oracle
ITV/ Mammoth Screen

Oracle review – Endeavour kicks off with a strong start to series seven

It’s the time of the year when we return to Oxford for a new series of Endeavour. Although this run has sadly been shortened to just three episodes, a watch of ‘Oracle’ suggests no compromise in quality. It’s a very enjoyable episode, with some minor faults that stem from the series structure and little else.

As Morse (Shaun Evans) sets in the new year – 1970 – at an opera house in Venice, DI Thursday (Roger Allam) is asked to investigate a brutal murder on an Oxford towpath. He intuitively believes that he has the man responsible and vows to bring him to justice. When Morse returns, haunted by memories of a woman (Stephanie Leonidas) that he met in Italy, Chief Superintendent Bright (Anton Lesser) asks him to look into the case with fresh eyes. Before long, Morse’s new investigation threatens to strain his old friendships. Meanwhile, an exciting new educational TV show appeals for academic presenters, but rivalry in a college project soon turns fatal.

Evans (pulling double duty here, with a return to the director’s chair) is never less than captivating, with his deep melancholy shaken up by the arrival of an old college friend, Ludo

The character work in Endeavour is so strong that, despite a year’s break, it feels as though we’re picking up right where we left off. Evans (pulling double duty here, with a return to the director’s chair) is never less than captivating, with his deep melancholy shaken up by the arrival of an old college friend, Ludo (Ryan Gage). I will, as ever, sing the praises of Roger Allam as Thursday, who is clearly weighed down by the amount of human misery his job entails. The Evans-Allam partnership is a bedrock of the show, and seeing tension develop will be interesting throughout this series.

‘Oracle’ also picks up on the Bright subplot, as the CS struggles with his wife’s illness. Lesser has made Bright one of the show’s best supporting characters, and the likely outcome of this story is sure to show some devastating acting. There are hints of the Morse-Strange (Sean Rigby) relationship becoming closer to that of the Morse series – Morse wants the truth at all costs, whereas Strange wants to play the police game. We knew it must come eventually, but the frisson is still a shocking development.

There are hints of the Morse-Strange (Sean Rigby) relationship becoming closer to that of the Morse series – Morse wants the truth at all costs, whereas Strange wants to play the police game

On the supporting cast, all of the researchers are great – Naomi Battrick shines as a researcher making waves despite (or, indeed, because of) her gender. The three men, Dai Ferman (Richard Harrington), Jeremy Kreitsek (Reece Ritchie) and the misogynistic Professor Blish (Angus Wright) make for an unlikeable set of suspects, and the show even touches on the supernatural with the visions experienced by barmaid Jenny Tate (Holli Dempsey). ‘Oracle’ has a lot of threads to juggle and world-building to achieve and, by and large, it mostly succeeds.

A lot of this stems from Evans’ directing, contrasting the colour of Venice with a darker, colder Oxford – after the events of ‘Degüello’ last series, it couldn’t really be anything else. Matthew Slater’s score also fits this bleaker Endeavour, with a recurring motif that sounds particularly supernatural and evokes that feeling of unease. And the mystery is mostly fair, with a pivotal clue that just about sits on the right side of reasonable – Russell Lewis once again shines in the writing department.

Matthew Slater’s score also fits this bleaker Endeavour, with a recurring motif that sounds particularly supernatural and evokes that feeling of unease

Most of ‘Oracle’s low points are stem from what are presumably attempts to set up a series arc – we’ll see in the weeks to come, but the opening sequence of the episode suggests that things may turn fatal. Only half of the mystery is definitely resolved, and the final scene of the episode suggests the other half will be resolved in a baffling way. I don’t mind series arcs, and Endeavour has produced some fantastic ones (the killer of George Fancy is one example), but these have never left an episode feeling so unfinished before. I’m sure that everything will be resolved and fit perfectly come the final episode, but that doesn’t save ‘Oracle’ in its own right. The last-minute revolution of some character relations could also be beyond credulity if it isn’t played well, but we’ll once again have to see how everything develops.
‘Oracle’ is not the strongest episode of Endeavour, but it is a typically strong instalment that starts the seventh series off on a high. We’ll have to wait and see whether the remaining two episodes of this run are as good, and whether the way the stories play out across the series are ultimately worth the holes they leave here.

Enjoyed the first episode of Endeavour? Read Reece’s reviews of episode two: Raga and episode three: Zenana.

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