Best known for grumpily bumbling around the Cornish coast as Doc Martin, it may be hard to picture Martin Clunes as the senior detective of one of the most dense and disturbing cases in British history. But in Manhunt: The Night Stalker, Clunes ditches his stethoscope, and dons the role of Colin Sutton, standout senior detective of several high-profile murder cases. This one’s a shocker and will be sure to remind you to give your gran a call.
Based on the horrific story of the Night Stalker murders which spanned all the way from 1992 to 2009 in Lewisham, this is not light watching – far from it, in fact. As Suzi Feay points out in the Financial Times, “the desire to unmask this ghostlike figure becomes overwhelming”, for the audience and characters alike. However, the show steers clear of indulgent shock-factor shots to achieve a biting tension, with The Times’ writer Carol Midgley describing its main strength as “resisting gaudy reconstructions of the rapes or glamming up Sutton’s role”.
In fact, it is Sutton’s role which takes centre stage in this series, serving as emblematic of the troublesome nature of police work as a whole. In The Independent, Sean O’Grady describes how “there are no shootouts, no dramatic car chases, no drunken rows and affairs, just arguments about overtime, databases and swab samples”, otherwise known as the reality of detective work. However, whilst this realistic portrayal of policing risks being dull, it’s Clunes’ sensitive and scrupulous handling of Sutton’s character which makes the series so watchable, with, as Midgley states “Clunes [capturing] with quiet mastery…Sutton’s low-key modesty and methodical policing”.
Midgley hits the nail on the head when she describes the series as “not cliffhanger stuff, but real and true”, exactly what covering of a case so violently shocking deserves – why add drama when the organic material is so raw and gripping in itself?
So, if you can handle reliving the spine-chilling story, and don’t mind sitting through a couple of hours of painstaking paperwork, then Manhunt: The Night Stalker should definitely be on your watchlist this week.
First shown September 2021.