David Tennant transforms into serial killer Dennis Nilsen in new photos from ITV drama Des

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David Tennant is back on TV screens this month, playing serial killer Dennis Nilsen in ITV’s new drama Des.

Ahead of the anticipated drama, new photos have been released of the Doctor Who star transformed into the Muswell Hill Murderer who killed 12 men between 1978 and 1983.

Speaking to press David admitted he was ‘relieved’ the notorious killer, who died in prison on 12 May 2018 at the age of 72, was no longer alive to see his performance and be ‘smugly pleased he was on television.’ 

Transformation: David Tennant is back on TV screens this month, playing serial killer Dennis Nilsen in ITV's new drama Des, which airs from September 14

Known as the Muswell Hill Murderer Nilsen killed 12 men between 1978 and 1983

Transformation: David Tennant is back on TV screens this month, playing serial killer Dennis Nilsen in ITV’s new drama Des, which airs from September 14

The new photos from episode one show David as Nilsen talking to Brian Masters, played by Jason Watkins, who conducted a number of interviews with the killer.  

Written by Luke Neal, Des is based on material from Killing For Company, which included conversations with twisted Nilson, whose nickname was Des. 

The murders all took place in the two North London addresses in which former civil servant Nilsen resided between 1978 and 1983. 

Alongside Tennant, Des also stars Jason Watkins (Line of Duty), Daniel Mays (White Lines), Chanel Cresswell (This is England), Barry Ward (White Lines) and Ron Cook (Mr Selfridge).   

Chilling: Ahead of the anticipated drama, new photos have been released of the Doctor Who star transformed into the Muswell Hill Murderer who killed 12 men between 1978 and 1983

Chilling: Ahead of the anticipated drama, new photos have been released of the Doctor Who star transformed into the Muswell Hill Murderer who killed 12 men between 1978 and 1983

Nielsen was alive when the show first went into production in 2018 but died before the three-part series, which took five years to complete, could be aired – a fact David said he was ‘relieved’ about. 

‘After he was arrested, Dennis Nilsen became obsessed with what was the legend of ‘Des’ – the reputation that he left behind. Whenever he slipped out public consciousness, there was almost a sense that he wanted to get back into it. That’s why I’m relieved he’s not alive,’ Tennant said, according to the Radio Times.

‘I would hate for this to go out and for him to be sitting in some cell somewhere imaging we were in any way glorifying him. I’m sure he would have complained about we said and everything we did. At the same time, he would have been rather smugly pleased he was on television.

All star cast: The new photos from episode one show David as Nilsen talking to Brian Masters, played by Jason Watkins, who conducted a number of interviews with the killer

All star cast: The new photos from episode one show David as Nilsen talking to Brian Masters, played by Jason Watkins, who conducted a number of interviews with the killer

Real life: Written by Luke Neal, Des is based on material from Killing For Company, which included conversations with twisted Nilson, whose nickname was Des

Real life: Written by Luke Neal, Des is based on material from Killing For Company, which included conversations with twisted Nilson, whose nickname was Des

Died in prison: Nielsen was alive when the show first went into production in 2018 but died before the three-part series could be aired, a fact David said he was 'relieved' about

Died in prison: Nielsen was alive when the show first went into production in 2018 but died before the three-part series could be aired, a fact David said he was ‘relieved’ about

‘I think it’s right and proper it’s transmitting after he’s gone.’  

The actor added that everyone involved was keen to ensure the drama wasn’t ‘sensationalist.’

‘I thought this was a story that we should tell […] With these stories, it’s tricky to get the balance right. You want to tell it with appropriateness. You want to tell it with sensitivity. You don’t want to slip into sensationalism, which would be too easy to do and would not serve the victims,’ he said. 

Relief: 'After he was arrested, Dennis Nilsen became obsessed with the reputation that he left behind. Whenever he slipped out public consciousness, there was almost a sense that he wanted to get back into it. That's why I'm relieved he's not alive,' Tennant said

Relief: ‘After he was arrested, Dennis Nilsen became obsessed with the reputation that he left behind. Whenever he slipped out public consciousness, there was almost a sense that he wanted to get back into it. That’s why I’m relieved he’s not alive,’ Tennant said

Speaking later about the pressure of playing Nilsen, Tennant added: ‘We are telling a story that is still within living memory, so there are members of the victims’ families who are still devastated by what Nilsen did and there are the victims whose lives have ended because of Nilsen. 

