Director – Marcus D.F. White, Teleplay – Gordon Hann, Based on the Novel by M.S. Power, Producer – Robert Love, Photography – Ken Brinsley, Music – Colin Towns, Production Design – Annette Gillies. Production Company – Scottish Television Enterprises/Flextech Television
Gideon Turner (Marcus Walwyn), Peter Davison (Detective-Inspector Maurice Birt), Natalie Walter (Karen Scott), James Bolam (Herbert Zanker/Helmut Kranze), Peter Forbes (Detective-Sergeant Ray Wilson), Paula Wilcox (Marcus’s Mother), Vanessa Hadaway (Sharon Hayes), Marc Bannerman (Paul Cornell), Michael MacKenzie (Harry Rutherford), Liz Mary Brice (Heather Brazier-Young), Guy Leverton (Paul Cornell), Richard Bates (Carl)
Marcus Walwyn is a reader at a publishing firm. He reads a manuscript entitled ‘Death in Santiago’ by Helmut Kranze, which gives detailed accounts of how to stalk victims and commit perfect murders. At the same time, Marcus becomes fixated on waitress Karen Scott after he encounters her on the subway. He stalks and gathers information about her, while befriending her at the cafe where she works. However, Karen’s friend Sharon gets in the way and Marcus learns that Karen has a boyfriend Darren. He then contrives to kill both Karen and Darren, using the advice in Kranze’s book. Upon both occasions, he carves an asterisk into the victim’s forehead as his signature. Police inspector Maurice Birt investigates. Clues all point to the killer being Marcus but they are unable to find any direct evidence that ties him. At the same time, Marcus discovers that in reality Kranze is convicted murderer Herbert Zanker and that the crimes in the book are ones that Zanker is boasting about having conducted himself.
The British tv movie is an adaptation of M.S. Power’s purportedly bestselling novel The Stalker’s Apprentice (1994). One hasn’t read M.S. Power’s novel – or indeed, even heard of M.S. Power before this – but The Stalker’s Apprentice is a clever and engaging thriller.
The film has a wonderfully methodical cool to it as we watch Gideon Turner, accompanied by voiceover, putting into use the methodology from the killer’s book. However. part way in, The Stalker’s Apprentice abruptly becomes a policier as we follow detective Peter Davison and assistant Peter Forbes as they piece clues together. These scenes hold one’s attention, although not as absorbingly as the stalker element. Eventually the film works through a tight plot filled with sharp twists and considerable tension. It becomes particular good with the introduction of James Bolam’s Zanker/Kranze where the story takes on a level of meta-fiction that vies between the truth, Zanker’s book, which Gideon Turner comes to realise is actually Zanker confessing about the murders he conducted, and the mirroring of the murders in Turner’s own actions. There is a considerable cleverness in the play between these levels of the story.
Gideon Turner, an almost completely unknown actor when the film aired, had a wonderful handsomeness. Indeed, he seems almost too good-looking to convincingly be the nerdy socially maladjusted stalker the script requires him to be. That said, one soon warms to Turner in the part. He is especially good at displaying a cocky smoothness during the interrogation scenes. James Bolam, a veteran of numerous British tv series, here hidden behind a pair of Coke bottle glasses, gives a wonderfully cold performance as Zanker/Kranze. Former Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005– ) Peter Davison, who seems determined to prove himself the dullest actor in England, is serviceable as the detective.