IF THERE was any doubt that Des was set to be a different type of crime series, it was removed early on, in what had to be the least melodramatic murder arrest in TV history. Called to investigate the discovery of human remains at a north London flat, the detective in charge cut to the chase. ‘No messin’ about, where’s the rest of the body?’ he asked. And the suspect told him. Bosh.
This scene, brilliantly underplayed by Daniel Mays as DCI Peter Jay and David Tennant as notorious serial killer Dennis Nilsen, made it feel like we’d stumbled into a documentary, albeit one filmed in 1983.
After a brief bit of scene-setting — with the Thatcher-era backdrop of high unemployment reminding us that life was as unsettled then as it is now — we were straight into the bones of Nilsen’s crimes. And I do mean bones.
Adopting a curiously icy detachment that married chatty rationality with macabre insensitivity, Tennant gave us a version of Nilsen that was both plausible and abominable.
‘I have to ask,’ queried his solicitor, ‘Why did you do this?’. ‘I don’t really know,’ countered Nilsen. ‘I was hoping you could tell me that.’
And that’s the meat of what’s to come in the next two episodes. We’ve dealt with the what, taken on board the scary ease with which he picked up the sad young men he took back to his flat and now we’ll head into the why, which promises to be an even more chilling place. You might find yourself wanting to turn away but it’s hard. Des casts a deadly spell.