The police procedural genre is one of the most flexible in existence. It has an innate quality that allows for continuous reinterpretation and reinvention. Thus it is a perennial mainstay of television drama and shows no sign of losing popularity with the public. Endeavour is a prime example of this, with three seasons under its belt and fourth in production; it’s a polished, intelligent and character driven production. Based upon Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse, Endeavour explores the detectives early years in the Oxford Police, set against the social and political changes of the sixties. The writing and performances are outstanding, elevating often formulaic stories to greater dramatic level. The use of classical music and the Oxford locations add a layer of sophistication and gravitas to the proceedings.
I could wax lyrical for many a paragraph regarding the lead performances. Both Shaun Evans and Roger Allam are compelling. I could also bang on about the handsome production design and the cunning use of low key digital effects that remove contemporary buildings and structures from the Oxford skyline. Then of course there are Russell Lewis’ superbly crafted screenplays for each feature length episode. The plots are often multi-layered and with each story we see both major and minor characters grow. Difficult issues are explored with intelligence and within the socio-political context of the time.
Yet there is one aspect of Endeavour that I’ve only recently discovered after watching all three seasons for a second time. Showrunner Russell Lewis is obviously a movie buff who likes to smuggle the occasional reference or homage into the proceedings. Classic dialogue is paraphrased or even used openly. Fictional characters are referenced as if they were real. It adds to the enjoyment of the show and I’m certain there may well be more than the ones that I’ve spotted so far. Here are a few examples.
From the episode Fugue (S01E03): When Morse discusses the serial killer with Dr. Daniel Cronyn, his response is very similar to that of the character Ash in the film Alien when he is quizzed about the Xenomorph. Both antagonists have a sneaking regard for their quarry and are thus accused of “admiring” them.
From episode Nocturne (S02E02): After the death of a specialist in heraldry and genealogy, Inspector Thursday and Morse seek the advice of Sir Hilary Bray at the London College of Arms. Sir Hilary is out of the country so his deputy deals with their enquiry. Bray is a character from the James Bond novel (and film adaptation) On Her Majesties Secret Service.
From the episode Prey (S03E03): The MacGuffin in this story is a Tiger that was kept illegally and has subsequently escaped into the Oxfordshire countryside. When a mauled body is pulled from a local river, large sections of the dialogue are taken directly from Jaws. Pathologist De Bryn is emphatic that “this is no boating accident”. Later in the episode when searching for the Tiger, Night of the Demon is referenced when a startled cast member states “"It's in the trees. It's coming”.
These homages that embellish Endeavour are just another example of the attention to detail and love that is lavished upon the production by those involved. They are yet another reason as to why you should watch the show. In an age of fast paced, strident police procedurals with their reliance on technology, it makes for a pleasant change to see a more measured approach to solving crime. A time when enquiries had to be done manually, painstakingly trawling through paper records and interviewing the public. Endeavour focuses on those involved in solving the crime rather than on the crime itself, although the plots are never dull. The period detail, locations and atmosphere are indeed characters in themselves. This is superior television and therefore I highly recommend it. Even more so now I’ve discovered the “hidden” movie references.