Rating 2½

Directed by S J Clarkson

Written by Ben Court and Caroline Ip

Starring Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis, Steve Pemberton, Johnny Harris, Sam Stockman, George Rossi, Christopher Fulford, Alex Jennings, Sophie Stanton and Paul Hickey

Detective Inspector Joseph Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones) is being fast-tracked by senior police officials. He is appointed by Commander Anderson (Alex Jennings) to head up what appears to be a straightforward murder enquiry in Whitechapel, his last step towards promotion to a senior ranking position. The fastidious and book educated Chandler immediately comes into conflict with cynical down-to-earth Detective Sergeant Ray Miles (Phil Davis) and his team of officers, not least because he insists on taking a hands-on approach and questions their methods and motivation.

Edward Buchan (Steve Pemberton), an eccentric “Ripperologist”, approaches the police, claiming the murder is a copy of that of Mary Ann Nichols, the first canonical victim of Jack the Ripper. He is dismissed out of hand by Miles, but taken seriously by Chandler, creating even more animosity between the two. However, when a second murder bears the hallmark of the Ripper’s second victim, Annie Chapman, it seems that they have a copycat killer on their hands.

Chandler begins to win the respect of his men, but comes into conflict with his superiors. They have no interest in the victims or the ongoing investigation; they simply want to avoid public scrutiny and bad press.


‘Whitechapel’ was broadcast on ITV in three one-hour segments over a three week period. It gets off to a very ropey start, seeming to follow the path taken by the utterly appalling Lynda La Plante police drama ‘Above Suspicion’, which was broadcast by ITV during Christmas 2008. However, although it continues to be decidedly hackneyed in many respects, it does improve dramatically, particularly during the second and third episodes. Much of the credit must go to Rupert Penry-Jones and the excellent Phil Davis, who work very well together and make two decidedly clichéd characters more interesting than they have any right to be. Penry-Jones is certainly more successful here than he was in the disappointing BBC adaptation of ‘The 39 Steps’. Steve Pemberton, from ‘The League of Gentlemen’, is also watchable in the role of the slightly creepy Jack the Ripper expert.

There is probably not enough substance to the other police officers working the murder enquiry, meaning that they tend to blur into a single entity, and there is too much reliance on annoying visual trickery to try to create an atmosphere. Modern day Whitechapel bears little resemblance to the district that Jack the Ripper haunted back in 1888, but not enough is made of those little nooks and crannies that do remain from Victorian London.

It isn't brilliant, but it is a lot better than I feared it might turn out to be. The Jack the Ripper story is a well-worn path that no longer offers much in the way of surprise, but this is an interesting variation on the theme.

Review posted 17 February 2009


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