TV REVIEW: Ripper Street - In My Protection

After the Jack the Ripper related exploits of last week's episode, In My Protection headed down the Dickensian route with more references to Oliver Twist than Bill Sykes could beat to death with a stick.

After a toymaker is brutally murdered, Reid (Matthew MacFadyen), Jackson (Adam Rothenburg) and Drake (Jerome Flynn) are led to believe that a teenage boy committed the unspeakable act, presented with evidence from George Lusk (Michael Smiley) of the Whitechapel Vigilance Men. When the boy is sentenced to death, Reid and the boy's solicitor, Eagles (Hugh O'Conor) think that there is sufficient doubt as to his guilt and proceed down a line of investigation that leads them to the vicious Carmichael (Joseph Gilgun).

Sadly, I'm not enjoying Ripper Street as much as Jen did in her review last week. I think my main issue with the series is that it seems to be ordinary drama masquerading as something more original; scratch the period drama surface and all you have is a police procedural and not a particularly captivating one at that. Just to compound the fact that we're in Victorian London, we have a scratchy violin score that seems to have been lifted straight from Hans Zimmer's music for Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes (which is all I could think of during the boxing scene in the opening episode). 

The Victorian setting offers up so much for exploration, especially in 1889, as everything was constantly shifting and changing. The rise of the press is hinted at, but never really explored. It could cast a reflection on our own culture of celebrity and media glorification of horrific acts (a particularly relevant subject considering sad recent events), but it's just left hanging there, functioning as a nuisance to our heroic detectives (I am of course, assuming that this does not change in the later episodes. Who knows, all my issues may be addressed). Being a Victorian literature/history nut, maybe I'm expecting too much from it but mostly the entire aim of the series so far seems to be "Look how horrible Victorian London was!". Anyone familiar with the works of Dickens, or even just the television adaptations, knows that already. It was grim yes, now do something interesting with it; don't just murder people horrifically and then play out a sombre version of CSI: Whitechapel. 

This particular storyline was a rehashing of Oliver Twist, with a brutal murder taking place instead of a theft and Joseph Gilgun's pantomime mash-up of Fagin and Bill Sykes. While a couple of references were cute, especially the direct one to the 'Fagins of this world', it just served up another example of why this series perhaps isn't the best advert for BBC Original Drama. This also extends to the characters; two episodes in and feel like there's nothing left to discover. Matthew MacFadyen is a great actor and gives this series its good, central moral anchor but now we know what the conflict between Reid and his wife is, we know why he's so dark and moody. Bam, mystery gone. 

Adam Rothenburg's Captain Jackson is very Doc Holliday* without the sense of humour or the charm, but with all the drunken debauchery and weird sense of honour (seriously, he's a few kilograms less and a more impressive moustache away from being Val Kilmer in Tombstone). Again, not the most original characterisation in the world. Jerome 'Career Resurgence' Flynn is also very good as the strong but silent Drake, slowly beating down the residual memory of the time when he was one half of unexpected crooners Robson and Jerome. But I don't feel attached to any one of them, and that to me is always the mark of a good drama. If I care about the characters, I can forgive most other things. So far, they haven't really given me a reason to.

On a positive note, I really enjoyed certain aspects of the episode and though, as I said, I'm struggling to care about the characters, I lay that problem at the feet of the writers rather than the actors. The performances, despite the one-note characters, were all excellent and the scenes between Reid and his wife offered some welcome, human respite from all the violence. Gilgun's villain did begin to grate a little towards the end of the episode, but as I was never supposed to like him to begin with, I would count that as a mark in the plus column. Likewise, the period detail is fantastic; from the costumes to the dirty streets, you are always certain where you are and when dealing with a place as grimy as Whitechapel was in the Victorian era, it's essential that your audience become completely immersed in this.

Sadly, the actual content of the episode just wasn't involving or original enough, nor was the case itself anything particularly gripping. So as you can see, my opinion of Ripper Street differs greatly from Jen's so far. We'll be alternating episodes throughout the series so I'm sure you'll definitely see some debating going on as vicious murders continue on Ripper Street.

- Becky

You can read Jen's review of the previous episode I Need Light here.

Follow Becky on Twitter @beckygracelea
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* EDIT: I did actually mean the famous OK Corrale gunslinger and not the rather charming Michael J. Fox film, Doc Hollywood as previously stated.

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