Writer Luke Neal explained that in order to portray the killer responsibly, he decided no actual murders would be shown on screen. The drama instead is set shortly before Nilsen’s arrest in February 1983.  

Described as a loner, Nilsen became known as the Muswell Hill Murderer, as he committed his later murders in the Muswell Hill district of North London.  

Responsibility: The actor added that everyone involved was keen to ensure the drama wasn't 'sensationalist,' with no murders shown on screen. It is set shortly before Nilsen's 1983 arrest

Responsibility: The actor added that everyone involved was keen to ensure the drama wasn’t ‘sensationalist,’ with no murders shown on screen. It is set shortly before Nilsen’s 1983 arrest

Murders: Speaking about the pressure of playing Nilsen, Tennant added: 'We are telling a story that is still within living memory, so there are members of the victims' families who are still devastated'

Murders: Speaking about the pressure of playing Nilsen, Tennant added: ‘We are telling a story that is still within living memory, so there are members of the victims’ families who are still devastated’

Most of Nilsen’s victims were homosexual or homeless men who he would pick up in bars across London or on the street.

After inviting them to his home, Nilsen would ply his victims with food and alcohol before killing them. His preferred method was strangulation.

Once dead, he dismembered their bodies by dissecting them in his house. In his first address, Melrose Avenue, he buried their remains in the garden. In Cranley Gardens however he was forced to take other measures.  

Once arrested he told police how he boiled the heads of his victims in a large cooking pot to dispose of their brains.

Notorious: Described as a loner, Nilsen became known as the Muswell Hill Murderer, as he committed his later murders in the Muswell Hill district of North London

Notorious: Described as a loner, Nilsen became known as the Muswell Hill Murderer, as he committed his later murders in the Muswell Hill district of North London

Killer: Most of Nilsen's victims were homosexual or homeless men who he would pick up in bars across London or on the street

Killer: Most of Nilsen’s victims were homosexual or homeless men who he would pick up in bars across London or on the street

Starring role: Daniel Mays plays Detective Peter Jay and is shown meeting the press to appeal to the public to come forward with information on the killer

Starring role: Daniel Mays plays Detective Peter Jay and is shown meeting the press to appeal to the public to come forward with information on the killer

Controversial: Jason Watkins stars as Brian Masters who conducted a number of interviews with the killer

Controversial: Jason Watkins stars as Brian Masters who conducted a number of interviews with the killer

He would cut up the rest of their bodies and store them in plastic bin bags at the property. When the stench of their rotting corpses became stronger, he tried to flush their limbs down the toilet and drains.

This caused a large blockage in the pipes. Seemingly oblivious to risk, Nilsen audaciously complained to a waste company about the blockage and asked for it to be resolved because he and other residents were suffering as a result.

When a Dyno-Rod worker arrived at the property in 1983 to unblock them, he discovered what appeared to be flesh and fragments of bone when he opened a drain cover outside the property.

The following day, after inspecting another section of pipe, he and his supervisor discovered what they thought were bones of a human hand. 

They alerted police who arrested Nilsen as he returned home from work. While in custody he admitted to killing at least 15 people.  

Shocking: Nilsen was convicted of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder and jailed for life in 1983 (pictured 1983)

Shocking: Nilsen was convicted of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder and jailed for life in 1983 (pictured 1983)

A controversial Central TV documentary Murder in Mind featured extracts from an interview Nilsen gave in Albany Prison, Isle of Wight, in 1993.

Passed: The killer died in prison on 12 May 2018 at the age of 72

Passed: The killer died in prison on 12 May 2018 at the age of 72

Describing how he liked to dress the bodies in Y-Fronts and vest, then undress them, he said he enjoyed the feeling of power when he carried their limp bodies.

He said he was physically sick after cutting the innards from some of his victims to tackle ‘the smell problem’.

‘In the end it was when there were two or three bodies under the floorboards that come summer it got hot and I knew there would be a smell problem,’ he said.

‘I knew I had to deal with the smell problem. I thought ‘What would cause the smell more than anything else?’

‘I came to the conclusion it was the innards, the softer parts of the body, the organs, things like that.

‘On a weekend I pulled up the floorboards. I found it totally unpleasant. I got blinding drunk so I could face it.

‘I started dissection on the kitchen floor. I would then go and be sick outside in the garden.’     

He was convicted of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder and jailed for life in 1983, with a recommendation he serve a minimum of 25 years.     

He died in prison on 12 May 2018 at the age of 72.  Des is coming to ITV Monday 14th September.

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