ITV cop show Whitechapel returns for a new six-part series later this month following two earlier successful runs.
The series debuted in 2009 with Rupert Penry Jones starring as Chandler, a detective investigating a series of copycat Jack the Ripper killings.
The second series saw Chandler’s team tackling a pair of modern day Krays in a case which, to the dismay of many fans, lacked the horror overtones of the first run.
Penry Jones says he too “missed the horror in the second one”, adding, “there’s a very gothic feel that you get which is what I think makes Whitechapel special and different.”
At a press screening earlier this month the cast said that in reintroducing the gothic feel, the production team pushed the limits of what’s permissible to show on a mainstream network show.
Phil Davis, who plays Chandler’s second in command DS Ray Miles, revealed “the art dept did a very fine headless corpse which [the director] found very difficult to film, it was a bit too gruesome so we had to be politic in the way it was shot.”
However Davis defended the tone of the show, saying “I think we’re in a place where horror movies meet the cop show and you want to take full advantage of that potential.”
Although the series has returned to its gothic roots the format has changed, dropping the copycat element of the past two seasons.
Still based in Whitechapel, Chandler has rescued an archive of case files which he recruits crime historian Buchan (Steve Pemberton) to study and catalogue so the team can “use the past as a map” to help solve present day crimes.
“We all knew we couldn’t do another copycat” says Davis, while Pemberton suggests to do so “would have stretched credulity” too far.
Davis adds “I thought at the end of the first one: ‘well how can there be another one?’ And then they came up with the Krays idea and I wasn’t convinced at first. I read the scripts and thought ‘actually it’s not bad’ but it was a stretch.”
“If they’d called it ‘Copycats’ they’d have been fine, they could have had copycats from all over the world,” suggests Penry Jones, who says he had “no idea” how the writers could continue the show.
However the former Spooks actor says “I think they’ve solved that very cleverly” with the new format.
Did the sense that the second series pushed credibility too far make the format change seem an organic part of the show’s development?
“Yes because the second series wasn’t quite a copycat in the same way the first one was, so it was a mid-way house in a way,” says Pemberton.
With a new, more flexible format can viewers look forward to Chandler and his team solving further cases?
Pemberton says “I think the third series shows it does have that longevity because it’s no longer rooted to one case, or a famous case. You’ve got the whole of crime history to draw upon.”
“I’d certainly like to do some more,” says Davis, adding “there’s still room for the characters to develop.”
“So long as it stays at the standard it’s at at the moment I can’t see why I would want to stop,” says Penry Jones who says the audience figures and reception will ultimately dictate whether ITV commission more episodes.
Whitechapel returns on Monday 30 January at 9:00pm on ITV1