Whitechapel 4, ITV, with Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis, Steve Pemberton PREVIEW

Phil Davis, Steve Pemberton and Rupert Penry-Jones. Whitechapel series 4 Pics ITV
The worst-lit police station in London – Whitechapel with Phil Davis, Steve Pemberton and Rupert Penry-Jones. Pics ITV

Rating: ★★★

ITV: day and time to be announced

Story: The team investigates a number of killings that seem to be of witches, leading them to suspect that some kind of modern-day Witchfinder General is at work.

TRYING TO EXPLAIN what the blazes is going on in Whitechapel these days is the devil’s own job. Perhaps we should ask him, as it is now revealed that the gates to Hell are actually located within the shadow of Christ Church, Spitalfields.

That’s according to Edward Buchan, the swivel-eyed loon they keep in the basement poring over ‘archives’ in this rather bonkers series.

‘Why do these things keep happening in Whitechapel?’ Buchan wonders – along with the rest of us. Hence, the gates of hell thesis.

Washington (William Beck) in Whitechapel 4 ITV
Washington (William Beck)

The Witchfinder General

Jack the Ripper, the Krays, the Thames Torso murders and others have all revisited the Whitechapel area of London in past series. This time it’s the Witchfinder General who’s popped back out of the pages of infamy to give the willies to Rupert Penry-Jones (DI Chandler), Phil Davis (DS Miles) and Steve Pemberton (Buchan).

Watching this instalment you do wonder if writers Caroline Ip and Ben Court have not been a bit dazed and confused by the success of what was a a good idea that is now stretched thinly. After all, they have moved onto other projects, such as BBC1’s Mayday, but still the viewing figures demand further Whitechapels. Hence, the more and more barmy the show has become.

 RUPERT PENRY-JONES as DI Joseph Chandler Whitechapel 4on ITV
Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones)

The fourth outing has the odd trio of investigators looking into a couple of deaths – that of a Bulgarian spy and an old woman burned to death.

Grab bag of horror

In episode two we learn someone wearing a big brimmed hat that was last in style during the English Civil War seems to be tracking down contemporary witches. It can only be a re-imaging, reincarnation – whatever – of Matthew Hopkins, the witch-hunter who killed 300 suspected witches in a couple of years (1644-46). Natch.

The current day perpetrator in the big hat is an absolute rotter. Literally. His skin is rotting and he talks like the Elephant Man. It all amounts to a grab bag of horror genre routines and motifs. Trouble is, it’s not even that chilling because the characters are all a bit flat.

The story is garbled and silly, and Hammer Horror atmospherics are used in place of an intelligible drama. Creepy dark houses, a creepy dark police station, blind women, black cats, blood from faucets, drownings, flayings – scare tactics in search of a story.

STEVE PEMBERTON as Edward Buchan in Whitechapel series 4 ITV
Buchan (Steve Pemberton)

Buchan, Chandler and Miles are still the best things in Whitechapel

However, the three stars are still fun to watch. Buchan even seems to be about to find love (he could definitely do with a new hobby), Chandler takes his shirt off to expose his ripped abs, and Miles is having a crisis of confidence.

It’s a shame better use isn’t made of these guys – in series one their characters were far more interesting and affecting. They’re too good for this Chamber of Horrors.

Cast: Rupert Penry-Jones DI Joseph Chandler, Phil Davis DS Ray Miles, Steve Pemberton Edward Buchan, Sam Stockman DC Emerson Kent, Hannah Walters DC Megan Riley, Claire Rushbrook Dr Caroline Llewellyn

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New faces on Lewis and Silent Witness

• Fresh faces are joining two long-running crime series this month. The new series of Lewis, which starts today (ITV1, Monday, 7 January 9pm), kicks off with established sidekick Hathaway (Laurence Fox), but by episode 3 – The Ramblin’ Boy on 21 January – Hathaway will be away in Kosovo. Innocent will introduce Lewis to his new right-hand man, Alex Gray, played by Babou Ceesay, who may be familiar from Jo Brand’s Getting On. Gray is a young constable straight out of uniform and will be one of the few leading black characters in ITV’s stable of long-running crime series, which includes the likes of Inspector Morse and Midsomer Murders.

