Endeavour, ITV’s greatest detective series of all-time is set to return to our screens for a seventh series. So, to celebrate the new series, I thought I’d count down my top 10 picks for the greatest ever Endeavour episodes. Will you be able to guess the number 1 spot? I’ll give you a clue, it’s not luncheon meat…
10) The Pilot
It's The One Where: It all begins. We meet the legendary Endeavour Morse.
What Makes It Great: Normally, a pilot for a TV show is pretty shaky, and therefore rarely broadcast, but this pilot was all there from the get go. The best scene, which really introduces us to Fred, is the scene where he asks Morse to fetch his tobacco out the car, during a showdown with the suspicious Teddy Samuels.
When a confused, and at this moment in time, quite green Morse innocently comes back to tell him he can’t find it, he returns to Thursday merrily holding the pipe in his hand, whilst Teddy clutches a hanky to his face having clearly suffered a ‘bloody nose’. ‘Was in my pocket the whole time.’ Fred tells Morse cheerfully. Whether Morse should align himself with Thursday, and his ‘questionable’ methods is one of the cruxes of this episode, of course we all know what he decides, thus one of the best detective duos of all time was born.
The murder mystery of the episode is also a tough one for Morse. The character’s long-established love of classical music is worked into this first episode nicely, with Morse making it a point of principle that the pair only arrest the murderer once they’ve finished their song. We also get a nice nod to the original Inspector Morse TV series, as Fred asks Morse where he wants to be in years to come, and we briefly see John Thaw’s eyes reflected in the car’s wing mirror. A great start to the series.
It’s the one where: The team discover a body on an archaeological dig, which leads Morse to investigate the disappearance of Matthew Laxman, who had gone missing five years earlier, in the nearby town of Bramford… a very traditionalist place with a love of pagan rituals.
What makes it great? A series finale of Endeavour is always action packed. This one sees a special guest appearance from Sheila Hancock (the real-life wife of John Thaw, who played the original Morse). Her barely recognizable appearance makes for a compelling performance as the mysterious clairvoyant, Dowsable Chattox.
There's a flavour of ‘The Wicker Man’ in this episode, (the original, not the Nicolas Cage version, fortunately there are no bees in this). Morse becomes increasingly disorientated by the strange town of Bramford, particularly when he finds the sinister scarecrow dressed in Laxman's clothes.
Fortunately, Morse isn’t eventually sacrificed in a giant wicker man. Instead, the whole town are almost sacrificed in the final confrontation that takes place in the local power plant’s control room, where Laxman’s killer is finally unmasked.
Meanwhile, Joan’s doomed attempt to start a new life with her mystery man comes to an end in the worst way, we are treated to the most interesting exploration of Morse and Joan’s relationship yet, as she arrives at his house desperate and beaten up, and he awkwardly proposes marriage. However, she ends the series on a bleak note while an unaware Thursday is rewarded handsomely for his bravery at the power plant with the George medal, and as a result, Morse (who is also awarded the medal) is finally allowed to move up the ranks and become a sergeant.
It’s the one where: Endeavour finds a young schoolgirl murdered. The Governor, Ronnie Box, heads up the new division at Castle Gate and thinks he's got his man, but Morse has other ideas, and when a second girl goes missing his suspicions are confirmed.
What makes it great? There's something amazingly artistic about this episode. There are sweeping shots of wheat fields and a majestic white horse that leads Morse to the tragic young victim. Art aside, this episode sees the start of a big change for Morse and Thursday.
The pair are now working under DS Jago and Ronnie Box. The pair were strong antagonists in series six, and as they pull Thursday in to do their dirty work, Morse starts to feel more and more out of place, thus beginning the excellent story arc of series six.
Ronnie was a great character in this series, and the relationship between him and Thursday is an intriguing one, but comes at a cost to the dream team of Morse and Thursday, who are drifting apart. Their partnership heals somewhat when Endeavour has a difficult decision to make over an old case that incriminates Thursday (It's literally an old case). Morse’s loyalty to him in the end, still remains firm.
It's also an episode that has been responsible for something of an Endeavour meme. Yes, It's Bright's road safety campaign! And remember, if the pelican can, then so can you!
It’s the one where: Thursday is rattled when he learns Vic Kasper is the new owner of The Moonlight Room Nightclub, a gangster whom he's previously had dealings with. Meanwhile, Morse is investigating a hit-and-run incident but is called away when he is informed that his father is gravely ill.
What makes it great? In this series finale it’s all about family. We get some great scenes from Shaun Evans, as Morse heads home to see his father after learning that he’s dying. Poignantly, we see the attention to detail of the casting in this episode as Morse’s father bares a strong resemblance to John Thaw.
