Review: Martin Clunes' unshowy star turn in ITV's Manhunt: The Night Stalker showed Channel 5 how tense a week of drama can be

Channel 5 has recently foisted some appalling dramas on us, stripping them over four nights, as if they wanted to get them over and done with before anyone noticed how bad they were.

Friday, 24th September 2021, 5:00 pm

But ITV showed how it should be done this week with Manhunt: Night Stalker (ITV, Mon-Thurs, 9pm), a patient, unsensational unravelling of a true-crime case involving a serial burglar and rapist who terrorised south London for 17 years from 1992.

A sort of sequel to a previous series which focused on the Milly Dowler case, Martin Clunes again played DCI Colin Sutton, the man who had led the operation which eventually identified Levi Bellfield as the killer of Milly and two other young women.

This time, Sutton was asked to review Operation Minstead, the probe into a series of burglaries, rapes and sexual assaults which were the work of a man branded The Night Stalker.

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Martin Clunes and Beth Goddard followed a lead to a phone box in Manhunt: The Night Stalker, an ITV drama based on a real-life investigation

Clunes plays Sutton as a methodical, straight-laced and empathetic character, a man who was born to be a policeman and can recite the Police and Criminal Evidence Act from memory.

Much of the first two episodes seem to be focused on paperwork, with lots of talk about screening methods, suspect criteria and applications to the Force Tasking Group, a sort of CSI: Admin.

But this only serves to ratchet up the tension – while all this is going on, the Night Stalker is still operating, targeting mainly elderly, vulnerable women, and the stakes are incredibly high.

A PNC check suddenly becomes unbearably tense, and a low-speed pursuit through the streets of Croydon seems as frenetic as anything in The French Connection.

Martin Clunes played DCI Colin Sutton in ITV drama Manhunt: The Night Stalker

It’s unshowy stuff, handled with care, a world away from Five’s ludicrous camp. They should be taking notes.

Never Mind The Buzzcocks (Sky Max, Tues, 9pm) returns with a new host, new team captains and a new set, but it still seems like a retread rather than a whole new thing. Fun, but not must-see.

Greg Davies fronted another comedy panel show this week, but Taskmaster (Channel 4, Thurs, 9pm) is a lot more successful than Buzzcocks. A good line-up promises much for this new series.