Whitechapel had a compelling if unoriginal premise that captured the imagination of ITV audiences in 2009; a modern-day Jack The Ripper copycat stalking the same London streets, killing women in the same manner as his 19th-century hero. A mismatched detective duo were tasked with capturing the felon: fastidious, upper-class DI Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones) and shambolic, working class DS Miles (Phil Davis), who clashed over how the investigation was done, but came to admire and respect each other. Whitechapel was very predictable fare, but the concept was so juicy and fun that you could overlook its many faults. A sequel didn't feel likely, necessary, or even possible... but here it is, and it left me unimpressed.
Chandler's now part of the Whitechapel constabulary, but his team are lower down the pecking order because they didn't actually catch The Ripper. The new golden boy is DCI Casenove (Peter Serafinowicz), whose Organized Crime Division (OCD!) have reduced street crime to an insignificant level, which in turn means there are less "whodunit?" murders for Chandler's team to investigate. That is until a dead body is found floating in the Thames with injuries that remind Miles of The Krays; twin brothers from the 1960s who became notorious as Britain's first gangsters, unafraid to get their hands dirty to spread fear and intimidation amongst communities that made it difficult for the police to build a case against them. Is someone copying The Kray's style to build a modern equivalent of their crime empire?
My problem with Whitechapel's second series premiere is simple: it feels ridiculous to me that anybody would copycat The Krays. You can understand why a psycho would want to mimic Jack The Ripper, who's become a legendary boogieman, but why would anyone want to copy The Krays? Two criminal twins who want to achieve the same level of success as The Krays might find inspiration in their forbearers, sure, but to outright copy them shows a lack of originality and puts them firmly in the shadow of their antiheroes. How can you command respect by slavishly copying the kills of gangsters who worked the same territory 40 years ago? You just don't copycat mobsters like The Krays, unless you're writing the sequel to a TV miniseries where the USP was its copycat angle and the Whitechapel district only has two world-famous criminals for baddies to imitate.
Even if you're forgiving of the stupid concept, there was a worrying feeling that Whitechapel has nothing new to offer us in terms of the main character's relationship and arcs. Ripperologist Andrew Buchan (Steve Pemberton) is suddenly an expert on The Krays, but his excellent theories are rudely dismissed by Miles -- again. Having proved himself in The Ripper case, why is this so? No explanation is given, beyond the feeling Miles just dislikes Buchan's "armchair detective". Chandler is still a neat freak (he'd fit in at Casenove's OCD, right?) and his relationship with Miles is better, but sometimes fraught for no discernible reason. There's a feeling that everything's been reset and the script is going through the motions, with The Krays replacing The Ripper in the story. The only real difference is that, assumedly, this won't be a "whodunnit?" for very long, because these copycats have no reason to keep their identities a secret if they want to truly emulate The Krays, and because The Krays are villains from living memory it means Miles can have a family connection to them. That should make things slightly juicier, with Miles facing a demon from his past, rather than a semi-mythic figure like The Ripper.
The casting of comedian Peter Serafinowicz might prove itself a worthwhile idea, because he has a wolfish look and will undoubtedly be revealed as a pawn of "The Kraypcats" scheme, but you also can't help feeling like Serafinowicz is seconds away from delivering a sardonic punchline to a cop show sketch. He's like Whitechapel's version of the famous faces Ashes To Ashes used to throw into its series (Roger Allam, Daniel Mays), but we'll see how Casenove develops. A sequence where he brutally smashed a picture frame over a colleague, before punching him continuously in the ribs, was certainly memorable and proved Serafinowicz has a degree of menace about him.
Overall, I just don't think Whitechapel needed a sequel, or one that stuck to the copycat angle of its initial three-part series. I don't particularly like Penry-Jones's drippy character, I'm close to actually hating the smirking Davis in this, the script alternates between being ham-fisted and outright ridiculous, and David Evans's direction relied heavily on time-ramping, blurriness and double-vision to give everything a veneer of "style". Pemberton's the only one giving this material the tongue-in-cheek treatment it deserves.
Maybe it'll improve next week, but I can't help thinking it's a sequel built on very shaky foundations.
- One thing undermining a lot of this episode is that publicity material has revealed what the "Krays" look like, and it looks to me like one of them is working in Whitechapel fixing the office ceiling that fell down.
WRITERS: Ben Court & Caroline Ip
DIRECTOR: David Evans
CAST: Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis, Steve Pemberton, Sam Stockman, Ben Bishop, George Rossi, Alex Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz, Steve Nicolson, Claire Rushbrook, Christopher Fulford, Daniel Percival, Trevor Martin, Andrew Tiernan, Jason Maza, Irene Bradshaw, Tommy Carey, Nila Aalia, Dimitri Andreas, Mark Flitton, Andy Beckwith & Craig Parkinson
TRANSMISSION: 11 October 2010 - ITV1/HD, 9PM