Old Crimes Feel New: BBC’s Ripper Street

Old Crimes Feel New: BBC’s Ripper Street

by Meg Humphrey

I was really upset when I stumbled upon Ripper Street (2012) on Netflix and had heard nothing about it. I figured with how crazy the population of Tumblr is over anything BBC that I would at least have seen one or two gif sets or a snippet of fanfiction, but there was nothing! I devoured all eight episodes over a weekend.


Despite the name, the show isn’t actually about Jack the Ripper. The show takes place in Whitechapel in the aftermath of the Ripper killings. Our main character, Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfayden), did work on the Ripper case, but unlike the lead Inspector Abberline, Reid is moving past the unsolved case and focusing on fresh crimes he can solve. Along with his “pitbull” Sergeant Drake (Jerome Flynn), Reid also enlists Yankee Captain, Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenburg), into being his coroner (whose scientific expertise is surprisingly wide and varied).


Of course there has to be a little more to the plot than just another police procedural. The people in Whitechapel are still haunted by Jack the Ripper – creating constant unease between fed-up townsfolk and the seemingly ineffectual police. Inspector Reid also has a ~mysterious past~ involving a daughter that may or may-not-be dead and that goes further to cause tension in his marriage. He devotes himself to his job in order to cope while his wife devotes herself to God (which Reid is none too thrilled about). The show also sheds light on the pasts of Drake and Jackson – neither of which are squeaky clean and end up causing the city more than a few problems.

BBC America

BBC once again excels at establishing the period. There are endless details in the fashions, forensics, and character interactions that make the watchers believe that this really was London in 1889. Despite the mismatching plaids (so fashionable), the show doesn’t feel old or stiff. It feels current even though science and technology are just blossoming. Reid is forced to rely on his wits and his partners’ expertise to solve crimes. No DNA testing, no fancy computers with searchable databases, no security cameras. I often exclaimed “that’s really clever!” as the characters solve problems that would have been virtually non-existent on shows like CSI (like how to test a body for chemicals). Ripper Street stands out because the police can still do their work despite the (often made up) gadgets we see on contemporary crime shows.

A little warning! This show isn’t for those who are squeamish about blood, guts, and violence. There are some pretty messy scenes and plenty of autopsies. If you can handle that and are bored with SVU re-runs, you should give Ripper Street a shot!