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|Shaun Evans as Detective Constable Morse in Endeavour. Photo © ITV|
The first series of Endeavour concluded last night with an episode displaying the same care, cunning and craftmanship as the three that preceded it. I won't spoil the plot for those who haven't seen it, but you're in for a treat. All four stories in this first series - Girl, Fugue, Rocket and Home - more than fulfilled the promise of last year's Pilot.
Devising a prequel to beloved TV series Inspector Morse [and Colin Dexter's original novels, of course] could easily have gone wrong. In less skilled hands this visit to Morse's past could have turned into graverobbing. Happily, the talents of those involved made a drama that stood shoulder to shoulder with Morse's best moments.
Endeavour benefits from the same stunning production values as Morse and its successor Lewis, a rarity in much of today's austerity-ridden TV. The show looks amazing, with wonderful period detail illuminating the unmistakable melancholy that seems to typify Morse. Yet this series is not merely an act of imitation or ventriloquism.
Having written a lot about Morse, I enjoyed its spin-off series Lewis - but at times it felt like just another police procedural. Much as it evoked memories of Morse, the character's absence was a gaping hole the show never overcame. The best episodes sought their own identity, but what afflicted Lewis most of all was inconsistency.
The makers of Endeavour avoided that by employing one writer - Russell Lewis - to script all five episodes to date. The result is a thematic architecture underpinning the whole series, that rare sense of a single storyteller drawing you in a world and revealing its richness - a quality TV drama executives insist on calling 'authored' [shudder].
In reality, dozens of people contribute to any series. But the best TV drama starts with scripts and Endeavour has been well served. For me, the most enthralling aspect has been the characterisation. Revelations about who killed whom and why are merely the engine for the real drama - the making and moulding of Morse himself.
Period setting suits this kind of mystery. Mobile phones, the internet and advances in forensic science have turned instinct-led detectives like Morse into dinosaurs. By positioning Endeavour well before DNA profiling, the show's makers put wit and intelligence back at the centre of mystery drama. Goodbye lab coats, hello grey matter.
It is the surest of sure things that ITV will commission a second series of Endeavour. Were I a gambler, I would bet the decision has already been made but the announcement held back. In the meantime I will enjoy rewatching the first series on DVD, due out today [why no Blu-Ray?]. Hurry back, Endeavour...