Intensive deduction by ITV, guided by the need to extend further a successful franchise, has established that Inspector Morse was once Detective Constable Morse; and so audiences have been transported to 1965 to meet him (in the person of Shaun Evans) investigate his first Oxford case. Morse is one of many coppers transferred from a new town police force to help with the murder of an Oxford teenager, but his doggedness wins him the notice of Inspector Fred Thursday (a lugubrious Roger Allam) and together, as the saying goes, they fight crime. Russell Lewis's script was unadventurous, with Morse and Thursday embroiled among police corruption, the sex industry, the secret service and compromised government ministers; if council housing had been involved this would have been clearly Our Friends in the North Oxford. Even Our Friends's Danny Webb was cast as a police bad apple; but dialogue made the other familiar connection, with Cliveden and the Profumo affair, explicit.
There were a few obvious anachronisms; a street seen through a window displayed what looked like 1990s architecture (specifically, the Lincoln College buildings on Bear Lane) and following up an address in Jericho does not take you to the corner of King Edward Street and Oriel Square, with Oriel College in plain sight if soft focus. I'd have wanted to use the present-day New Theatre as an exterior, with added CGI for the sake of faux-authenticity, but instead a different theatre was used. The Lamb and Flag seemed very much its modern self, complete with pub sign, rather than the more run-down edifice which I first entered in 1988 or whatever it looked like in 1965. A plainer pub sign at least would have helped. In-jokes abounded - Morse's radio is a Zenith, which was the name of the independent production company which made the original Inspector Morse series for the old Midlands ITV contractor Central. The first bus we see is heading to Woodstock (as in Last Bus to...) though that was given an in-story justification. John Thaw's daughter Abigail was cast as an Oxford Mail staffer. Shaun Evans's eyes get to morph into John Thaw's at the end too, which was a bit obvious. As in all latterday instalments of the Morse franchise, the character of the university was simplified to make a tale of elite disdain for the lower orders easier to tell, though I was no doubt not the only viewer who felt flattered by the line that Morse was 'too decent' to thrive at Oxford. I expect this pilot to go to series, though its ending, looking forward twenty years, suggests it would be content with an honourable afterlife prefacing Inspector Morse on download and disc packages.