The Ripper is another true-crime documentary series from Netflix, which concentrates on the high-profile "Yorkshire Ripper" murders from the 1970s to the early 1980s. The Yorkshire Ripper, named after the infamous Jack the Ripper, initially targeted prostitutes before he began to kill any women walking the streets at night. The ensuing investigation was costly and expansive, eventually leading to the capture and conviction of Peter William Sutcliffe. Netflix maintains such a high standard with its true-crime documentary shows, from the worldwide obsession that was Making a Murderer, to the more recent Night Stalker, but The Ripper is without doubt the poorest that the streaming giant has produced to date. And that is a real shame, because the Yorkshire Ripper case deserves a quality, comprehensive docuseries, but the potential is thoroughly squandered with this wrong-headed, unfocused miniseries.
Admittedly, The Ripper is not all bad, as there are some positive qualities which would be prudent to cover first. As to be expected, there are interviews with many participants throughout the series to effectively tell this story, including police officers who worked on the case as well as the victims' families, and the show is produced with the requisite polish you come to expect from Netflix - this is a 4K, High Dynamic Range-enhanced series, after all. The wealth of archival material is also interesting; I liked seeing the locations where everything took place, and the inner workings of the police station during the investigation. The first couple of episodes are relatively engaging, too, but then it takes a rapid nosedive. Let's count the flaws:
1) Lack of focus. Simply put, the show cannot figure out what it wants to be. Alas, it's not a straightforward or linear account of the murders, investigation and trial, which is what it should've been and sometimes tries to be. It's also not a profile of the Ripper himself, Peter Sutcliffe, as we don't learn much about his family life or his background; in fact, the show doesn't tell us much at all about him beyond his profession and that his father used to hit his mother, making him hate women. Regrettably, the show is more interested in the political stuff, which is extremely uninteresting, but again it's not actually about that - instead, this series is an unfocused, lazy mishmash of all possible angles. It's a lazy mess, rather than feeling properly comprehensive. It could've been two episodes purely focused on the investigation and arrest of Sutcliffe, followed by an episode profiling him, and then an episode about the feminist political propaganda. Such a structure would be cleaner and more effective.
2) Loose threads. Primarily, the show doesn't give the hoax letters and tapes due consideration, and it's treated more like a footnote when it was a bigger part of the investigation. The person who sent those letters and tapes was later arrested and charged, which is not covered in the series. The perpetrator also phoned the police station at the time to say that it was all fake, as he feared his efforts had stifled the investigation and it had gone too far. You wouldn't know any of that information from watching the documentary, as the story thread is promptly dropped. Also, this series came out in December 2020, a few weeks after the Ripper died of COVID-19, but that detail is not included, making it feel incomplete. Would ten seconds of text be too much to ask for? On that note, Sutcliffe's prison life was worth exploring, but it's not touched upon.
3) Missing details everywhere. As previously mentioned, the hoax letters and tapes were not given proper consideration, but there are far more missing details which go deeper than that. For instance, the five-pound note found at one of the crime scenes led to a detective following the cash from manufacturing to distribution, leading to a list of possible suspects who could have come into contact with the note. And Sutcliffe was on that list. Sutcliffe was not immediately arrested, as implied by the documentary; instead, he was under the microscope for some time, going through endless interviews and interrogations, before finally cracking and being charged. I mean, his wife provided alibis for him and swore by his innocence. None of this is mentioned. It's not even mentioned that a "dream team" of investigators came in to provide recommendations during the investigation. Or the theory about where the killer lived, based on the geographical location of the murders. And when the show critiques the police investigation, it doesn't even touch on the extensive, damning report which was completed following Sutcliffe's incarceration (maybe because said report was written by a male and the show is so anti-male, y'know). There is far more to be learned about this case, making this feel even more like a missed opportunity. Again, the series feels incredibly incomplete.
4) The political agenda. And here's the big one, which positively derails the show. Halfway through the third episode (which was directed by a woman, naturally), the series devolves into a dishonest, politically-motivated feminist mouthpiece. Those who lives through the Yorkshire Ripper's reign of terror don't recall the feminism being so heavy at the time outside of the "Reclaim the Night" march, and I'm not convinced that the archival footage of marches is all authentic... Documentaries should be objective and unbiased, especially about polarising political material, but The Ripper is anything but. It paints the angle that the investigation was bungled because it was run by men, not because it was run by incompetent police. It states that the investigators weren't equipped to deal with the investigation...because it was run by men. It introduces the ludicrous notion that the investigation was a male conspiracy against women. Worse, this viewpoint is not discussed or dissected adequately; it's just presented, without any counterargument. Projecting contemporary third-wave feminism bollocks onto a bygone era (which, yes, did have problems in terms of social justice) is problematic and feels politically-motivated. One interviewee reads out law enforcement victim profiles with disdain, even though such profiles are purely factual with no actual judgment being passed. The series fails to mention that attitudes towards sex workers during the era were appalling from both genders. Yes, women judged sex workers harshly, leading to a lack of sympathy from the public as a whole from the outset. The political stuff is just too much and too biased. This team could've just made an hour-long documentary about the feminist angle, but it's forcibly shoehorned into the series, contributing to that lack of focus that was previously discussed. A more fitting title would be Feminism and The Ripper (a title I would've avoided).
All in all, The Ripper is a studiously waste of time and effort, which is a crying shame because the interview material probably exists to make something more focused and compelling. But with the feminist propaganda and the lack of focus, it's a real slog. The Casefile podcast team covered this case in much more detail across three podcast episodes, and it it far more worth your while.