Friday, 20 September 2013

WHITECHAPEL, 4.3 – episode three

Friday, 20 September 2013

Whitechapel isn't a show I'm reviewing weekly, but I thought I'd share my thoughts about this week's third episode. The interesting thing is how this hour was written by Steve Pemberton, who plays local crime historian Edward Buchan on the show, but is still best-known for co-writing/starring in horror comedies The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville. I was interested to see how Pemberton would tackle a relatively straight crime drama like Whitechapel, as someone whose horror expertise is beyond reproach, but usually has to ensure there's something funny happening between the lines.

Suffice to say, I thought he did a marvellous job here. There were a few amusing scenes (the shot of someone pegging a freshly-extracted human face to a clothes line), but for the most part this episode wasn't as tongue-in-cheek as you may have expected. But what actually impressed me about episode three came down to two things: 1, it felt like there was an actual story being told here, instead of Wikipedia research being used to prop up loosely-connected baloney; and 2, Pemberton's script actually took time to develop and utilise the entire cast. Too often Whitechapel becomes 'The Miles (Phil Davis) & Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones) Show', and their colleagues float around on the sidelines, but here it felt like they were part of the team at last. There was even a period where young DC Kent (Sam Stockman) investigated the meaning of a dead Russian's prison tattoos, which felt like the most screen-time he's had in years.

Steve Pemberton has a taste for the macabre, and this episode certainly allowed him to indulge that interest: a flayed human face left in an art gallery, a woman in red shoes being chased through a cemetery, a shy girl with a port-wine stain covering half her face, the Eastern Promises influence of Russian gangsters in London. For the first time since series 1, Whitechapel felt like it was doing something that wasn't just a thin excuse for crazed cliche. The plot held together better than most hours of Luther tend to, in fact.

What a shame an hour like this (which hopefully won't peter out in next week's conclusion) is a rarity for the show. Its consolidated ratings are hovering around 5 million viewers (which used to be its overnight figure), so ITV are expected to swing their axe. I can't say I'm surprised, and I won't be very upset if Whitechapel gets the chop... but, yes, it's a pity when you notice the potential of this series in occasional flashes.

Whitechapel, ITV – Wednesdays, 9pm.