"Coded messages, murder - right up my street. It's not a bad way to start the day."Inspector Morse
was a British Detective Drama
based on a series of novels by Colin Dexter, which ran from 1987 to 2000. Set among the dreaming spires of Oxford
, it starred John Thaw as the grumpy, intellectual and beer loving Chief Inspector Morse, and Kevin Whately as his cheerful Geordie sidekick Sergeant Lewis. During the course of each episode, the pair would investigate a murder, which would often involve complex university politics, bright but emotional students and the opportunity for Morse to utilise his love of classical music, literature and cryptic crossword puzzles.
The show was immensely popular in Britain, and John Thaw's portrayal of Morse is generally considered one of British television's most iconic characters. Still repeated fairly frequently on ITV3 in Britain and PBS
in the United States.
Sergeant Lewis later received his own spin-off in Lewis
. A prequel
, set in 1965 and starring Shaun Evans as the young Detective Constable Morse, aired in 2012; it has been renewed for a series airing from April 2013.
This show provides examples of:
- Afraid of Blood: Morse has quite a distaste for gore and won't look at fresh corpses unless he absolutely has to. Being a murder detective, he sometimes does have to.
- Always Murder: Well, 98% Murder, with the remainder being divided between actual suicides and deaths from natural causes. The only true aversion comes in "The Wench Is Dead," in which nobody dies at all in the story's present-day setting, while in the historical segment Joanna Franks faked her death, and the boat crew had the misfortune to be falsely convicted of her death and executed. "Dead on Time" is a borderline case, as there's only one death involved, and it actually turns out to be an assisted suicide, which is technically still a crime, but only about comparable to manslaughter in terms of punishment.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: A pretty literal example occurs in "Masonic Mysteries" when the Big Bad tries to murder Morse by setting his flat on fire while he sleeps. After surviving the attempt, Morse finds out that the device that started the fire was concealed in a tape of a notoriously bad version of The Magic Flute. Amusingly, Morse seems more annoyed at the notion of having that recording in his collection than he does the attempt on his life or the near-destruction of his flat.
- Author Appeal:
- Colin Dexter's love of crosswords and opera are big parts of Morse's character and important to many of the plotlines. Later on, he got Dexter's type 2 diabetes as well.
- Lewis' love of cricket is definite Author Appeal as well, for both Dexter and Kevin Whately.
- The Bad Guy Wins: The murderer in "The Last Enemy" ends up achieving everything he set out to do, with the only thing that went wrong being that Morse eventually caught him. Even then, as Lewis openly acknowledges, there's no way the murderer will ever be charged with anything since he'll be dead in a few months anyway from cancer, and any halfway competent lawyer would easily get him off on an insanity plea.
- Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon: Happens on quite a few occasions. Even Morse finds himself on the wrong end of this trope in "Masonic Mysteries."
- Bowdlerise: With the series often being broadcast during the day, this can happen quite heavily. In particular, the initial daytime edit of "Service of all the Dead" was severely chopped up to remove a subplot which involved a ten year old boy being murdered, rendering the end product barely coherent (fortunately, more recent versions of that episode just remove the reveal of the boy's corpse).
- British Brevity: While each season is between 3 and 5 episodes long, each episode is an hour and forty minutes!
- Cartwright Curse: Morse has a couple of romantic entanglements across the series, but with the exception of Adele Cecil, none of them lasts longer than a single episode.
- Chivalrous Pervert: Morse is very much this in the early novels, but less so later on and in the TV version.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Grayling Russell vanishes after the third season, and unlike Max doesn't even get a token explanation as to where she went. The next regular pathologist, Laura Hobson doesn't show up until near the very end of the show's run.
- Clear My Name: In "Masonic Mysteries", the murderer arranges matters so that Morse is found standing over the victim's body with the murder weapon in his hand. Unsurprisingly, he's arrested and has to prove his own innocence.
- Climbing Climax: In the episode "Service of all the Dead," Morse chases the murderer up a church tower. Note that Morse is not only Afraid of Blood as noted above, he's also got a serious fear of heights.
- Con Man: In "The Death of the Self," Morse is quick to suspect Russell Clark, a convicted fraudster, of involvement in the murder.
- Cool Car: Morse's red Jaguar Mark II.
- The Coroner: There were three regular ones — Max in Series 1 and 2, Grayling Russell in Series 3, and Laura Hobson in the specials — and a variety of one-off ones in Series 4-7.
- Creator Cameo: Series creator Colin Dexter would make a cameo in every episode.
- Da Chief: Chief Superintendent Strange veers into this on occasion... in a very British way, of course.