His antagonism towards Morse, remarking how he ‘hates coppers’ and the awkward silences between the pair tell a thousand tales. It’s a stark contrast to the warm arms of the Thursday family and plays into Endeavour’s overall story that Fred Thursday is the ultimate father figure for Morse.
There are some nice Morse/Joan scenes in this episode too. But things get awkward when Morse has to lie to Fred, to cover for Joan. The confusion when Thursday thinks Morse is secretly carrying on with ‘his Joan’ makes for some great tension in a top-notch episode. The scenes where Fred goes home to get his gun in a possible bid to ‘take Vic out’ while a blissfully unaware Win makes him a round of sandwiches is classic Endeavour… Gangsters and sandwiches.
It’s the one where: Morse and Thursday are on the hunt for a serial killer who bizarrely strangles women with silk stockings. The investigation leads the pair to Burridges Department Store, where Fred is stunned to meet an old flame from the war whom he thought was dead.
What makes it great? An episode that focuses strongly on the love lives of Thursday and Morse, we see Fred in a serious dilemma as a ghost from his past returns. It's revealed he'd cheated on Joan during the war with Luisa, a glamorous partisan whom he believed had died when her efforts to aid allied troops were uncovered. Miraculously, she was in fact saved by her future husband.
Fred's feelings are thrown into turmoil as he finds Luisa to be a lonely and vulnerable widow. Rodger Allam and Cécile Paoli (Luisa) steal the show, providing subtle and believable performances as the former lovers, making this episode a compelling and rather heartbreaking watch.
Meanwhile, the mystery keeps you guessing, as the audience collectively hopes Luisa isn’t murdered by the killer. The (almost) murder scene in the finale is thoroughly tense, and things are looking up for Morse, as he’s actually doing quite well in the relationship department for once (even though it’s short lived).
It’s the one where: Morse and Thursday are on the case of the murder of an ex-Fleet Street reporter, Eric Patterson, after his body is found by a railway track. As the investigation goes on, it becomes clear that the case is connected to a police cover-up, relating to child abuse at former borstal, Blenheim Vale. To uncover the truth Fred and Endeavour almost pay the ultimate price.
What makes it great? Famously this episode is probably the darkest episode of all time, ending on the bleakest of notes, when Thursday takes a bullet and Morse ends up going down for it. Once again, Endeavour tackles an extremely sensitive subject fearlessly, as Morse and Thursday uncover a ring of child abuse.
The ending is powerful, as is the reveal of Jake's backstory. A character whose motives the audience had previously been led to doubt. It's Endeavour and Fred's vow of sticking with each other to the end in this episode that remains a cornerstone of the Endeavour brand.
However, it's the fact that this case was never truly solved (as revealed in the following episode) that remains the most shocking factor, and something that eats away at Morse for years to come. Mentioned again in the most recent series finale 'Degüello', ‘Neverland’ is probably one of the most important episodes of the Endeavour series, as well as the most dramatic.
It's the one where: A change in the local gang fraternity leads Thursday to use some rather dated methods to question one of the ‘Matthew brothers’ and this eventually gets him suspended. Meanwhile, Morse is called to investigate a bingo caller, on behalf of his former tutor, with whom he suspects his wife might be having an affair. These events culminate in a bank heist, which Morse and Joan get caught up in, leading Morse to finally realise that he might be in love with Joan.
What makes it great? There's always an extra special something behind Endeavour's series finale's, and series three's ‘Coda’ is one of the best. A favorite amongst the fan community, and the episode that launched a thousand ‘fan fictions’, this episode sees Morse and Joan realise their feelings for each other. But it also sees Thursday realise where he stands when it comes to justice.
One of the best scenes is probably the slightly odd moment where Thursday coughs up his bullet fragment… he spits it out, cleans it, and then has a good look at it. He folds it neatly into his hanky, before he finally stuffs it away into his pocket. It's attention to detail like this, that might seem slightly random, but it makes Endeavour feel real.
Coughing up bullets aside, Mark Heap also makes an excellent star turn in this episode as Morse's slightly shifty former teacher. A tender side to Morse comes out in this episode as we see his love for Joan blossom. The artistically filmed finale where Joan leaves, seemingly forever, puts a cherry on the drama cake, and ends one of Endeavour's finest episodes.
It's The One Where: A serial killer is on the loose, and seemingly shares Endeavour's passion for classical music and opera, murdering his victims in the style of operatic heroines, and leaving a calling card in the shape of the character’s final words from the arias. Morse and Thursday face a battle against the clock to find the true identity of the killer.
