Des ITV - all you need to know about David Tennant’s serial killer drama

Des ITV sees David Tennant as killer Dennis Nilsen
David Tennant as killer Dennis Nilsen in recent ITV drama Des (Image credit: ITV)

Des is heading to ITV this September

Des on ITV sees David Tennant play serial killer Dennis Nilsen in a chilling new true crime drama.

The Doctor Who and Broadchurch actor has been transformed to look remarkably similar to Nilsen, who murdered boys and young men in his London flat. Des is just one of a number of big new dramas coming up this autumn on ITV including Honour and Singapore Grip.

When does Des on ITV start?

ITV is yet to officially announce an exact date, although they have confirmed it will start in September.


David Tennant appears to have had his hair cut short for the part of Nilsen (Image credit: ITV)

Who was Dennis Nilsen?

Nilsen is one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers. He admitted to murdering at least 15 men and boys in the 1970s and 80s. His crimes were only discovered when a neighbour called a plumber to unblock a drain at his North London flat and human remains the murderer had tried to flush away were discovered.

Nilsen was convicted at the Old Bailey of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, which was replaced by a whole life tariff in 1994. He died aged 72 in May 2018.

Des ITV - what’s the plot? And who’s in the cast?

Nilsen with Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay (Line of Duty’s Daniel Mays) in ITV's Des

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay (Line of Duty’s Daniel Mays) keeps a tight grip on Nilsen (Tennant) (Image credit: ITV)

Des is based on material from the book Killing for Company by Brian Masters. It’s told through the eyes of three men - Nilsen (David Tennant), Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay (Line of Duty’s Daniel Mays) and biographer Brian Masters (The Crown’s Jason Watkins).

It examines both the personal and professional consequence of coming into contact with Nilsen. ITV says it will “explore how a man like Nilsen was able to prey on the young and vulnerable in 1980s Britain".

Nilsen (David Tennant) with Brian Masters (Jason Watkins) in Des

Nilsen (Tennat) with his biographer Brian Masters (Jason Watkins) (Image credit: ITV)

Kim Varvell, Executive Producer explains: "Dennis Nilsen’s crimes shocked the nation in the early 1980s. Our programme focuses on the emotional impact of those terrible crimes, both on those who came into contact with Nilsen himself, and also on the victims’ families.”

Des ITV - what does the trailer reveal?

The trailer sees Nilsen’s police mug shots being taken, human remains being carried away from his flat, and him talking to the police. And it shows Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay getting angry that Nilsen managed to get away with his crimes for so long.

How many parts is Des on ITV?

Three parts.

David Hollingsworth

David is the What To Watch Editor and has over 20 years of experience in television journalism. He is currently writing about the latest television and film news for What To Watch.

Before working for What To Watch, David spent many years working for TV Times magazine, interviewing some of television's most famous stars including Hollywood actor Kiefer Sutherland, singer Lionel Richie and wildlife legend Sir David Attenborough. 

David started out as a writer for TV Times before becoming the title's deputy features editor and then features editor. During his time on TV Times, David also helped run the annual TV Times Awards. David is a huge Death in Paradise fan, although he's still failed to solve a case before the show's detective! He also loves James Bond and controversially thinks that Timothy Dalton was an excellent 007.

Other than watching and writing about telly, David loves playing cricket, going to the cinema, trying to improve his tennis and chasing about after his kids!