Just when you thought that there weren’t any more historical murder cases to gorily emulate in the Whitechapel area, along comes a new series of the blood-spattered ITV drama. Only this time there’s a twist in the tale for DI Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones), DS Miles (Phil Davis) and researcher Edward Buchan (Steve Pemberton).
“The format has changed slightly this year because there are only a number of suitable copycat crimes you can write about,” says Penry-Jones. “What the writers, Ben Court and Caroline Ip, have done is brought Buchan in to advise us by using history as a kind of map. So we use the crimes of the past to help us solve the crimes of the present.”
In the opening instalment, four people are slaughtered at a seemingly fortified tailor’s workshop and soon enough Buchan is digging up links to the long-forgotten Ratcliffe Highway Murders of 1811.
“Although Buchan is someone who has been proven right in previous cases, there’s still a lot of mistrust and non-acceptance of him as a fully fledged police aide,” says Pemberton. “So for him to be able to come and move his pot plant and knick-knacks into his own room in the police station is his absolute dream come true.”
For viewers, the good news is that this third series of Whitechapel restores the unnerving atmosphere that was a marked feature of the original Ripper story but largely missing from a sequel that concerned itself with the mythology of the Krays.
“I think it’s the place where the horror movie meets the cop show,” says Davis. “And we really wanted to take full advantage of that potential. So the horror factor has been upped in this one.”
Sure enough, episode one contains its fair share of scares, what with the shots of blood dripping through a ceiling, the prospect of an almost supernatural killer, plenty of jittery camerawork and the whole thing being lit in a sickly green light. But is it a frightening experience for the actors involved?
“The art department do a very fine headless torso,” comments Davis. “It was a bit too gruesome so we had to be politic in the way it was shot. But I’m not particularly squeamish.”
“I missed the horror element when we did the second one and I’m glad it’s back now,” says Penry-Jones. “What made filming the first series horrible was the fact that the poor girls playing the murdered prostitutes were having to lie on the floor with real offal on their bodies. Everything’s fake now. There are no real livers this time around, although there’s a severed foot at one point that’s pretty disgusting.”
Another change in series three is that there is now a trio of two-part investigations to contend with. But does a longer run mean greater character development for the fastidious and idiosyncratic Chandler? Penry-Jones admits that there are romantic complications in store for his character, including some “kit-off” moments.
“What’s happened with Chandler in this series is that he is much more alert to women, whereas before if a beautiful woman looked at him he wouldn’t even notice. Now, if somebody finds him attractive, he senses it right away. And it’s given me a load of fun things to play with, like moments where he wants to kiss a woman and can’t because he doesn’t know how.
“But I think what keeps our audience there is the thrill. It’s that thrill factor they chase. How much they can take and how scared they can get before they can’t handle it any more.”
Whitechapel returns on Monday 30 January at 9:00pm on ITV1