Review: The Frankenstein Chronicles (S2 E3/6), Wednesday 15th November, ITV Encore

NB: SPOILERS INSIDE

There wasn’t a whole lot of progression in the story of The Frankenstein Chronicles this week, as John Marlott and Sergeant Nightingale continued to converge in on the grim conspiracy that is haunting Pye Street. But things did get considerably creepier…

We returned once again to the slums of Pye Street, where John Marlott continued to work with the disgraced priest Spence in bearing corpses consumed by plague to the burial pits. Despite John seemingly hiding from the law in plain sight, Spence is clearly a trusting man; after assisting John in a bit of light grave disturbance last week, he doesn’t seem too concerned in what the former detective was looking for or what his intentions are – moreover he is determined to discover the cause of the plague afflicting a curiously small part of London, and the subsequent indifference from both Church and State toward the deadly outbreak.

John is similarly preoccupied, but with the sudden reappearance of the child catcher Billy Oates (Robbie Gee) instead, who has returned from his exile as part of a travelling circus run by the wily Mrs Wild. The old adversaries clash as John demands to know what happened to Hervey, but Billy advises him he spent most of the last three years as a sailor and has no knowledge of the villain’s fate. John’s quest to hunt down the spectre of Hervey seems increasingly redundant as everyone he interrogates reinforces the suggestion that the mad scientist is more a fixture of his dreams than reality.

A third murder victim is found in an alley and the quick-witted Peelers alert Sergeant Nightingale to the scene, who wisely commandeers Spence’s burial cart to ferry the corpse back to Westminster police station before the Parish Watch can get their corrupt hands on it. It’s a better episode for Nightingale after last week’s disappointments, as Sir Robert Peel advises Inspector Treadaway to promote the Sergeant for his sharp thinking on the removal of the body – but even more crucially, the official autopsy determines the body had its heart removed with surgical precision, exactly like the previous victims – thereby negating the Church’s version of events. Nightingale invites the journalist Boz to examine the findings, imploring him to print the truth and prevent any more public panic about demented monsters on the loose.

Elsewhere, things are heating up at the Dipple residence where Esther continues to embroider a dress in the company of Ada, who explains the fascination both her and Frederick have in ‘automatons’ – life-sized clockwork dolls that the pair hope will one day be able to function as humans might. Esther seems remarkably unfazed by these outlandish ideas, despite being shown the various creepy components for the ‘doll’ they hope to unveil to high society soon. Instead, she draws closer to Frederick, confessing she’s “afraid to live”. Be careful what you wish for Esther!

Meanwhile, it takes Spence to be a better detective than John this episode to get the plot moving again. Spence is able to identify the third victim as the Reverend Eastman, and advises Marlott that the three murdered priests all protested the Dean of Westminster’s plans to build more cemeteries, thereby generating more burial fee revenue for the church. Not only this, but he knows that the Dean plans to sell the land around Pye Street to make this happen, but needs to clear out the slums first. Conveniently, the sudden plague has begun that very same process…

In a clumsy expository jump, John dreams of something sinister in the sewers beneath the Pye Street water pump station, then proceeds to visit it at night and wrench the entire contraption loose from it’s moorings. Despite Spence’s protestations, John enters the sewers only to find the festering corpse of a plague victim purposely bound to the wall and infecting the entire water supply. Dragging the body up to the surface, he notices a sailor’s tattoo on it’s arm and tracks down Billy to confirm its origin. The child catcher doesn’t know the pestilent seadog but knows where his friends might be…

It was an unfortunate return to a meandering narrative this week, with a thin layer of plot stretched across the running time and dumped out fairly gracelessly in two exposition-heavy scenes that bookended the episode. It’s a shame the most interesting element of the show around the historical context of the State’s attempts to modernise society against the will of the Church was buried in favour of Sean Bean playing a piano poorly or punching people in the face. With only three episodes left in the series, the pace will need to pick up immeasurably to gloss over some of the show’s more unforgiving failures.

Andy D

For our episode one review go here

For our episode two review go here

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