• Meanwhile, on Thursday (BBC1, 10 January, 9pm), the blood and guts drama Silent Witness returns with a new character – forensic scientist Jack Hodgson, played by David Caves (left, with Emilia Fox as Nikki), in his first TV role. He, Nikki and Leo (William Gaminara) are plunged into a case involving the death of a confectionary company owner – was it natural causes, or murder? Also, look out for another new cast member, Liz Carr as lab scientist Clarissa Mullery.

Rupert Penry-Jones, Steve Pemberton, Phil Davis

• Elsewhere on the mean streets, principal photography starts today on six new episodes of Whitechapel 4, written again by Caroline Ip and Ben Court, but with cast member Steve Pemberton chipping in on the scripts. He’ll also be featuring again alongside Rupert Penry-Jones and Phil Davis, as Chandler, Miles and the team delve into further bizarre and macabre killings. Historical crimes involving witchcraft, cold war espionage, ghoulish Victorian surgeons and horrors in hidden East End tunnels will all feature. Who would have thought the original premise of a Jack the Ripper rehash could be resurrected so many times?

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The Last Weekend ITV1 with Shaun Evans, Rupert Penry-Jones PREVIEW

Rupert Penry-Jones as Ollie and Shaun Evans as Ian
Rupert Penry-Jones and Shaun Evans as the best of frenemies

Rating: ★★★

ITV1: starts Sunday, 19 August, 9pm

Story: Successful barrister Ollie Moreton invites old college friend Ian Goade, a primary school teacher, to visit him for an August bank holiday at his country home in Suffolk. Ollie and Ian, along with their wives, Daisy and Em, have a shared past and during the course of the weekend, old seething rivalries and sexual tensions reach dangerous levels.

Amid the Olympic euphoria, normal TV drama has been the big, fat loser – hence ITV1 being annihilated in the ratings. Mind you, they have thrown in the towel with limping repeats – Midsomer Murders v Jessica Ennis is no contest.

But as London 2012 comes to an end, ITV1 is ready for a comeback with this gem of a psychological thriller about male jealousy. It’s got fine performances, particularly from Shaun Evans, and a totally engrossing story in which you have to be alert to keep up with the machinations of the characters.

Rupert Penry-Jones plays Ollie
Mind games – Ollie

It is based on Blake Morrison‘s novel. It is a tightly set story, based around a small group at a country house over a blisteringly hot bank holiday. It is blissfully free of stupid plot twists, focusing instead on characters and emotions we all recognise.

Rupert Penry-Jones as Ollie
Ian and Em are visiting Ian’s old college mate Ollie – Rupert Penry-Jones – and his wife, Daisy, whom Ian once dated. Ian is a primary school teacher and Ollie a wealthy barrister. Their ‘friendship’ is a powder keg of competitiveness and festering jealousy that has an almost sexual element.

No sooner are Ian and Em out of their crappy car, which has a coat hanger for an aerial, than Ollie is insisting he and Ian hit the golf course to compete for a crazy £1000 wager, the first event of their traditional ‘triathlon’. It’s an uncomfortable match of niggles and gamesmanship.

Ian is our subjective narrator
Shaun Evans as Ian is the central figure here, as character and to-camera narrator, with the story slipping into the future and Ian commenting on past events. He is a chippy, deceitful figure, still hugely turned on by Daisy, played with insouciant sexiness by Genevieve O’Reilly. Claire Keelan is the devoted, likeable Em, who slowly starts to pick up on some of Ian’s provocations.

Claire Keelan and Genevieve O'Reilly
Claire Keelan as Em and Genevieve O’Reilly as Daisy

Goodness, but Ian is covetous and dishonest, while Ollie similarly has nasty sides, with an unpleasant hostility to his son and a near psychotic need to engineer some pastime at which he can grind down his less successful friend. You just know that despite the middle-class respectability, things are going to end brutally.

Engrossing and beautifully shot
Penry-Jones and Evans – soon to reprise his role as ITV1’s Endeavour – have appeared together in Whitechapel and Silk, and here they are engrossing as the mates locked in a destructive tangle. The whole three-parter – scripted by Mick Ford, directed by Jon East – is beautifully paced and shot.

ITV may have taken a drubbing this summer, but here they’re finally playing a blinder. Don’t miss it.

