DI Chandler and the team are back tomorrow night on ITV1, as crime drama Whitechapel returns for a third run of historical East End cases gruesomely re-enacted in the present day.
Where previous years have covered Jack the Ripper and the Krays, this time it’s the Ratcliffe Highway Murders that cast their shadow – an 1811 bloodbath in an East End draper’s shop.
The Whitechapel formula is so well established now that the series can afford to play with its audience a little. The opening scenes of this two-parter not only tease viewers with the question of who the victim or victims will be, but also, less generically, with the question of when the action is set.
There then follows a police procedural which, distinctively, is willing to indulge in morbid theatrics.
There has always been a splash of the lurid about Whitechapel – no better exemplified than by Psychoville star Steve Pemberton’s hammy Edward Buchan, who now works more officially as maverick consultant to the team. But, this series, the story shows an interest in embracing voodoo and the occult, too, as the members of the local community react to what is a classic locked room scenario with fear and superstition. Thus the stage is set for a battle between rationalism and ritual, while present-day tensions masquerade behind the guises of historical re-enactments.
Mostly, it works rather well, the direction taking full advantage of the moody lighting to illuminate dark back streets and period interiors. There’s a top-notch cast too, many of whom are alumni of Doctor Who – Mona Hammond, Steve Pemberton, Claire Rushbrook, Nina Toussaint-White, Phil Davis, Christina Chong – so they’re familiar with the kind of wit and conviction that this material needs in the playing.
Most interesting of all is David Schneider, almost unrecognisable in a straight role which takes the story into intriguing psychological territory. Pemberton takes to his part with the relish of one who will never chew on a script when the scenery presents itself instead.
But there are pauses for moments of reflection, too, as, in different ways, both Rupert Penry-Jones’s DI Chandler and Phil Davis’s DS Miles come to crossroads in their lives. In the paternal-filial relationship between these two men, Whitechapel has one of its biggest reasons to watch.
So long as you don’t mind the odd clunking character note, or info-dump of dialogue to explain the systems of the law in Georgian England, it’s a more than diverting way to pass an hour of your time. The concluding episode of this opening story follows a week later, with two more stories to come in subsequent weeks.
Airs at 9pm on Monday 30th January 2012 on ITV1.
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