When Morse investigates the death of a headless, armless, legless body found in the Thames, he soon finds himself dealing with several more deaths, along with mistaken identities, missing persons, the vicious infighting among Oxford scholars for prestigious positions, the sabotaging of each other's careers, infidelity, and a helpful "scout," a custodian who has spent his life at Oxford and knows everything about everyone. As always, the mystery is fun to follow, but the center of attention is firmly fixed on Inspector Morse, whose mood is colored by his problems with an infected tooth, which he has been reluctant to address.
In this 1989 addition to the third Morse series, Morse reacquaints himself with Alex Reece, one of his contemporaries during his Oxford years--a vain, arrogant man who is head of Beaumont College. Reece wants him to investigate the disappearance of David Kerridge, the Vice-Master of Beaumont, who has been missing for four days. He is concerned, not because Kerridge is missing, but because he fears that any scandal regarding the disappearance will reflect badly upon himself. Reece is scheduled to give one of the Sheldon Lectures, an honor guaranteed to lead to future academic promotion.
As the atmosphere at Oxford is revealed, along with the professional hostility toward female academics who might threaten someone's position, the episode highlights the class differences, traditional biases, and intellectual snobbery which color the behavior of those whose lives in academia have insulated them from the give-and-take (and the basic human feelings) of the real world.
As always, John Thaw as Inspector Morse and Kevin Whatley as Detective Lewis are on top of their game. Amanda Hillwood as Dr. Grayling Russell, the attractive pathologist who interests Morse, is superb, though her casual attitude toward the bloodiest and most gruesome murders contrasts with Morse's--his queasy stomach is a constant problem. Character actors, such as Lana Morris as Miss Tree (who comments on the plays on her name) add immensely to the drama, though the musical focus, which is one of the highlights of this series is absent here. The photography, as always, is outstanding, though many viewers might have preferred being spared the closeup of Morse's mouth as he's being treated for his infection. A good mystery and fine addition to the Morse series. n Mary Whipple