What makes it great? An early episode that is still introducing Morse to some of the series main characters, Fugue brings us so many excellent scenes as Morse gets to know the Thursdays. Namely, the touching scene of Fred laying his coat over an exhausted and injured Morse. This episode offers a good old-fashioned ‘Whodunit?’ Thrill ride, ending in a confrontation between Fred and the killer on the Oxford rooftops.
It concludes with the classic scene in which Fred tells Morse 'Go home. Put your best record on. Loud as it'll play. And with every note, you remember: That's something the darkness couldn't take from you.'. It's an episode that's a fan favourite for good reason.
It's The One Where: An assignation at an It's A Knock Out style sporting event leads Endeavor into the weird world of espionage. Meanwhile, Fred grapples with a moral dilemma, as he suspects the nice old woman at his local paper shop is a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband.
What makes it great? Unusually, this episode pits Fred and Morse largely apart from each other, and it’s George Fancy that goes a long way in helping Morse solve the mystery. When Endeavour works out that the shooting at the otherwise innocuous sports day goes deep into the secret service, he's warned off investigating any further, by almost the entire force, but when he doesn't listen and ventures into the world of the secret services, it all gets a little bit Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy.
We also see some of the best ‘Fred scenes’ of the whole series in this episode, as he wrestles with the domestic abuse dilemma, culminating in a fantastic scene at the end where he comforts the widowed Elsie. However, it's the final twist that earns this episode the number two spot. In my view, it's some of the cleverest writing I've seen in a drama, proving eloquently that everything in life is multilayered and nothing is ever quite as it seems.
It's the one where... Fred's hit rock bottom, propelling him into the pocket of the increasingly suspicious DS Jago and governor, Ronnie Box. Meanwhile, Morse and Strange are on a mission to finally solve the murder of George Fancy, and a librarian who has mysteriously been stabbed.
There's some powerful social commentary too, as a tower block crumbles before Endeavour's eyes. Finding the truth behind these events leads to a powerful ring of corruption, and by the end of the episode everyone's in danger.
Why is it the best episode ever? You'll probably disagree with a few of my placings on this list, we all have our favourite episodes, but sometimes an episode of a show comes along that is so perfect it's almost unanimously agreed among the fanbase that it is indeed the best episode, and for Endeavour, 'Degüello' is that episode. At the start of the series ITV put out a series of extremely well-made trailers featuring great characters from their signature dramas, well actually, there were only two, one for Vera (from ITV's Vera) and one for Fred. Fred's trailer featured him pleading his case to the audience before he seemingly put a pistol in his mouth.
Even though these trailers were clearly a separate entity from the show it got fans talking about Fred's future. In the original inspector Morse TV series and books Endeavour's mentor was always cited as McNutt. This left people speculating that McNutt’s character maybe due to make an appearance.
Indeed Shaun Evans (Morse) fuelled the fire when he suggested in a press interview that Morse may have had to lie about his mentor being McNutt, because Thursday had become disgraced (or words to that affect). This all built up the tension that our beloved Fred might be about to leave the series in a shock exit and it gave the episode some serious stakes. When Fred met Ronnie in the pub to give back his bribe and the violins swelled there was an ominous feeling that for Fred, it really might be all over.
However, the episode wasn't just about Fred. Endeavour is the drama that never shies away from the big topics - the story of a young mother and her child moving into a looming tower block, draws very obvious comparisons to the Grenfell and the Windrush scandals, all brilliantly handled by Endeavour’s writer (of every single episode from the very beginning) Russ Lewis.
Also, interwoven neatly and with great sensitively is the tragic tale of Bright's wife's death from cancer. Bright takes the news in the true stiff-upper-lip fashion that we’d come to expect from him, but you can plainly see the sadness overwhelming the character at times in a superb performance by Anton Lesser. One particularly great scene (in an episode almost entirely created of great scenes) sees Bright and Thursday recount the first meetings with the loves they both know they are about to lose (in Thursday's case, through divorce).
This episode has so much going on, but never gets weighed down by it. De Brynn gets kidnapped, Bright, himself, almost gets killed (but is saved by the popularity of his road safety campaign). We finally find out who killed George Fancy, and Fred drops in the phrase ‘two-bob shitehawk’ (we all need to start using it). And, there was still the mystery to solve of the murdered librarian that tied all these events together.
Throughout the entire episode the tension builds and builds, culminating in a stand-off between Morse, Fred, Ronnie and Jago. For a while, you think it's Morse out on his own, but you can almost hear the cheers on every Endeavour fan's lips when the rest of the gang rock up to save the day… after all ‘city boys’ take no prisoners!
Written by Rhianna Evans