When I started watching this show, I actually thought it was the one about Jack the Ripper back in the day, so I was mightily confused when it started. That show is Ripper Street, which I’m really dying to see. This show, at least the first season, is about a Jack the Ripper copycat serial killer.
On the face of it, this is a fairly standard cop show with the good guys chasing down the serial killer/murderer of the week. Although ‘week’ here translates into season, since it’s a BBC show and the first two seasons are only 3 episodes of 1 killer each. The last season has 6 episodes of three, 2-part arcs. Unfortunately for us, the audience, the show ends just as it gets into a real groove. I was truly outraged at where (and how) they ended the series.
As for specifics, it’s really the characters that make this series unique and so worth watching. When we start, the squad is an unkempt mess who solves crimes, but don’t much care a) what they look like, b) how they do it, and c) any kind of glory. Not necessarily bad things since they’re a mostly genial lot and not corrupt.
Enter in Detective Inspector Joe Chandler (played by Rupert Penry-Jones of Spooks/MI5 and much more), a hot-shot “plastic detective” (someone who hasn’t actually worked any murders/crimes) on the political rise as a favorite to the head of the police force. That actually confused me a bit, too, because how can you be a detective if you haven’t worked on crimes, right? Oh those Brits. ;o)
The squad, naturally, hates him and all his rules, clean clothes, ties, and OCD tendencies. Leading the pack against Joe is Detective Sergeant Ray Miles (played by Philip Davis – the cabbie in Sherlock is where I knew him from, but he’s got a massive body of work) who sets out to prove how inept and unsuited Joe is for the job. He’s a devoted family man, but gruff and doesn’t take any shit from anyone, especially not an upstart like Joe.
It isn’t the stereotypical, two alpha males fighting over turf, mostly because Joe is as far from an alpha dog as you can get and has to learn how to be one to do his new job. It almost turns into a father/son thing somewhere along the way, but that’s not quite right either. Joe is so flawed and alone, while Ray seems to need someone to look up to him in order to be the man he thinks he should be, but isn’t. Theirs is a convoluted, but exceptionally solid relationship that I’ve rarely seen in television. True partners, I suppose one would say, despite the differences in rank, upbringing, education, and social standing.
The rest of the squad is made up of 2 generic detectives who are ‘funny guys’ (and a young newbie, Detective Constable Emerson Kent (Sam Stockman) who’s desperate to fit in and the first to give Joe a real chance because he knows what it’s like to be outside looking in. He changes a lot by the end of the series, really grows into himself as a man and that’s thanks to both Joe and Ray. Lastly, there’s Ed Buchan (played by Steve Pemberton) who is a ‘Riperologist’ and at first assists Joe with the Ripper case and then gets brought back due to his extensive historical knowledge in general. Ed is over-dramatic, like a frustrated actor, and unthinking in his devotion to the Ripper legend, which leads to somewhat tragic circumstances at first. By the end of the series, though, he’s developed into someone whose empathy causes him real problems, what with his new job in the squad.
That right there, the changes and growth of the characters, is what I like best about this series. The murders/stories are all very interesting and I like how they all play out with sufficient twists and turns to keep one looking forward to the next. And of course the show itself, direction and production values, are all excellent; this is the BBC, after all. The twist of using history to solve current murders was a very clever one and, I hope, something that will get picked up by another show since this one so prematurely ended. Who knows, maybe I’ll use that inspiration in the future on a show of my own. ;o) The real drive of Whitechapel, to me, is the characters; how they rise and fall, and then go even deeper into their humanity as they get exposed to the worst, most brutal aspects of human nature.
All in all, despite the sucky series ending (sucky because it ends in an emotional cliffhanger, not because it’s bad), you should give Whitechapel a look. I’m reminded of that new Veronica Mars fan fundraising for the movie and tempted to start a kickstarter just to get this series back up and running, that’s how good it is. I can only hope that BBC will do some Whitechapel movies in the future.