Last Night's Television - Who Do You Think You Are?, BBC1; Whitechapel, ITV1

Gore blimey, guv'nor

Hold the front, or in this case the inside-back page! Unforgiven, the ITV1 drama that finished last week, offered writing and acting out of the very top drawer, and Whitechapel, which started last night, looks to be out of the next drawer down. I hate to cram too many metaphors into one paragraph, but gripping ITV1 dramas are like London buses: you wait for ages, then two come along in rapid succession.

Whitechapel stars Rupert Penry-Jones, last seen legging it through the heather in a slightly clunky version of The 39 Steps, as Joseph Chandler, a high-flying detective inspector with the Metropolitan Police. Chandler's ascent through the ranks, however, owes more to his lofty social connections, and in particular the patronage of the commissioner (Alex Jennings), than any notable record of dirtying his hands with proper police work. On the contrary, DI Chandler hates getting his hands dirty. He is a cleanliness freak, whose neuroses are challenged when he is dispatched to take charge of an investigation into a grisly murder in the East End, partly because grisly murders are by definition messy, but mainly because the detectives he must lead, working out of Whitechapel cop shop, are a slovenly bunch. Naturally, they resent the arrival of Chandler, who as well as being suspiciously clean and tidy is also disconcertingly tall and posh. Small, messy and decidedly unposh Detective Sergeant Miles (the ever-excellent Phil Davis) orchestrates the resentment.

Now, there are problems with all this, for us as well as for them. For us the problem is a wearyingly familiar TV formula, the one that presents the detective as a maverick or misfit, being pitched in with mistrustful and usually unreconstructed new colleagues. In Prime Suspect it was a woman, in Life on Mars it was a time-traveller, and I could fill the rest of this column with further examples going back to the 1970s and beyond. Remember Dennis Weaver's McCloud, the cowboy in New York City? Chandler is McCloud with antiseptic wipes instead of a 10-gallon hat.

The problem for them, meanwhile, is that the clash of personalities impedes the investigation, with the seen-it-all cop Miles refusing to believe that the murder is a precise copy of the first strike by Jack the Ripper, 120 years earlier. Every time there is a murder in Whitechapel, he complained, some "Ripperologist" surfaces to invoke Victorian London. The Ripperologist here is Steve Pemberton from The League of Gentlemen, having a high old time leading tourists along streets almost as creepy as those in Royston Vasey. When he pointed out to Chambers the uncanny similarities with Jack the Ripper's crimes, Chambers believes him. When another woman is murdered in the same way, even Miles grudgingly accepts that their quarry is a copycat serial killer.

None of this brought anything original to what is essentially a standard police procedural (albeit with more gore than we normally get), so why did I enjoy it? Partly it was the acting, by Davis and Pemberton in particular, but mostly it was S J Clarkson's direction, a little over-flashy at times but very good in the crucial business of generating mood and suspense. I even just about forgave the inevitable way in which the background music kept infiltrating the foreground, making it sound as though it wasn't just a murderer loose on the streets of Whitechapel, but also the entire strings section of the London Symphony Orchestra.

From Ripperology to genealogy. A new series of Who Do You Think You Are? kicked off with Rory Bremner, making the title even more apt than usual, although Bremner on the whole held back the impressions, except for the frightfully pukka 1940s English he used to intone the entries in a phrasebook circulated to British Army personnel, including his father, Major Donald Bremner, stationed in Germany after the Second World War. With the high-handedness that the victors doubtless felt was their privilege, most of the phrases were highly peremptory, such as "go away, please. I cannot talk to you now."

Bremner's father was 53 when his younger son was born, and died 18 years later ravaged by cancer. With tragic irony the cancer charity he worked for after leaving the army summarily fired him when he got cancer himself, sending him a signed photograph of the Duke of Devonshire as a leaving present. Bremner dates his own highly productive sense of injustice from that moment.

Some years ago, incidentally, Ken Dodd was a guest on the Radio 4 programme In the Psychiatrist's Chair. Dr Anthony Clare introduced him by saying that he intended to strip away the mask of the clown, get beneath the carapace of the funny man, to see what made him tick. "How," he asked Dodd, "do you feel about that?" To which Dodd replied that he felt it was quite tatttifilarious and totally plumptious. In other words, he had no intention of letting his clown's mask slip. Bremner, by contrast, let us see exactly what makes him tick, another triumph for a series that is never less than watchable, and quite often deeply moving.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones