Technically, I may not be a Ripperologist, but I have always been fascinated by the story of the infamous serial killer who haunted London's East End in the 19th century and was never found. Years ago, I worked on the miniseries with Michael Caine, who starred as Inspector Abberline of Scotland Yard -- which was a good excuse to add more books on the case to my library, including many of the grassy-knoll theories of who the Ripper may have been.
Much of the 1990 CBS Jack the Ripper drama, for which Caine won an Emmy, was shot at Holloway, a deserted Victorian asylum in the UK. Thinking about that place still gives me the creeps... and I can't even fathom that it's now a residential development.
All of which explains why I am the perfect audience for BBC America's current six-episode drama Whitechapel.
This beautifully shot series, which ran in the UK in 2008 and runs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on BBC America), begins with a three-chapter modern twist to the Jack the Ripper murders, and is not for the faint of heart. Jack -- or at least a wannabe -- is back.
The police try to squelch tabloid panic as they search for whoever is following in the footsteps of the Ripper, leaving duplicated victims in the locations nearest where the original killer toiled, and killed on a timetable in accordance with the original Ripper's murder calendar. The only reason the cops even suspect they have a copycat killer out there is because a noted Ripperologist has tipped them off.
Will they be able to do in this century what no Victorian detective managed to do then, and catch the monster? That's what creates the momentum in the series, but the real draw is the fine work on display from the three lead actors.
Detective Inspector Joseph Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones) is the new Guv, and veteran Detective Sergeant Miles (Phil Davis) is not at all happy with Chandler's novice theories of the killings and his OCD approach to the squad room.
What I particularly liked was how these actors played off their actual height divergence. Penry-Jones is much, much taller than Davis, and what could be a distracting difference turns into keen character development. At the outset, the shorter Davis towers over the new boss, keeping the upper hand among the men on the force and their investigation. Yet once they start to click as a team, you won't even notice the Mutt and Jeff component -- a job well done.
Steve Pemberton's fussy Ripper expert gets it right, too, in a role that could easily turn into caricature, but he manages to have fun with the role while maintaining the character's heart.