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‘Endeavour’: Striker

I don’t get that excited about many TV shows, but I do get excited about a new series of Endeavour. The Inspector Morse prequel is now in its eighth series, and the opening episode, ‘Striker’, promises another run of top-quality drama as we enter the 1970s and get closer to Morse’s inevitable fate.

In 1971, the Oxford Wanderers star striker Jack Swift (Julian Moore-Cook) is issued with a death threat by someone claiming to represent the IRA – if he plays in a match on Saturday, he’ll be shot in the head and killed. Morse (Shaun Evans) is assigned to protection duty, largely because he has no interest in the game. But he’d prefer to be investigating another case: the bombing of an Oxford college, in which a young secretary is killed and another wounded. After a further tragedy, Morse finds some potential connections, and attempts to solve the cases as he contends with the lingering pains of the last year.

From football and match fixing, to Irish politics, to a sneak appearance from former ITV staple This Is Your Life (featuring Lewis Mcleod as Eamonn Andrews), the episode manages to never really lose sight of anything, an impressive feat.

We find Morse in an interesting place at the start of this episode. Although it’s not gone into in any great detail, the events of ‘Zenana’ have clearly left their mark. He’s drinking heavily, missing his morning appointment with DCI Thursday (Roger Allam), and he’s clearly powering on despite not being okay. You can see him transforming into the Morse that we’ll come to know – the man who suffers in silence and can only find brief spurts of happiness – and it’s both reassuring and tragic in equal measure.

In every past blog, I’ve sung the praises of Allam as Fred Thursday, and I’m not going to break the habit here. He and Win (Caroline O’Neill) are in a good place, but Thursday is worried about Sam (Jack Bannon), who’s posted to Ireland in a time of increased tension. We also encounter Joan (Sara Vickers) again, who is living in a women’s refuge, and it gives us a good bit of pay-off to last series’ letter. Strange (Sean Rigby, who has lost so much weight I actually didn’t recognise him initially) asks Joan on a date, and she actually agrees, the end result of which could possibly explain Morse and Strange’s fractious relationship in later years.

Onto the case itself, directed beautifully by Evans behind the camera. I found Moore-Cook to be a really engaging presence – his relationship with Morse was an enjoyable one, and he imbued ‘Striker’ with a sense of fun. There’s a large supporting cast, including Joseph Milson as a camp fashionista and Wanderers chairman, and a lot going on. From football and match fixing, to Irish politics, to a sneak appearance from former ITV staple This Is Your Life (featuring Lewis Macleod as Eamonn Andrews), the episode manages to never really lose sight of anything, an impressive feat.

I want, as ever, to praise the deductions that led to the solutions – they’re the kind of things that are entirely possible to pick up on yet extremely unlikely to be noticed, and that’s always been a strength of Endeavour.

I enjoyed the plot in ‘Striker’. I want, as ever, to praise the deductions that led to the solutions – they’re the kind of things that are entirely possible to pick up on yet extremely unlikely to be noticed, and that’s always been a strength of Endeavour. Beyond the initial incidents, both of which take place in the opening, this is a slow episode, in which nothing really happens until the halfway point. That’s not an issue in itself (it opened up a lot of room for character work), but it did leave me feeling a little unsatisfied at the conclusion – I don’t think there was anything even hinting at the reason for the bombing, for example.

Despite this, it’s a pleasure to return to Oxford – Endeavour is consistently one of the most well-made and engaging dramas of recent years, and this opener suggests nothing different. It’s not the best episode of the show ever made, but it does a lot of solid character work, balancing that fine line between looking back and looking forward. I’m very intrigued to see where we’ll go.

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