Whitechapel Series Four Episode One: Rupert Penry-Jones and Phil Davis shine in the return of this unique and grotesque crime drama

by Matt D

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When Whitechapel first started, as a three part series about a Jack the Ripper copycat, nobody really expected it to last four series. But I feel it’s the programme’s ability to adapt that has meant that people keep coming back every series. Last year’s run changed the format of the show somewhat as the gruesome cases investigated by Chandler and Miles were split into three two-part stories. That format continues this year and our first tale concerns Bulgarian spies and undercover witches; which is more than you’d get from your usual crime drama.

The first victim of the fourth series is Alexander Zukanov, a homeless man who is tricked into being murdered. We first meet Zukanov skulking around the streets of Whitechapel as he overpowers a man who attempts to attack. As he is lured into a building we see that he’s being led into a trap and soon enough he falls through the ceiling of the abode. His attacker then sets about breaking Alexander’s ankles and torturing him until he gives up a name. Finally he is crushed slowly with a door, and if that wasn’t enough the murderer also kills Alexander’s pet rat. Caroline reveals that the murderer released toxins into Alex’s bloodstream so, even if the police had found him in time, it would’ve been too late. Arriving at the part of London Alex called home; the police discover that the Bulgarian immigrant fell out with another homeless man by the name of Lee Bysack. Byscak found Alexander to be incredibly creepy and didn’t like the way in which Zukanov spoke to his rat. With some help from Buchan, the police discover that Zukanov was once a spy and worked for the Bulgarian secret police. Armed with this information, the police believe that Alexander could’ve been killed off by a former enemy. This information is reinforced when Chandler and Miles receive a visit from the MI6 in the form of the forthright Stella Knight.

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Stella points the duo towards Crispin Wingfield, a former agent and enemy of Zukanov. In fact Zukanov once held Wingfield hostage and tortured him. When Chandler and Miles turn up to apprehend Wingfield he’s already waiting for them and knows that Stella thinks he’s gone rogue. Stella is quick to reiterate that the police are bound by the official secrets act though she promises not to interfere unless he has to. Chandler tries to use Wingfield’s expertise by getting him to look at the symbols they found on the building where Zukanov was murdered. Though he recognises it as code, Wingfield admits that symbols such as these are hard to crack without a key. Soonafter, Stella stops the interview and later Chandler believes that they are being used to do MI6’s dirty work. This suspicion is confirmed when the police station is completely turned over, though Stella is quick to deny any part in the vandalism. At the same time, the police continue to hold Lee as a subject and they later find CCTV footage of him fighting with Zukanov. Meanwhile, Wingfield is found to be staying at The Royal Duchess Hotel, a guest house right across from the police station. When the hotel owner gives Wingfield an alibi he is cleared of the murder, with Lee becoming the chief suspect, but Chandler wonders why Wingfield was spying on the police office. The response he gets is one that makes him question the last four years and links in all of the past series of the drama.

While the MI6 plot seems to be continuing over the entire series of Whitechapel, the two-part series involving Zukanov goes in a different direction. We learnt that Zukanov has a connection to Dorothy Cade, an elderly woman who first pops up at the party to celebrate the launch of Buchan’s book ‘ A History of Murder’. During the book launch, Dorothy approaches both Miles and Chandler telling the former that nobody respects him because of his age and the latter that he’s been left out of the book to spare his feelings. Throughout the episode we see several sightings of Dorothy, who lives with her bossy sister Cecilia, and we get the impression that all is not right with her. Indeed, by the end of the episode, Dorothy’s fate is looking pretty grim. The book launch also sees the start of a fairly pointless story in which Kent’s twin sister starts dating Emerson. I don’t feel this story can really go anywhere and it’s the only thing that spoils this otherwise engrossing tale.

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I feel what makes Whitechapel such an effective series is that there’s nothing quite like it on TV. Ben Court and Caroline Ip’s script combines 16th century magic with cold war espionage to create one of the most original stories I’ve seen in quite some time. The episode is also artfully directed by Elliot Hegarty who inter-cuts each seen with gruesome images and screeching sound effects. Though Whitechapel is a completely unbelievable series, it somehow feels real thanks to the central characters all of whom are realistically drawn. The brilliant yet troubled Chandler is a great leader who is crippled by his OCD while Miles is a salt-of-the-earth type who is more of a grounding presence. It is the growing friendship between the pair that has been at the heart of Whitechapel and for me is it’s best quality. Similarly the character of Buchan, who has evolved from a grotesque storyteller to a warm-hearted companion, adds to the Gothic air of the series. His encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of murder gives the series another element that makes it stand out over other crime dramas.

Whitechapel’s other strength is in its three central cast members all of whom try their best to make you believe in their characters. Rupert Penry-Jones is ideally cast as Chandler with his facial expressions insinuating his struggle to fit in during social situations. Phil Davis is completely relaxed as the loveable Miles who continues to attempt to set his boss up with a new lady friend. Finally Steve Pemberton is at his scene-stealing best as the odd yet strangely likeable Buchan who has become even more famous thanks to his book. Pemberton’s appearance in the show gives Whitechapel a blackly comic edge and stops it from ever becoming too serious.

Overall this fourth series of Whitechapel has got off to an excellent start with an engrossing two-part story and another plot that connects everything that has happened up to this point. All three cast members are at their best while the artistic direction and uniquely plots make Whitechapel stand out from its rivals. It’ll be interesting to see how the series develops over the next five episode but, judging from this opening instalment, I’ll definitely be watching.

What did you think to this opening instalment of Whitechapel? Did you enjoy the story?

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