Jack The Ripper is Back in Whitechapel

Updating a legend—Whitechapel on BBCA
Knowing that the BBC series Whitechapel (Wednesdays, BBC America, 10 p.m.) is about a copycat Jack the Ripper, I might not have watched it since I’m a complete scaredy cat when it comes to Ripperology. Everything about him and what he did creeps me out, even if the incidents happened over a hundred years ago. Whitechapel makes it worse by featuring a contemporary killer who’s aping the Ripper’s crimes almost to the letter, and he doesn’t limit himself to murdering only prostitutes. It’s almost enough to turn a girl into an agoraphobe.

So did I tune into Whitechapel because I’m a masochist or insane? No. I watched because it stars my man Rupert Penry-Jones, aka Adam Carter from MI-5, one of my favorite shows ever. RPJ is a dashing actor who I knew could bring some lightness to what was sure to be a grim show. Luckily he didn’t disappoint, because the first episode was so tense and gruesome, it almost made me vomit all the Halloween candy I’d ingested.

Penry-Jones plays young, fast-tracked Detective Inspector Joe Chandler, brought in to head up a team of detectives with more street experience than he has. Eager to prove himself, he jumps on his first murder case of a young woman in a parking lot, only to find out it occurred on the exact same night and in the exact same way as one of Jack the Ripper’s victims. He receives no support from the other detectives, so he turns to a self-declared Ripperologist, Edward Buchan, who’s written a book on the subject and gives tours of places where the crimes happened in the 1800s. The man may be odd but he helps Chandler correctly predict there would be another murder victim a week later.

Rupert Penry-Jones in Whitechapel
Rupert Penry-Jones, a bit of a wimp?
It’s good to see Penry-Jones play a protagonist completely different from the tough, kickass Adam Carter. Chandler seems to be afflicted with OCD (a British Mr. Monk?) and is kind of a sissy around corpses. He also likes to dress well when he reports to work, and demands that his rumpled team members put on ties to look more professional and, oh yeah, take showers occasionally. You can imagine how much that endears him to them. And while he may have more ambition than street savvy at first, he proves by the end of the first episode (there are three per season) that he can be a decent investigator.

Which leads me to one of the frustrating things about the first episode. It’s understandable why the other detectives resent and belittle Chandler in the beginning, but once he provides them with a compelling argument, backed by forensic evidence, that a Ripper copycat is roaming the streets and about to kill again, does the team at least give him the benefit of the doubt? Nooo, the squad continues to laugh at him and dismiss his efforts while Chandler is trying to prevent another bloody murder! It reminded me of Scully’s stubborn repudiation of Mulder’s beliefs in the paranormal, when week after week on The X-Files, she encountered all kinds of creepy, unexplainable stuff.

Eventually the other detectives do decide to humor Chandler, and of course, it turns out he was right. Doesn’t mean they’re all going to embrace him now and everything will be lovey-dovey. If anything, this has made Chandler’s chief antagonist, veteran Detective Sergeant Ray Miles, even more bitter that he has to work under Chandler. This source of conflict now makes sense, and it’s more interesting to have everyone hate Chandler for being younger, better-looking, and a good detective than because they thought he was a buffoon. As the men continue to track the serial killer in the next couple of episodes (the second airs this week), they might have to keep themselves from metaphorically killing each other first.

Also check out Part Two, the Kidney of Darkness.

Elyse is a freelance writer/editor who likes soup and the Bee Gees, but not piña coladas or getting caught in the rain. She also blogs at Pop Culture Nerd and tweets as @popculturenerd.


  1. marian moore

    This reminded me of “Life on Mars” as I watched. Complete with the chief detective who hates the newcomer with his by-the-book-methods. I enjoyed it, but I felt like I was watching a formula.


    I also tuned in to see what Rupert Penry-Jones would do outside of the MI-5 / Spooks character, Adam Carter.

    It was rough seeing him as a bit of a prig at first and watching the seasoned detectives treat him as a bit of an oddball is tough, but it’s the same as with the American remake of Prime Suspect. I enjoy PR, so I will look past it on the White Chapel series simply because I am intrigued with the story. That line from RPJ’s main detractor on the force (and I’m paraphrasing, I know) “Congratulations, you were right. Now all you have to do is solve a crime that no one has been able to solve for 120 years.” That line is what assured my tuning in to the next installment. While I do realize the whole chief detective hates the newcomer plotline seems a bit cliche, I think the reason cliches exist is because they are based upon reality and truth. I can also see this squad coming together and becoming a unit that works together more than it works against each other. It’s happening on Prime Suspect as well and I am enjoying that show as well. Good review!


    While I do enjoy PR, I meant to say I enjoy PS (as in Prime Suspect). Too much caffeine, I suppose.

  4. Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

    [b]mariesdaughter[/b]—I know! I get it that the newcomer always has to earn respect, but when the other detectives repeatedly dismissed Chandler in the face of hard evidence (e.g. the 39 stab wounds couldn’t have been coincidence), it made them look foolish and I imagine you don’t get to be a detective sergeant if you’re a fool.

    [b]EIREGO[/b]—Love the word “prig.” And I’m happy to know you’re an MI-5 fan!

    I’m sure antagonism exists in real life among police detectives. I just got frustrated with Chandler’s detractors being incredibly callous to the possibility another woman might be murdered just because they disliked the DI so much.

  5. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    Missed this because I already record two shows at 10 on Wednesday and Mr. DVR has his limitations. Looking for another airing now. Sounds great.

  6. Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

    [b]Leslie[/b]—Last week, the first ep ran again here at 1 a.m. Thursday so you can record it then if that’s true in your area. Are you a Revenge fan? I’m betting that’s one of the other 10 p.m. shows you’re recording.

  7. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    Actually, I’m recording MI-5 (which I know you appreciate!) and EastEnders. Set up to record the second ep of Whitechapel and hoping I can catch up. 🙂

  8. Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

    Woo! What season of MI-5 are you on?

  9. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    I think it’s Season 7. Lucas has just arrived. My local PBS station, WLIW, shows it. Fingers crossed they will raise enough pledges to show it all the way to the conclusion.

  10. Jordan Foster

    Ah yes, Lucas North. He makes Spooks ever so much better after Adam’s…explosive departure. He and Ros make a good team. On the Rupert Penry-Jones front, it was enjoyable to see him play a character a bit softer than Adam Carter, though DI Chandler is definitely not wimpy. It’s not spoiling anything to say that in the second series of Whitechapel, the team investigates a string of killings that bear an unpleasant resemblance to murders attributed to the notorious Kray twins. The show is a bit heavy on formula (new cop with new methods, distrustful team, high-profile cold cases) but the acting sells it for me. Phil Davies, who was great recently in the first two episodes of Case Histories, is perfect as DS Miles. And for anyone who’s looking for more priggish RP-J (and has a region-free DVD player), check out the BBC series Silk, which aired this past spring. Stars RP-J and Maxine Peake (Criminal Justice, Shameless) as two barristers going for “silk” (Queen’s Counsel).

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