Cast: Rupert Penry-Jones Ollie, Shaun Evans Ian, Genevieve O’Reilly Daisy, Claire Keelan Em, Alexander Karim Milo, Hugh Mitchell Archie, Elisha Johnson Natalie, Mya-Lecia Naylor Bethany, Dan Cohen Student Ian, Alexander Owen Student Ollie, Nicola Millbank Student Daisy, Anthony Green John, Taylor Nelson-Morrison Campbell, Helen Anderson Mrs Baynes  

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Whitechapel series 3 with Rupert Penry-Jones PREVIEW

Phil Davis, Rupert Penry-Jones and Steve Pemberton. Pics: ITV

Rating ★★★

ITV1, from Monday, 30 January, 9pm

Story: When four people are slaughtered at night at a fortified tailor’s workshop, the East End is gripped with fear and panic at this seemingly impossible and gruesome crime.

Gothic cop show Whitechapel is now haunted by the ghosts of series past, having already featured the most notorious East End killers of Jack the Ripper and the Krays in series one and two.

‘So what’s this one then?’ says the ghoulish amateur criminologist Edward Buchan. ‘Dr Crippen?’

No, not Crippen, who did not operate within the sound of Bow Bells. Instead, the series is overstretching its unlikely but previously popular premise by unearthing the little-known Ratcliffe Highway Murders, committed near Wapping 200 years ago.

Steve Pemberton as Buchan

Legendary bogeymen
Putting aside the daftness of detectives who only ever chase copycat killers recreating notorious historical crimes, Whitechapel now throws in everything from Charles Manson to flashes of a man apparently scrambling fly-like on a ceiling to inject some chills and mystery.

While Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis and Steve Pemberton are back holding the fright-fest together, the show’s straining to evoke legendary bogeymen with ever more convoluted hysteria in this opening story, the first of three two-part mysteries.

Murder obsessive  Buchan – played with relish by Pemberton – is in horror heaven when DI Chandler (Penry-Jones) puts him in charge of the Met’s centuries old archive of past cases. The theme of these new stories is that Buchan, Chandler and DS Miles (Davis) can use the historical crimes to solve similar modern-day ones.

‘I saw the devil walking in Whitechapel’
So when four people are murdered in a fortress-like tailor’s premises, Buchan in the basement of the nick (actually Hornsey Town Hall) recalls the Ratcliffe Highway killings. He can also reel off the inadequacies of the Bow Street Runners and the suicide of suspect John Williams (buried on the junction of Commercial Road and Cannon Street Road with a stake through his heart), while working in theories about modern American killers Charles Manson and Richard Farley.

Rupert Penry-Jones as DI Chandler

Writers Caroline Ip and Ben Court still have fun with the horrid history – autopsies carried out in pubs et cetera – and also try to humanise lonely, fastidious Chandler and Miles, whose wife is ill, but the formula is really giving up the ghost this time.

A prisoner escaping from a sealed cell, the phantom on the ceiling, the instant East End hysteria and talk of devils walking the street. It’s too fanciful and confusing to be much more terrifying than a Halloween costume.

Thames Torso Mysteries
The next instalment invokes the Thames Torso Mysteries of 1887-89, and serial killers Mary Ann Cotton, Mary Wilson, the Lonely Hearts Killers, HH Holmes, and even the Marquis de Sade, while story three somehow references the Zodiac Killer, the 1940s US murderer known as The Phantom, Mutsuo Toi…

That’s quite enough. Too many crooks have spoiled the shock.

Cast: Rupert Penry-Jones DI Joseph Chandler, Phil Davis DS Ray Miles, Steve Pemberton Edward Buchan, Ben Bishop DC Finley Mansell, Sam Stockman DC Emerson Kent, Claire Rushbrook Dr Llewellyn, Hannah Walters DC Megan Riley

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Spooks (MI-5) – 10 reasons why we will miss it

Harry and Ruth. Pics: BBC

The Spooks of MI-5 may have survived assassination by the Taliban, Chinese agents and evil Russians, but the conniving mandarins of the BBC are much more ruthless and resourceful.

