Last night Morse walked again. Ten years after he was killed off in Dexter’s The Remorseful Day, the role was reprised in Alma Cullen’s House of Ghosts at the New Theatre. The story opens during a performance of Hamlet. Ophelia drops down dead and Morse is in the audience. The director of Hamlet is Lawrence Baxter and, ever since his days as an Oxford undergraduate, Morse has regarded Baxter as the only truly evil man he has ever met.
Cullen wrote four of the Morse TV films and this play, set in 1987 when Morse was at his peak, is very similar in style. At first I thought it was too similar. Colin Baker – the sixth Doctor in the Doctor Who series – plays Morse in a way uncannily like the late John Thaw. He sounded just like Thaw and apart from his heavier build he looked just like Thaw; it was quite unsettling. Then along came Andrew Bone as faithful sidekick Lewis and that was even stranger, especially as he adopted a Kevin Whately-style Geordie accent, only Whately’s is his birthright – Bone’s did not sound as though it came naturally to him.
Once I got used to that, I settled back into a thoroughly enjoyable whodunit that had all the usual Morse trademarks – grumpiness, real ale and fine wine. There were the classics: a woman just beyond his reach; pedantry, and irritation masking his deep fondness for Lewis – not to mention some really witty one-liners.
Like many other people, I felt sad when Dexter killed off Morse. I believed he deserved better than that and should have been allowed to retire gracefully. Then when John Thaw died, it seemed that perhaps Dexter got it right because I wound not have wanted to see anyone else take on the role … or so I thought. Now that I’ve seen Colin Baker’s version of Morse, I’ve had to think again. Baker was first class and, when he was on the stage, no one else mattered. As the curtain came down to the familiar theme music, accompanied by a rhythmic morse code figure on a single note, I felt a great sense of déjà vu and delight at having seen Morse live again.