Jack the Ripper unmasked? Whitechapel 3 DVD and Justified 4

• Jack the Ripper is unmasked – again – tonight on the Yesterday channel (Wednesday, 7 March, 9pm). Like the Who Killed Kennedy? industry, the Who Was Jack? phenomenon has supported a feverish army of theorists and scribes almost since the crimes were committed. In Prime Suspect: Jack the Ripper the story heads to Australia, where apparently there has been a new development. There lies the skull of Fredrick Bailey Deeming, Down Under’s first serial killer. He was executed in 1892, four years after the Whitechapel horrors, but was also a suspect in the London killings. Now DNA has been extracted from his skull. Is there a link to Jack?


• Speaking of Whitechapel, series 3 of ITV1‘s spooky drama about the East End cops tracking down ghosts of the criminal past comes out on DVD on 12 March. Having explored the Jack the Ripper and Kray myths, the team including Rupert Penry-Jones, Steve Pemberton and Phil Davis have just finished skulking around in the shadows reliving legendary crimes such as the Thames Torso Murders and the Ratcliffe Highway Murders. ‘We’re basing this on stuff that really did happen,’ says Pemberton in The Psychology of Fear, one of the two short documentaries that make up the extras here. ‘So that’s unsettling.’ The second doc is Whitechapel – The Past Uncovered, which gleefully looks at the horrible crimes that ‘inspired’ these ‘gothic thrillers’, as producer David Boulter calls them. This has been a bizarre series, but there’s no doubting it oozed a creepy atmosphere.
 • Great news for Justified devotees. Series 3 is yet to hit the UK but is doing well enough in the States for FX to announce it will make another 13-part season and fourth outing for Timothy Olyphant as the Stetson-wearing, gun-toting deputy US marshal. ‘Justified is one of television’s best series and this season has reinforced that excellence,’ FX’s EVP of original programming Nick Grad said.

• There is a new Inspector Singh novel coming out concerning A Curious Indian Cadaver. This is the latest in the series written by Shamini Flint, who was born in Malaysia and studied law at the University of Kent. Her novels about the portly, dishevelled and wheezing Singh have sold 500,000 copies and are compared to McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe, while also boasting clever, taut plots. In the latest adventure, Singh grudgingly agrees to attend a family wedding in Mumbai, when the bride disappears. Can it be long before the TV execs come calling on Shamini?

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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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• 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.

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