Much left to be desired in Morseless Morse
Hathaway presents as being a little thick, but there’s a wit beneath
I AM among a very small group of viewers, made up of those who cannot recall having watched a complete episode of Inspector Morse , starring John Thaw as the scourge of criminals in and around the genteel British university city of Oxford.
This may have something to do with the fact that it was shown on the Seven Network in Australia, and I have made a life’s work out of not watching commercial free- to- air TV if I can possibly manage it.
So, Inspector Morse fans should stop reading now. As far as I’m concerned, Lewis is a new show, even if it does star Kevin Whately as detective inspector Robert Lewis, who was Morse’s offsider for the life of the earlier series, and despite that he is also stationed in Oxford. In other words, this is Inspector Morse without inspector Morse.
Based on this outing, which relies rather too heavily on a conceit built around the life, work and even the tomb of romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thaw’s charisma must have carried the previous show, because the plotting and pacing of this one leave much to be desired.
There is also an odd sense of unreality. When you have characters casually tossing off lines such as, ‘‘ This is Oxford. There’s a Shelley scholar on every street corner’’, you know you have entered that special land where much British crime on television takes place: usually in a rural or regional area populated by characters first conceived by Agatha Christie, who seem to have a half- life approaching that of plutonium.
There is one character, however, who leaps out of that tired pack: Nell Buckley, an Oxford University student ( played with delightful insou- ciance by Emily Beecham) who runs seriously misleading tours of the campus that include detours to view the ‘‘ crocodile- infested’’ river.
She ends her tours with a flourish and a backhander: ‘ Thank you for being such a lovely audience. You’re a credit to Charles Darwin.’’
Quite clearly she can’t be allowed to live, and she joins the body found in the Bodlean library as tonight’s mysteries to be solved by DI Lewis who, it must be said, has all the charisma of a prison warder and seems more than usually perplexed for a policeman. His offsider, detec- tive sergeant James Hathaway ( Laurence Fox, the latest in a long line of thespian Foxes), has some promise as a wisecracker, however.
He presents as being a little thick, but there’s a wit beneath, as when he avers blithely, ‘‘ I never stand in the way of scholarship.’’
Unlike Whately, Fox has screen presence, so he may yet save his superior. Although there was one glimmer from Lewis, when musing on Nell’s odd, withdrawn artist boyfriend: ‘‘ Can’t I say he’s a bit weird? Or differently normal?’’
Morse codicil: Laurence Fox, left, and Kevin Whately in Lewis