LONDON, 1827 – DAY
OFFICER JOHN MARLOTT and his boss SIR ROBERT PEEL are standing by the capital’s latest crime scene: another mutilated and stitched body has washed up on the bank of the Thames.
SIR ROBERT PEEL
I don’t want any mistakes on this case, Marlott. I’m gonna be watching you so close you’ll think we’ve been stitched together.
Peel stalks away, leaving Marlott gazing into the grey city gloom.
Okay, Sir Robert…
Marlott turns and puts on an era-appropriate hat.
The 19th century London locale still doesn’t look like CSI: Miami’s beaches, and John Marlott – seeking the one “out there doin’ murders” – sure ain’t Horatio Caine. It’s all grit in this cop show/Frankenstein riff, Marlott continuing to delve into spaces grimier than David Caruso and his designer sunglasses have ever faced here in the modern day.
Hitting episode two, the London copper’s all tooled up. There’s his crack team of investigators… that’s just Mr Nightingale (Richie Campbell), tailing dodgy grave robber Pritty (Charlie Creed-Miles). There’s his evidence board listing all the main suspects – a few crappy cameo paintings, and a crumpled William Blake poem. And he’s analysing the results from some top of the line technology to figure out where the body was originally dumped into the Thames – that’s the timed dead pig race from last week. Yeah.
But how many TV detectives can boast William Blake (Steven Berkoff) as a crime consultant? Okay, that’s a bedridden and blathering Blake, offering up leads like “you have to know the truth of the beast… the beast with the face of a man!” His post-death gift of The Book Of Prometheus manuscript – delivered by Mary Shelley (Anna Maxwell Martin) – that’s rather vague too, admittedly, but at least it’ll brighten up the evidence board a bit.
Marlott’s really up against it, assessing all the players involved in the case from his dingy quarters. There’s the continuing possibility that the disappearances and post-death surgeries are tied in with the Anatomy Act that’s firing up the seemingly philanthropic Lady Jemima Hervey (Vanessa Kirby) and Sir Bentley Warburton (Elliott Cowan). There are the creepy-cold surgeons, like Sir William Chester (Samuel West), looking for “subjects” to experiment on. Then there are the grave robbers who’re finding their livelihood (…that word’s not really appropriate) threatened by decreasing demand – corpses going for as little as £13, according to Pritty. A new enterpriser has also entered the marketplace with particularly choice cuts (if you’re looking for freshly dead/probably murdered cuts, that is), working with poverty-stricken children of the area, like Flora (Eloise Smyth), who’re forced to help the New Killer on the Block, or face becoming victims.
Hurriedly pencilling in meetings with all these people – so many ‘Sirs’, crikey – Marlott also manages some meat-and-potatoes policing this episode, some of the best bits of the series’ second instalment. His attendance at a lecture on the effects of electricity on the peripheral nervous system, and the planting of a silver spoon at a sting operation on the graveyard, offers viewers a quick peek at some of the peculiarities of the nineteenth century – it’s not illegal yet to steal dead people!/let’s electrocute corpses to make them dance around! – while showcasing just how good Marlott is at this murder investigation lark. The pub-set interrogation of reporter Boz (Ryan Sampson) is another highlight, the threat to break the writer’s thumb just as effective as offers of food and coins to the street children for information.
Complications set up for the rest of the series also promise to be viscera-level juicy. There could be corruption on the force – Sir Robert’s (Tom Ward) quoting of Blake’s London is way too conspicuously placed (or the writers just really, really like Blake). Plus Sir William Chester’s visits to the library for books on dead body tissue doesn’t look good.
In terms of romance – Lady Jemima has been sure to mention to Marlott that Sir Hervey is her brother, not her husband. Oh, my. Which would be a tonic following this week’s dead-end romantic angle. No, not Marlott’s dead wife, or the syphilis, we mean his visit to Blake’s private residence to ‘see his etchings’ not turning into a lustful rendezvous (did we mention we really, really like Blake, too?).