- Darker and Edgier:
- Series 1 and 2 featured a lot more in the way of profanity and graphic violence. However, the show's creators greatly toned this down from Series 3 onwards, as it became obvious to ITV that the show performed very well in daytime repeats, and the edits required to broadcast the early episodes before the watershed could be quite severe. Starting with Series 3 (and continuing on into Lewis and Endeavour), the episode generally didn't require any cuts to be shown in the daytime.
- "Service of All The Dead," even compared to most other episodes of the show. Not only does it have the highest bodycount of any Morse episode, it also features themes of pedophilia and infanticide — the latter of which the killer gleefully admits doing For the Evulz — and even has Morse knowingly committing perjury to get the murderer's accomplice off with a lighter prison sentence, simply because he's attracted to her.
- Death by Adaptation: Mr. Greenaway, the man in the next hospital bed to Morse in "The Wench is Dead". In the book he recovers from his operation; not so in the series.
- Did They or Didn't They?: In "Fat Chance", it's hinted that Morse may have spent the night with Emma Pickford. He certainly arrives at the police station in a very good mood the next morning — and his leitmotif is played in a major key, for the first time in five years.
- Diegetic Switch/Left the Background Music On: Both are employed throughout the series, usually by way of Morse's love of classical music.
- Distaff Counterpart:
- Dr. Grayling Russell is loosely this to Morse. While she has a different job and is significantly younger than Morse, she has a similar personality, a love of classical music and opera, and an Embarrassing First Name.
- Laura Hobson, on the other hand, was initially more the Distaff Counterpart of Max, due to her much more irreverent attitude to her job and straight-talking nature, although as time went on (and especially in Lewis) she became a much more distinct character.
- Downer Ending:
- Dead on Time ends with the woman who's apparently the nearest Morse has never had to a true love turn out to have assisted her husband in killing himself, then tried to use the death to falsely pin a murder charge on her son-in-law, before committing suicide herself. The only thing preventing it from being even more of a downer ending is the fact that Lewis destroyed the tape that confirmed she was involved in the former two actions.
- The Remorseful Day. After the collapse of the only true relationship he's actually had in the series, Morse's health declines throughout the episode, eventually resulting in him dying of a heart attack.
- Actually more of a Bittersweet Ending, as Morse was at least able to solve the case shortly before he dies.
- Embarrassing First Name: Morse's first name is Endeavour, leading Lewis to comment "You poor sod."
- Eureka Moment: Often supplied by a passing comment from Sergeant Lewis.
- Everything Is Online: In "Masonic Mysteries", a villain manages to hack the police database, alter Morse's file and frame him... after having taken a single computing course while in prison. However, Lewis does point out that the Internet is only one possible way he did it, and that as a notorious Con Man he may have been able to trick someone into giving him physical access to the system.
- Famous Last Words: "Thank Lewis for me..."
- First Name Basis: Max is never given a surname while on this show, though in Endeavour his full name is revealed to be Max DeBryn.
- Foreshadowing: In 'The Wench is Dead':
I don't know why you want to stay, it's all changing. There's a new generation waiting to take over — why not let them get on with it? Morse:
You mean Lewis
- Historical In-Joke: In "The Daughters of Cain", the Morseverse equivalent of Christ Church is called "Wolsey College".
- Hospital Hottie: In "The Wench is Dead", Morse is quick to note how attractive his nurses are.
- Infant Immortality: Averted in "Dead on Time". We see the death of a baby in a flashback.
- Inspector Lestrade: Sergeant Lewis to Morse most of the time. Although in later series he sometimes found the right answer before Morse and even once successfully hid the truth from Morse to spare Morse's feelings.
- Irregular Series: Became this after the seventh series, running four one-off episodes over the next six years.
- Lovely Assistant: Joanna Franks, the victim in "The Wench is Dead", had previously assisted in her husband's conjuring act.
- My Beloved Smother: One of the two murderers in "The Sins of the Fathers" lives with his very overbearing mother. Subverted in that despite her obnoxious behaviour, she isn't actually responsible at all for the murders, and that it was his embittered old grandmother who poisoned his mind at an early age.
- My God, What Have I Done?: The murderer in "Happy Families" actually says this out loud after it turns out that her accomplice, Lady Balcombe, disregarded the warning not to tell her supposed (and emotionally disturbed) long-lost daughter of their relationship, resulting in her being stabbed to death.
- Naughty Birdwatching: In "The Dead of Jericho", it's discovered that George Jackson spied on the woman whose death sets the plot in motion. She didn't have any curtains, and the window of her bedroom was opposite his house.
- Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer: "In Service of all the Dead", after Lewis spots a corpse from the top of a belltower, he tells the elderly and exhausted Morse to 'come and see for himself'.
