History's enduring fascination with the gruesome crimes of Jack The Ripper continues unabated with yet another example of popular fiction being inspired by the legendary murderer. Truthfully, I have read enough books, seen enough television, and watched enough movies that cast Jack The Ripper into a central role that I feel like he's an old friend--albeit one I wouldn't want to invite home to dinner. So wearily and warily, I sat down to ITV's three part suspenser "Whitechapel: The Ripper Returns." Within minutes, however, I was hooked! Moody and stylish, "Whitechapel" is an expertly assembled crime drama that posits a familiar scenario where a modern day maniac is duplicating the crimes of the notorious Ripper. And while we've seen this exact set-up countless times before, it works grandly yet again. By concentrating on the police procedural aspects of the investigation as opposed to the crimes, this becomes a tense race against time to try to outwit and outmaneuver a killer by using clues from historical records. It's both well paced and well acted--and, in only three parts, it is a concise and scary little story.
Beginning with a vicious murder, the case is afoot. Rupert Penry-Jones plays an ambitious detective inspector who gets his first big murder case without initially realizing the magnitude of what will unfold. He is clued into the similarities to Jack the Ripper by a Ripper expert/enthusiast played perfectly by Steve Pemberton. Bringing the theory back to his new squad, they treat it with skepticism. In fact, the officers (led by the terrific Phillip Davis) are generally dismissive of the younger inexperienced man. However, as the pattern continues to prove correct, a grudging form of respect starts to develop and everyone is intent of catching the copycat before time elapses on the last murder. Again, the first two episodes are near perfection establishing colorful characters and genuine tension. "Whitechapel: The Ripper Returns" does, however, feel a bit rushed for its final act. It's not necessarily a fatal flaw, but so much is stuffed into the last thirty minutes--it doesn't build to the excruciating confrontation that I had been hoping for and expecting.
Still, if you are a fan of these British mysteries or crime procedurals, there is a lot to recommend "The Ripper Returns." I really liked Penry-Jones (but I usually do), but it is Pemberton that brings an unexpected pathos to the piece. Quite literally, he steals every scene that he's in. There are a lot of elements that you've seen before--The Ripper, office politics, copycat crimes--but they are assembled into a tight and cohesive plot. Fabulously entertaining and appropriately dark, I'm certainly glad I checked this out. The same team has already put together another three episode arc for season two and have a promised return in 2012 for season three. (Gotta love British TV--three episodes constitutes a season!) I will be front and center for these new crimes! KGHarris, 11/11.