This article was originally published in The Courier on 12th September 2020.
NEXT WEEK’S TV
Monday to Wednesday, STV, 9pm
Dennis Nilsen is one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers. His necrophiliac killing spree came to an end in 1983, when human remains were discovered in his drains. That’s where this superior drama begins.
David Tennant is mesmerising as Nilsen. It’s an understated, almost offhand performance; his matter-of-fact demeanour is chilling. Nilsen initially appeared willing to help the police with their investigation, but Des (his nickname) suggests that his primary motivation was to remain the centre of attention for as long as possible. An arrogant, manipulative psychopath, someone whose motivations you could never fully hope to understand. Des resists the temptation to glibly psychoanalyse him.
Despite the grisly nature of Nilsen’s crimes, this isn't a graphic, exploitative drama. The murders are never shown on screen, it’s respectful towards his victims. As always, however, you can't stop thinking about their families. I'm as hypocritical as you are, we find these stories fascinating.
INSIDE THE BOMB SQUAD
Monday, Channel 4, 8pm
According to this urgent new series, Britain’s bomb disposal squad are called out more than 2,000 times a year. Most of their destinations are ordinary streets. Boasting unprecedented access, the programme follows some of the elite soldiers who risk their lives in the line of duty. The production crew obviously haven’t been granted access to sites containing suspect devices – doubtlessly much to their relief – so the experts have agreed to wear 360 degree cameras while they carry out their highly dangerous work. They also talk about the psychological effects of dealing with these life-or-death situations. “There is that balance between adrenaline and fear going on,” says one soldier, “but you’re sort of trained to handle it.” Sort of?
LOST AT SEA: MY DAD’S LAST JOURNEY
Wednesday, Channel 4, 10pm
In 1983, Peter Bird became the first person to row non-stop and solo across the Pacific Ocean. Tragically, in 1996 he was lost at sea. In this candid, touching documentary, his son, Louis, attempts to understand more about the father he never knew. What drove this warm, sociable man to spend so much time on his own, away from his family, in treacherous conditions? Louis, who was deeply affected by his father’s death, talks to some of Peter’s friends and family members, and pores through his vast archive. The intrepid rower recorded video diaries during his solo journeys and taped a message for Louis “so you won’t forget me”. He hasn’t been able to listen to it until now.
LAST WEEK’S TV
LOUIS THEROUX: LIFE ON THE EDGE
Sunday 6th September, BBC Two
Theroux has been making documentaries, some of them classics, for 25 years. In this series he reflects on some of his most memorable investigations. It’s a chance for the master interlocutor to turn inwards for once, as he discusses the moral dimensions of his work and his outlook on life. All very interesting.
The theme in episode one was belief. Theroux has met numerous people with fervent beliefs over the years, all of whom he’s tried to approach with an open mind. That can’t be easy when you’re dealing with racists, charlatans and conspiracy theorists, but it’s a hallmark of his empathetic style. He’s genuinely interested in what makes people tick.
It also featured catch-ups with notable figures from his past; it was gratifying to learn that the little girls who were forced to perform white power songs by their Nazi mother have renounced those views completely. They didn’t understand what they were espousing. Now they do. Maybe people can change for the better after all.
MINDFUL ESCAPES: BREATHE, RELEASE RESTORE
Monday 7th August to Thursday 10th August, BBC Four
This, folks, is valuable public service broadcasting. Four serene episodes in which a former Buddhist monk delivers lessons in mindfulness. Just his voice and some beautiful natural world scenery. If you struggle with anxiety, as I do, it may help.