Des episode 1: David Tennant.

Des: David Tennant fans are “haunted” by his chilling (but brilliant) performance

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This is what David Tennant fans have to say about his performance in the first episode of ITV’s Des.

TV fans are fascinated by dramatised retellings of true crime events at the moment: the murder of Banaz Mahmood is explored in Keeley Hawes’ new series Honour, Elisabeth Moss has signed up to bring real-life killer Candy Montgomery to the screen with Candy, and Netflix’s popular Dirty John continues to tell the story of murderer Betty Broderick.

So it’s no surprise that everybody on Twitter was talking about the first episode of ITV’s Des, which aired last night (Monday 14 September).

The three-part series – which continues tonight and concludes tomorrow – follows the story of notorious serial killer and necrophiliac Dennis Nilsen, who is played by David Tennant. The civil servant murdered at least 15 men and boys between 1978 and 1983, luring his victims to his home under the pretense of offering food and shelter. 

The show doesn’t depict any of the murders on screen, and instead chooses to focus on the psychology behind them. Responding to some criticism that the series “glorifies” Nilsen, Tennant told BBC News that it has been made “in no way to celebrate the macabre, but to memorialise the victims as much as anything”.

He added: “That’s one of the reasons for telling this story. Of course, when you do a story like this, everyone involved is very aware that you have to tread carefully and that you must be sensitive to the variety of reactions that it will provoke.”

What happened in Des episode one?

The mini-series starts with Nilsen being arrested after a plumber discovers human remains blocking the drains at his London home. Interviewed by DCI Peter Jay (Daniel Mays), Nilsen’s offhand approach and lack of emotion when talking about his crimes is chilling. We also see a prelude to a series of conversations Nilsen has with Brian Masters (Jason Watkins), the biographer who published Killing for Company in 1985.

Des on ITV
Des: David Tennant as Dennis Nilsen.

The episode answers the question: how did he get away with the murders for so long? Nilsen preyed on homeless people – some of the most vulnerable members of society, especially in 80s Britain. But another infuriating part of the answer is that a would-be victim who escaped wasn’t taken seriously by the police because of homophobia.

When asked why he committed the murders, Nilsen coolly replies: “I was hoping you could tell me”. It looks like this is the other big question that will be explored in the next two episodes using the conversations with Masters. 

Tennant’s remarkable performance is being praised by viewers:

“Only David Tennant could go from The Doctor, to Detective, to Marvel Villain, to Demon, to serial killer and carry them off flawlessly!” noted one fan.

“He’s absolutely haunting as Dennis Nilsen, and the resemblance is uncanny. He’s so irritatingly talented, isn’t he?”

“David Tennant is sensational as ever,” shared another fan. “Absolutely outstanding. Easy to forget it’s him. Tone of the show and acting all round is sheer brilliance. Nothing romanticised or glamourised. Fantastic job all round!”

“The way he’s acting the hero solving a crime that he’s committed is fascinating!! David Tennant is absolutely incredible at charming yet unnerving you at the same time,” observed this fan.

“Ohhhhh David Tennant’s #Des is totally cold and creepy…. 20 minutes in and it’s utterly compelling,” added another.

And with many people calling for Tennant to get a Bafta, one viewer said: “If David Tennant doesn’t get a BAFTA I’ll eat one of my many hats.”

Des continues tonight on ITV at 9pm.

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Images: ITV

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…