They’ve announced that series 10, starting next month, will be the last. Ben Stephenson, BBC drama controller, said (possibly while stroking a white cat), that Spooks had been a hit groundbreaking series that had helped to redefine BBC drama.

‘I would like to thank all those involved in the making of the show over the last decade both on and off screen,’ Stephenson said, ‘and hope fans will tune in this September to see what promises to be a fittingly high-octane, thrilling finale.’

This will focus on  Section D chief Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) confronting a secret from his past that could wreck him and the woman he loves, Ruth (Nicola Walker). New faces will include Lara Pulver (True Blood, Robin Hood) as new team leader Erin Watts following Lucas North’s devastating betrayal in series nine, along with Alice Krige (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Deadwood) and Jonathan Hyde (Titanic, Jumanji).

Before the final round of explosions and betrayals, here are 10 reasons why SpooksMI-5 to our American and French allies – will be sorely missed…

Lucas and Harry in series nine

1 Cracking stories
Lucas’s betrayal at the end of the last series, or the discovery that Connie was the traitor in series seven had enough gasp! factor to win the series audiences of more than six million in the UK and make it a worldwide hit in 50 countries.

2 Terrific cast
Spooks has raised the profile of stars including Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, Rupert Penry-Jones, Richard Armitage and Hermione Norris, with guests over the years including Hugh Laurie, Lindsay Duncan, Iain Glen, Sophie Okonedo, Tim Piggott-Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch.

3 Phwoar factor
Looking glam while risking life and limb have been the likes of Keeley Hawes, Richard North, Hermione Norris, Sophia Myles, Rupert Penry-Jones and – for the more sophisticated lady – stoically lovelorn Peter Firth.

4 Absolute shockers
Whether it was Rupert Penry-Jones being blown to smithereens in the opening episode of series seven, admin officer Helen Flynn (Lisa Faulkner) killed by having her face immersed in boiling oil, or data nerd Colin (Rory MacGregor) being strung from a tree by traitorous MI6 agents, Spooks has always known how to make viewers sit up on their sofas.

5 Causing a stink
Helen Flynn’s death caused a wave of complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Commission, but the series sparked a kerfuffle at a higher level when the Chinese government reportedly lost its rag over the way its agents were portrayed as kidnappers, hackers and being ready to blow up London. Apparently, even Israeli intelligence phoned the Beeb to complain about how their operatives were depicted. Touchy.

6 Spookily ahead of the game
Following the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005, Spooks had an uncannily prescient episode ready to air that featured a terrorist bombing central London, including the real-life target of Kings Cross. The BBC considered pulling the show, but eventually settled for displaying a disclaimer warning of distressing content.

7 London
While to many Londoners the capital is a daily grind on the packed Underground or a scary place where people don’t pay for their shopping while leaving department stores through smashed front windows, in Spooks it’s a breathlessly glamorous setting with the camera whizzing across Millennium Bridge, round Canary Wharf and over the Royal Opera House (though some of the off-kilter camera angles can give you headache).

8 BBC Licence fee splashed all over the screen
Spectacular chase scenes, punch-ups, aerial shots and huge explosions – like the one that sent Ros Myers into the next world – made Spooks a tad more expensive than an episode of, say, Saturday Kitchen.

9 A pace that hurtles over gargantuan plot holes
We’ve had Russian submarines launching implausible cyber attacks to send the London financial markets into a tailspin (who needs a cyber attack?), we’ve had two MI5 agents wreaking havoc in the dark on a squad of Mossad hit men equipped with night-vision gear, Lucas going through a complete personality flip-flop to emerge as a traitor, and as for Tariq running a ‘probability algorithm’ and then some facial recognition software through hundreds of London CCTV cameras to pinpoint a foreign infiltrator in seconds… who’d have guessed they can do that?

10 The Trouble with Harry
Like Ken Barlow, Harry’s been there from the beginning, surviving death threats, kidnap, multiple betrayals and disappointment in love. At the end of series nine he was told his actions as head of counter-terrorism were being investigated and he should prepare for life after MI5. It is fitting that the character who has been the backbone of 10 action-packed series should be the focus of the final season. Given the show’s track record of having characters who are secretly traitors, it seems likely  Harry could emerge as Vladimir Putin in a rubber mask. Or that he’ll be killed. Or that he’ll walk off into the sunset with Ruth. Almost anything’s possible in Spooks.

