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What I Watched Last Night: Whitechapel

Whenever I’m sick – like I am right now with this ridiculous cold – there are certain shows that I like to watch just because they distract me from how crappy I feel. Yesterday, I chose to watch episodes five and six of series three of ITV’s Whitechapel. Whitechapel, which premiered in 2009, is your typical dark, British crime procedural. It details a team of homicide detectives in present-day Whitechapel who are tasked with solving homicides that very oddly resemble past cases in Whitechapel history, including the Jack the Ripper murders, the Kray twins’criminal syndicate, the Thames torso murders, and the Ratliff Highway murders.

Whitechapel main characters
L to r: DS Ray Miles, DI Joseph Chandler, and Ripperologist Edward Buchan.

There are three main characters, including Detective Inspector Joseph Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones), a so-called “fast-tracker” through the ranks. Joe keeps current on all of the latest investigative methods and is very conscious of how the squad appears to the general public. While there was some tension between himself and his men at first, by this point in time, they work very well together, and he and DS Miles share a very good working relationship. Joe suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is something that is very helpful in investigations but puts a damper on his personal life.

Detective Sergeant Ray Miles (Phil Davis), Chandler’s second-in-command, is more of the old-school police officer, and he had no tolerance for the time-wasting changes that Chandler wanted to make at first. He has grown to respect Chandler’s methods more and has learned to incorporate them with what he believes works best in murder investigations. Their relationship evolves from tense one of professional respect to friendship. He clearly cares about Chandler, and he makes this clear when he voices his anger after Chandler puts his own life in danger. Miles also possesses a certain understanding of some of Chander’s issues and tries to help Chandler overcome some of his anxieties.

Edward Buchan (Arthur Pemberton) is a Ripperologist who has assisted Chandler’s team with past investigations and has now been hired as a consultant. Buchan is extremely knowledgeable about Whitechapel’s past cases, and he is working on putting together a sort of crime archive for the police to use as reference. Still, he has no idea of the emotional toll that investigating will take on him, and the series deals with how he processes these feelings.

Episodes five and six of series three dealt with a series of crimes based on an actual case which involved the 1927 film London After Midnightin which a man tried to plead that Lon Chaney’s performance in the film drove him to kill his wife. The man was convicted for the crime, but all known copies of the film have been destroyed. The episode more or less plays this out, with a man who had killed his family years ago escaping a psych ward and ostensibly going on a rampage, and London After Midnight is one of his favorite films. Of course things don’t always turn out as they appear, and the squad must pursue the case from a new angle. This episode concentrates more on some of the legends and urban myths of London that have circulated over the years, and Buchan not only tells the stories, but also helps to explain the real tales behind them.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Whitechapel is the lack of lead woman characters. There are several woman investigators in the background and even more woman victims. The third series, though, has tried to remedy that with the addition of a woman investigator to the team, a story arc in which they work with a homicide team headed by a woman DI, and an episode in which a woman therapist is a sort of damsel in distress and love interest for Chandler. Ultimately, though the woman DI and the therapist only serve as mirrors for Joe’s character and as vehicles by which his character evolves. The show has been renewed for a fourth series, which will premiere later in the summer, but hopefully it is more inclusive of female characters and allows them as much room for development on their own as the three male leads have been allowed to do.


2 replies on “What I Watched Last Night: Whitechapel”

I watched parts of this series because they aired in a really weird order or something. Maybe it just has very short seasons and I watched several in one go ..

anyway, I liked the darkness but I watched it at the same time of Sherlock first time ’round and felt it fell short.

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