Des on ITV: Premiere date, cast and more on the David Tennant true-crime drama

David Tennant in "Des" on ITV.
David Tennant in "Des" on ITV. (Image credit: ITV)

If true crime dramas like American Crime Story and Dirty John are your thing, don’t miss gritty factual thriller Des

Coming to ITV this fall, Des examines how Dennis Nilsen, one of Britain’s most infamous serial killers, was brought to justice.

Des release date: when will Des be shown on ITV? 

ITV has revealed that Des is part of its autumn/fall line-up. It will air nightly from Monday 14 to Wednesday 16 September at 9pm.

Des cast: Who is acting in the series? 

David Tennant, best known for his scene-stealing roles in Good Omens and Doctor Who, will unleash his dark side to play the twisted killer. And in the chilling first photo of Tennant in the role, the likeness is truly uncanny.

Des sees events partly through the eyes of dogged police detective DCI Peter Jay, who led the investigation and was determined to make Nilsen pay for his horrific crimes. Fans of Netflix thriller White Lines will recognize the always-reliable Daniel Mays as Jay. 

Meanwhile, the superb Jason Watkins, recently seen as former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson in Netflix’s The Crown, plays Nilsen’s biographer Brian Masters. The colorful writer conducted interviews with the murderer for a 1985 book, "Killing for Company," on which the drama is partly based. 

The troubling social issues of the 1980s and how the victims, many of whom were vulnerable and alone in London, were perceived in the press, also comes under the spotlight in Des.

What’s the true story behind the Dennis Nilsen drama Des?

Between 1978 and 1983, seemingly unassuming job centre worker Nilsen, known as "Des," murdered a still undetermined number of young men — many of whom have never been identified —  after taking them back to his home.

Des explores how, in February 1983, Nilsen was finally caught after remains were found in a drain at his North London apartment. He initially confessed to at least 15 murders. The series then follows the intense police investigation and Nilsen’s trial, at which he was convicted of six counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder and sentenced to life in prison. He died, aged 72, in 2018.

Des ITV trailer: is there one?

The trailer shows the police asking Nilsen if he has hidden one body or two and he calmly replies "15 or 16." Peter Jay is determined to make sure Nilsen "gets away with nothing" while Brian Masters prepares to interview the killer, who chillingly says, "It's nice to be listened to, it makes me feel human again."

How many parts is Des on ITV? 

Three parts. Each episode is 60 minutes long.

What else do we know? 

"Dennis Nilsen’s crimes shocked the nation in the early 1980s," says Des producer Kim Varvell. "Our program 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."

Caren Clark

Caren has been a journalist specializing in TV for almost two decades and is a Senior Features Writer for TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What’s On TV magazines and she also writes for What to Watch.

Over the years, she has spent many a day in a muddy field or an on-set catering bus chatting to numerous stars on location including the likes of Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Jamie Dornan, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi as well as Hollywood actors such as Glenn Close and Kiefer Sutherland.

Caren will happily sit down and watch any kind of telly (well, maybe not sci-fi!), but she particularly loves period dramas like Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown and she’s also a big fan of juicy crime thrillers from Line of Duty to Poirot.

In her spare time, Caren enjoys going to the cinema and theatre or curling up with a good book.