THE CUSTARD TV - Contributed by Will Barber-Taylor
1969 was a definitive year for world history. Richard Nixon assumed the office of President, Sharon Tate was murdered by Charles Manson’s “family”, also both Woodstock and Stonewall hit the headlines. And man landed on the moon. The Apollo 11 Moon landings are both the backdrop and centre of this riveting episode of Endeavour.
As the Apollo spaceship is preparing to land on the Moon, the newly returned to CID Detective Sergeant Morse (Shaun Evans) is called out to an apparent road accident. The death of Professor Adam Drake (Ben Wainwright), a prodigal astrophysicist, and a mysterious woman (Katie Faye) by his side soon catches the attention of both Morse and Thursday (Roger Allam). Whilst at first glance it looks like a simple accident, things take a more dramatic turn – both Drake and the woman have been murdered. Morse and Thursday are soon drawn into a world where high science meets low morals and where illusions are everything.
Transferred from uniform to CID, Morse begins Apollo by attempting to find a role for himself in the new City station. Assigned to be evidence officer by DCI Box (Simon Harrison) he feels as if all his work has resulted in him going around in circles – that he’s ended up back where he started as he suggests to Dorothea Frazil (Abigail Thaw). The echoing theme of renewal is one that is felt throughout the story and seems to be an underlining theme of the series itself. Russell Lewis is often at his best when he is disrupting the status quo and replacing it with something new.
This is particularly true in Apollo and some of the best moments in the episode are reflections on the change of circumstances for Morse and his friends. Lewis understands that great drama comes from change and he hammers home how different things have become – Morse’s relationship with Joan Thursday (Sara Vickers), Thursday’s feelings about the police and the atmosphere of the new Oxford City Police Station. Lewis elegantly plays on the ambiguity of Morse’s position within the station to create drama not only between Box and him but also between Thursday and him too. Some elements of Morse’s character, his frustration over seemingly not progressing through the ranks of the police force and his desire to fight against Box’s domination of the station, are indicative of the “angry young man” that filled late 60s plays and films. This is an interesting and engaging twist on the character – Morse has always disliked authority but Lewis projects this into a new direction that hasn’t been seen before.
The acting throughout the episode has to be greatly praised, particularly from the main cast. Shaun Evans, as always, manages to give a top class performance as the titular Endeavour Morse. As I’ve previously said, Endeavour has a great deal of anger and regret in him in this episode and Evans channels this perfectly. His performance roots the whole episode and his quiet determination to solve the murder of Drake is one which drives both him and everyone else along.
Perhaps the best scene in the episode, however, is a short one between Roger Allam’s Fred Thursday and Anton Lesser’s Superintendent Bright. Bright and Thursday reflect on the future – the astonishing feat of man landing on the Moon and how Alcock and Brown’s trip across the Atlantic seemed impossible. There is a true sense of melancholy in the scene – both Thursday and Bright feel as if they have been cast aside and that they can no longer be of any use. Bright expresses this by how depressed he feels to have discovered that he is a “joke”. Thursday consoles him, saying that his Pelican Crossing campaign will save thousands of lives. Bright’s expression of renewed purpose makes this scene truly outstanding. Both Allam and Lesser play their parts to perfection and there is a real bond of friendship between the two old comrades. Both have felt as if they are no longer needed – that they are on the shelf. Yet through shared pain comes a determination to succeed. Both Allam and Lesser are excellent actors and they make this scene not only memorable but truly real. Shaun Evan’s excellent directing understands this, and he perfectly films this scene, understanding when to cut between each actor. The combination of superb acting, thoughtful writing and dynamic directing allow it to be a work of pure art. Both Allam and Lesser are superb and should be praised for their efforts on Endeavour and for their contribution to this episode in particular.
As with many actors, the ability to direct is developed and refined through their own experience. Many actors are also excellent directors and examples of them directing shows that they’ve starred in are frequent. Warren Clarke showed excellent flair when he directed the Dalziel and Pascoe story “For Love Nor Money.” Shaun Evans shows just as much skill and capability as any other director. From the opening shot of the Moon to his use of it as a closing shot, Evans creates a distinct and dynamic feel to the story particularly his use of circular visual storytelling and of emphasizing space and lack of it. As I said earlier, his directing of the scene between Bright and Thursday is pitched at the perfect level so that there is a balance between his directing style and their own individual emotional tics which allows the scene to play out realistically and with a truly insightful organic nature.
Apollo is a further excellent development of Russell Lewis’s plan for Endeavour. The series, as a whole, is like a great tapestry and one which you could easily spend hours looking at each section. It has a dramatic beauty of its own, regardless of whether it is looked at as a part of something or as an individual piece. Apollo combines excellent directing with superb acting and a sophisticated and sublime script which makes you want to watch is as often as possible. It is, simply, a classic.