REVIEW Manhunt The Night Stalker (S2 E2/4)

The second episode of this second series of true-crime adapatation carried on where the first had left off. It was extremely engrossing, well-paced and acted, and had real emotional depth.

In fact the way this second episode examined the emotional toll of working on a case that had dragged on for over 15 years was all to see. We saw the FLO (Family Liaison Officer) Patricia explain the difficulty in having to comfort yet another victim of the Night Stalker, we saw the victims themselves come to terms with being sexually assaulted (one, a Polish war veteran – male – found it difficult to open up about his abuse) and even DCI Colin Sutton himself was beginning to feel the strain and find a personal connection to the case.

After a family barbecue attended by his elderly parents, he made a point of telling them to be vigilant as they left his house. Everyone had to be on their guard.

And, by now, Sutton was in charge. The investigating officer – Simon Morgan – was now at home on sick leave (whether this was his choice or whether he was told to do so was open to interpretation), so it was Sutton’s gig. Despite warnings that he had bitten off more than he could chew, he couldn’t resist the challenge – he streamlined the investigation and, after one attack, saw the man they couldn’t catch on CCTV.

Like most scripted crime dramas, it followed the beats – a mini breakthrough, a near miss, a suspect processed… (it’s a primetime ITV drama, you have to allow for the odd set piece and chase scene). What was more interesting to me was the bureaucratic processes Sutton had to work through and the subtle ways he was winning Morgan’s team around. He had decided the investigation needed to change tack and suggested an idea he had used on a previous investigation earlier in his career – to go nuclear.

Get so many officers on the ground in a specific areas and hope the Minstead Man got caught in the web. This level of policing required special clearance and budget sign-off from the Force Tasking Group, and there was a strangely thrilling last segment, where Sutton presented his suggestion to an assorted group of police officers who had expertise and knowledge of not only surveillance but also how to win over the people who control the budgets.

It was fascinating and really watchable – who knew a meeting in a boardroom could be?

But really, I was very impressed especially with the emotional dimensions to this drama, which is turning out to be very good.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4 out of 5.


REVIEW Manhunt The Night Stalker (S2 E1/4)

Yes, another adaptation of a true-crime story.

ITV revisits the well that is DCI Colin Sutton for another story plucked from his memoirs. There’s a danger here, obviously, that the well of one copper might not be as full as the channel might have hoped. And after one decent, solid series the danger that it would be starting to scrape for stories. Series one of Manhunt was successful for many different reasons, and one of them was that it gave Martin Clunes another straight acting role to sink his teeth into.

And he did a good job, let’s be honest.

But I do get the whiff of square pegs into round holes with this – ie. let’s give Martin another starring role because that’s what the audience wants even if the story isn’t that strong.

However, low-ish expectations aside, this first episode of the second series was really very good, and extremely engrossing. And much of that was because of Clunes’s performance.

In this second series, near-to-retirement Sutton is called in by his superiors to take a look at the so-called Night Stalker case. A burglar and a serial rapist, the ‘Night Stalker’ had been wreaking havoc around southeast London since 1992. It was now 2009.

Naturally, the top brass was concerned that this investigation – Operation Minstead – was taking too long, and they wanted to Sutton to cast his wise, beady eye over proceedings. A fresh pair of eyes if you like.

The Nightstalker’s modus operandi was chilling. He’s observe the houses of his prey for hours, sometimes days. He would ghost into the houses and, among other things, take out all the lightbulbs (a really chilling detail, this) and then sexually assault the (female) inhabitants, who were all in retirement age.

Yes, the Night Stalker like to rape old women. It was despicable, awful and truly horrendous.

Sutton joined the investigating team and immediately there was unsaid tension in the air – the chief investigating officer and his loyal team were naturally suspicious of this interloper, this observer, who was sent to shadow them. It felt like Sutton actively courted this too; after all he plainly didn’t give two hoots who he offended, especially so close to retirement age.

And, wouldn’t you know it, he noticed things about the investigation that were off. They treated the felon like a murder inquiry: door-to-door interviews, cutting-edge profiling and more DNA tests than you could shake a swab at. In fact, they were gathering so much information their resources couldn’t take it. They were actually creating a haystack in which to find their needle in.

It was fascinating, engrossing. We’ve recently seen a really good true-crime adaptation on BBC Four (The Hunt For A Killer), which seemed so mundane and low-key you had to adjust your perceptions. Manhunt The Night Stalker wasn’t far behind. It revelled in the details, and Sutton’s methodical, very normal personality.

As the investigation continued – Minstead Man as the investigating team preferred to call him, was nothing if not prolific – Sutton couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing.

In its wisdom, ITV has stripped the series throughout the week, which, I think, is a good idea. After watching this episode, I wanted more – even it was sombre, well-constructed procedural drama only.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4 out of 5.