A warning to expect torture, violence and gore from the start and throughout preceded the unsettling opening episode of the new series of Whitechapel (ITV 1) and it did not disappoint, writes John Corser.
The eagerly-awaited fourth series of the atmospheric murder mystery delivered a scary diet of witches, spooks and a serial killer with a penchant for dispatching his victims in as cruel and sadistic a manner as possible.
The streets and alleyways of the East End seem to be even darker and more full of shadows and danger this time around and Ripper expert Edward Buchan, played by Steve Pemberton, set the tone at his book launch explaining that some believed the gates to hell could be found in Whitechapel and that was why it was plagued by terror and stalked by so many killers.
The sinister grey-haired old tramp (David Gant) who was seen hurrying through the threatening streets at the start of the episode was the first to perish.
After fighting off a mugger armed with a pipe he arrived at a creepy doss house only to fall into the torturing witch-hunting killer’s trap and then be pressed 16th Century style with blocks of stone piled on to his chest and forced to reveal a woman’s name – before being finished off by the maniac.
Rupert Penry-Jones as Detective Inspector Joe Chandler, obviously still deeply haunted from his past experiences hunting the killers attracted to his patch, was quick to spot the mysterious symbols on the murder house as his team swung rapidly into action to hunt his latest quarry, who it emerged had also slain the victim’s pet rat as well.
Rather too quickly it was established that the mysterious dead man was Alexander Zukanov, a former Bulgarian secret service operative who may have been involved in the kidnap and murder of dissidents in the UK.
More ‘spooks’ soon put in an appearance in the shape of MI6 officer Stella Knight and rogue agent Crispin Wingfield, who was himself tortured in Bulgaria by Zukanov, but Chandler and his right-hand man Det Sgt Ray Miles, the excellent Phil Davis, realise they are being manipulated towards identifying Wingfield as the killer.
Another homeless man, who turns out to have been the mugger who assaulted Zukanov, is also in the frame but Chandler sees the case against him as too flimsy.
Another gruesome murder soon followed as the doddery old lady Dorothy Cade, whose name had been forced out of Zukanov, is ambushed in her own home, bound and first tortured and forced to reveal another name to the killer before being burned alive at the stake.
Wingfield, who is interviewed by Chandler after he is found to have been carrying out surveillance on the police station, then reveals that the detectives have been infiltrated by a supernatural agent of evil.
“You’re mad,” Chandler tells him, only to get the reply: “I wish I were.”
At the scene of Dorothy Cade’s murder the penny finally drops with Chandler as he realises: “Someone is killing witches in Whitechapel.”
Fortunately the mood of Whitechapel is not entirely black and there is plenty of humour injected into the scripts.
From the first series in 2009 the fine cast have built up a great repartee with Steve Pemberton, well versed in black humour from his work with The League of Gentlemen, adding much of the comic element without which Whitechapel would be just too bleak.
The actor/writer has also written one of the episodes of the new run.
The opening episode of the new six-episode series perhaps suffered from trying to shoehorn in too much plot, but there was plenty to get newcomers to the series – if they could stomach all the scares and gore – well and truly hooked.