'Des' becomes ITV's biggest drama launch of 2020 as David Tennant's lauded for portrayal of killer

Amy Johnson
·2-min read
David Tennant as Nilsen on trial for murder. (ITV)
David Tennant as Nilsen on trial for murder. (ITV)

The first episode of ITV's new David Tennant-fronted miniseries Des has given the broadcaster its biggest drama launch of 2020.

The three-parter dramatising the arrest of serial killer Dennis Nilsen had an average audience of 5.4 million when it made its debut last night (Monday 14 September) and peaked with 5.9 million viewers, watched by almost a third of all viewers across the 9pm time slot.

Comparatively, hit Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? drama Quiz had an average of 5.3 million viewers while Van Der Valk garnered 5.2 million. All three are in the top five most watched drama launches this year across all channels.

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David Tennant as Nilsen outside Cranley Gardens. (ITV)
David Tennant as Nilsen outside Cranley Gardens. (ITV)

Nilsen was a civil servant who spent five years murdering boys and young men he met on the streets of London from 1978 to 1983. When he was caught in February 1983, Nilsen had killed as many as fifteen men, and was the UK’s most prolific serial killer at the time.

He typically disposed of his victims by burning them or flushing body parts down the toilet, with his crimes discovered when a plumber alerted police to parts clogging up the drains.

Tennant has already garnered plenty of acclaim for his portrayal of the Scottish killer with viewers praising his "unnerving" acting.

Daniel Mays and David Tennant in 'Des'. (Credit: ITV)
Daniel Mays and David Tennant in 'Des'. (Credit: ITV)

"#Des is television at its best, well written, well directed, well filmed and amazing acting from everyone but especially David Tennant," one shared to Twitter.

A second added: "'Des’ on @itv is exceptional. One of the best first eps of a series I’ve seen in a long time. Amazing work @LewisAEA. David Tennant’s performance is a masterclass. Chilling and unnervingly calm. Can’t wait for the next eps!"

Tennant stars in the drama alongside Daniel Mays as Detective Chief Inspector, Peter Jay and Jason Watkins as Nilsen's biographer Brian Masters.

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The show is primarily based on the book penned by Masters, Killing For Company.

Des continues tonight at 9pm and concludes tomorrow in the same time slot.