• Crime Zapper – Whitechapel, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher •

News that ITV has commissioned a third series of Whitechapel for 2012 brings to mind images of the network trying to flog a dead nag back to life.

Come on, guys. The first outing in which Rupert Penry-Jones and Phil Davis as mismatched cop colleagues investigated a Jack the Ripper copycat killer in London’s East End was distinctive and pretty decent. Resurrecting the Kray era for a second series was pushing it.

But the idea of the police investigating three further historic wannabe murderers is stretching a quirky idea to snapping point. The new six-part series will tell three stories going back 300 years, covering murder in tunnels under Whitechapel, body-snatching and poisonings.

The East End is clearly fertile ground for the imaginations of writers Ben Court and Caroline Ip, and the previous two series were evocative wallows in the area’s seedy past. But to swallow a story in which present-day investigators continue to stumble on crimes that are spookily mirroring ancient misdeeds will require us to not so much suspend disbelief as lobotomise it.

ITV obviously points to the ratings, with series two averaging 6.5 million viewers. Executive Producer, Sally Woodward Gentle, says, ‘If you thought the Ripper and Krays were scary, just wait.’

Personally, I’m looking forward more to ITV1’s other historical mystery drama, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher.

Speaking of which, the British Film Institute is previewing ITV’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher on 12 April. The drama is based on Kate Summerscale’s award-winning non-fiction bestseller about a fascinating Victorian murder mystery. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with its director, James Hawes, adapter Neil McKay and cast members. Tickets go on sale 15 March.

Whitechapel ITV1 PREVIEW

Rating ★★★

ITV1, 9pm Monday 11th October

A man’s been pinned to a snooker table with a bayonet. Another’s had his buttocks slashed. The cops are on the take, and victims are afraid

(Pics: ©ITV)

to talk…

It’s just like the old days when the Krays cruised East London dishing out backhanders and beatings.

In Whitechapel 2, no sooner has a copycat Jack the Ripper been dispatched by Rupert Penry-Jones and Philip Davis, then – gawd help us – but a Kray twins novelty act turns up on the manor.

Whitechapel’s first outing, last year, was fresh and spiky enough to be an engrossing yarn about the East End’s notorious serial killer.

The announcement that ITV was going to attempt the formula again – this time regurgitating the Kray killings – suggested they were flogging a horse now floating lifeless in the Thames.

But while some of the gloss has inevitably gone from the premise, Whitechapel 2 still cherishes the folklore and ‘geezer aesthetic’ enough to make this an atmospheric jaunt into the past.

Chelsea smile
Writers Ben Court and Caroline Ip showed with their original an appreciation of East End history and atmosphere, and that comes out well in the detail of Whitechapel 2. Identifying a corpse by the ‘last’ (or the wooden mould) of his handmade shoe, or recounting the gang punishment known as a Chelsea smile (a cutlass is used to slice a victim’s mouth wide open) are throwbacks that give this drama its vintage, violent texture.

Once again the major part of Whitechapel’s good points are the characters. In the original, Penry-Jones as uptight DI Chandler struggled to prove himself worthy of fronting the Ripper investigation. This time, it is his sergeant, the streetwise and sour Miles (Phil Davis), who appears out of his depth and rattled as some strangely reminiscent slashings and a murder suggests the Krays stalk the East End once again.

Steve Pemberton returns as the oddball amateur sleuth Buchan, breathlessly reliving every juicy detail of every lengendary murder. It is he who predicts the next killing will echo that of Jack The Hat McVitie in 1969, much to Miles’s annoyance.

‘Rock stars of murder’
‘The Krays were the original British gangsters,’ Buchan says, almost salivating. ‘They invented the firm. They were the rock stars of murder.’

It’s all complete tosh, and not as good as the first series. But the three leads still spark off each other, and the whole production captures a strange duality between past and present, using period footage and sound eerily.

One scene has Miles taking Chandler to an East End pub. He asks his boss to look round and tell him what he sees. In the gloom sit old lags with busted noses and facial scars, looking like ghosts from forgotten gang fights.

And you can just imagine two stocky blokes in Italian suits marching into the pub and freezing every conversation.

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