In Plain Sight comes second to Tom Roth in the battle of the serial killers

Serial killers are like seismic political events triggered by popular votes, aren't they? You wait ages for one, then two come along at once.

Friday, 9th December 2016, 4:10 pm
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 1:37 pm
Martin Compston and Douglas Henshall star in the new ITV serial killer drama, In Plain Sight

On the BBC, we have been chilled by balding, shuffling Tim Roth as the Rillington Place murderer, Reg Christie.

Meanwhile, over on ITV, a new drama looked at the odd case of Peter Manuel, a spree killer who terrorised the lowlands of Scotland in the mid-1950s, and was dubbed “the Beast of Birkenshaw”.

Who do I know this? Because I was watching In Plain Sight (ITV, Wednesdays, 9pm) while also reading about the case on a certain online encyclopaedia.

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The problem with both Rillington Place and this latest offering is that neither seem to offer an explanation for the horrific crimes of Christie and Manuel.

The stories are episodic and allude to things the characters obviously know about, but the viewer doesn’t. And this is why you need to watch both dramas with one eye on the TV, and another on what I am reliably informed should be called a digital platform.

In Plain Sight suffers in comparison with Rillington Place, not least perhaps because the case it centres on is not as well known, at least this side of the border.

However, while it has some impeccable period touches, it doesn’t have the same impression of a country still recovering from the devastating impact of war, the same dank desperation, the same claustrophobic chill.

The two leads – Martin Compston as Manuel and Douglas Henshall as the cop trying to nail him for his crimes – are excellent. Compston in particular – sporting his native Scottish accent, rather than his Line of Duty mockney – has a certain oily charm.

Unfortunately, the scheduling clash has not done In Plain Sight any favours, and Rillington Place will undoubtedly take most of the plaudits.

You may moan about this particular outcome, but – as well all know now – you can’t overturn the will of the viewers. And I don’t think we can take that to the Supreme Court.