The first few minutes of The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn give us something of a guest star overload. Michael Gough, Barbara Flynn, Clive Swift, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Frederick Treves and Elspet Gray all appear – which bodes well for the remainder of the episode.
But the star of the opening scene is the eponymous Nicholas Quinn (Phil Nice). Quinn is a relatively new member of the Overseas Examination Board, an Oxford syndicate dedicated to producing quality examinations for overseas students. He, along with the other members of the Board, are attending a sedate party organised by their boss, Dr Bartlett (Clive Swift). There’s a disorientating feel about this scene – Quinn is deaf and the audience is allowed to hear only what he can hear. This is muffled and indistinct (and at times completely inaudible). What Quinn can (or can’t) hear will become important later on, but for now he’s convinced that Bartlett is selling the Examination Board’s secrets – and tells Philip Ogleby (Michael Gough) so.
Shortly afterwards Quinn is found dead – it looks like suicide, but Morse is convinced it’s murder. There’s no shortage of suspects as virtually every member of the Board is seen to behave in a suspicious manner. Donald Martin (Roger Lloyd-Pack) and Monica Height (Barbara Flynn) are conducting an affair and decided to lie about their movements on the day that Quinn was last seen. Both Ogleby and Roope (Anthony Smee) are interested in the contents of Dr Barlett’s office (whilst Bartlett’s not there, naturally) and we’ve already heard that Dr Bartlett has been accused of corruption.
Barbara Flynn gives a memorable performance as Monica Height. She’s a character who’s put through the emotional wringer and seems to make something of a connection with Morse. Michael Gough has a smaller role, but does share a key scene with Thaw. Morse is delighted to learn that Ogleby sets crossword puzzles and admits that he’s been wrestling with his puzzles for years. Roger Lloyd-Pack is somewhat off-key as Martin – this might have been as scripted, or simply Lloyd-Pack’s acting choice (he did make something of a habit of playing people who were somewhat disconnected from reality).
The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn offers more opportunity to see Morse’s unique brand of detective work in action. He admits that he makes intuitive leaps which sometimes prove to be incorrect, or as Morse memorably puts it. “The trouble with my method Lewis is that its inspirational and as a result I sometimes, sometimes, get things arse about face.” It’s only a chance remark that puts him on the right track (and by then he’s already arrested the wrong man). The “fake” ending had long been a popular staple of detective fiction and it’s used effectively here. Just when you think the story’s over, a last minute revelation forces us to reassess everything we’ve learnt to date.
There’s a few nice moments of humour. Morse and the murderer have something of a battle towards the end of the episode. Lewis discovers the pair of them locked in combat and coolly enquires if Morse needs any help! Dr Bartlett’s interest in visiting the cinema to see Last Tango in Paris becomes something of a plot-point (with the tone of the conversations suggesting that the only reason anybody would see a film like that would be for the sex scenes). Morse and Lewis are offered free tickets, but Morse declines – declaring that Lewis is too young. Later Morse changes his mind and is furious to find that the film has now changed – it’s 101 Dalmatians. Lewis is delighted and sets off home to fetch the wife and kids, leaving Morse to walk off to the pub alone.
A typically convoluted Dexter plot, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn does suffer from having too many suspects – and the fact they all have similar possible motives doesn’t help. But the exemplary guest cast is more than adequate compensation for the sometimes confusing plotting.