- Never One Murder: Generally there are around three or four murders an episode. Sometimes the series plays with this trope, however — "The Wolvercote Tongue" for instance has one actual murder, one death from natural causes, and one person who ends up breaking his own neck while fighting with an angry husband.
- Never Suicide: Subverted in that Morse often makes a point of investigating suicides.
- No Name Given: Until the third-last episode, Morse was only ever referred to by his rank and/or surname.
- The Not-Love Interest:
- Morse is too ... Morse to be exactly paternal, but Lewis still manages to be his Most Important Person, to the point that he leaves a third of his estate to Lewis and Lewis finds that one of the few pictures in Morse's house is of himself and Morse in front of Morse's Jag.
- The episode 'The Way Through The Woods' features Morse investigating a crime previously investigated by Lewis and Morse's rival DCI Johnson. A lot of the episode plays as if Lewis has returned to Morse after having an affair with Johnson.
- Obviously Evil: Played with; characters who behave in an Obviously Evil manner are generally innocent, but characters who are played by actors well-known for playing villains almost always turn out to be murderers, or at least accomplices.
- Old Cop, Young Cop: Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis.
- Overtook the Series: Originally averted by mixing adaptions of the novels with original plots, but since the death of Morse, the spinoff series Lewis has obviously ended up doing this.
- Put on a Bus:
- The series' original pathologist, Max is mentioned as having been forced to retire after suffering a stroke between the second and third seasons.
- Adele Cecil, who becomes Morse's girlfriend near the back end of the series, disappears in the final episode with only a brief comment that she had decided to move to Australia and break off their relationship. It turns out later in the episode that Morse very likely cheated on her with a woman who eventually became the final murder victim he ever investigated.
- DCI Bell appeared in the first episode as a rival with Morse for the post of Superintendent. He appeared in one other episode supervising Morse's investigation and was not heard from since.
- Race Lift: In the televised version of "The Wench Is Dead", Fiona the nurse is black.
- Room Full of Crazy: In 'Masonic Mysteries', the murderer takes pictures of Morse throughout the episode, and pins them up in such a room. In "Fat Chance", one character is obsessed with the idea that all women are harlots, and has dedicated a room to pictures demonstrating this.
- Scarpia Ultimatum: In 'Death Is Now My Neighbour', a female character agrees to sleep with an Oxford Don if he'll give her husband the position of master. Afterward he laughs at her and says he never had any intention of making him master, since the husband had already slept with the don's wife.
- Sentenced to Down Under: In "The Wench Is Dead,", Morse is forced to go on sick leave and busies himself by reinvestigating a murder case from Oxford during the 1860s, which he suspects resulted in three wrongful convictions. The men were sentenced to hang, but one found religion in prison and became a model inmate. For this his sentence was commuted at the last minute to transportation (presumably to Australia given the time period).
- Series Fauxnale: "The Wench is Dead" was written as being potentially the last episode of the series, as they had exhausted all of Colin Dexter's books. The following year Dexter published the final Morse novel, "The Remorseful Day," which would become the true finale for the TV series a year after that.
- Setting Update: The novel series began publication in 1975 with a book set in 1970. It was only to be expected that the TV adaptations from 1987 would update to the then-present day. The effect of the Setting Update only becomes pronounced with the prequel Endeavour, initially set in 1965 - it follows the TV chronology, so its setting is 20+ years before the original series, not five.
- Significant Anagram: Constantly. Colin Dexter is a major crossword fan and often included anagrams of important character's names.
- Small Reference Pools: Completely averted due to both Morse and the show's writers having an extensive knowledge of classical music, leading to some obscure references that only a few fans will get.
- Spin-Off: Lewis and Endeavour.
- Take That: Inter-university ribbing variety. Kershaw jokingly compares Nuffield College to a "double-glazing establishment" in "The Wench Is Dead".
- Television Geography: Morse was seemingly able to walk between Oxford landmarks which are in reality several miles apart in a matter of seconds.
- Temporary Substitute: Lewis isn't in 'The Wench is Dead'; his place is taken by a number of characters, chiefly Constable Kershaw.
- This Is What the Building Will Look Like: The college that Baydon plans to endow in 'Twilight of the Gods'.
- Wham Line: The penultimate line of the series, delivered to the just-apprehended murderer by Lewis: "Inspector Morse is DEAD!"
- Women Are Wiser: Played straight with Dr. Russell, who is consciously depicted as being much more focused, knowledgeable and sensible compared to her predecessor, Max, and even Morse himself to a certain degree. Defied by the much quirkier Dr. Hobson.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: In the very first episode, Morse becomes convinced he is in a modern day retelling of a Greek tragedy. "Sophocles did it."