Netflix's Baby Reindeer is a masterclass on stalking.

Warning: this article contains spoilers. 

When I saw the trailer for Baby Reindeer a few weeks ago I was intrigued. As someone who's been both a victim of stalking, and extensively researched and written about the phenomenon, I have a keen interest in how it's depicted on television and movies.

Usually, it’s sensationalised. Femme fatales, rapidly escalating from giddy obsession to plots of murder, or unhinged and violent men, lurking in the bushes, killing anyone who gets in between them and the object of their obsession

But from the opening scene of Baby Reindeer, I knew this was going to be different. I knew this was a story based on truth, before I actually knew.

Watch the trailer for Baby Reindeer here. Post continues below.

Video via Netflix.

Because although Baby Reindeer is as disturbing, terrifying and intense as your favourite stalker flick, this limited series felt real. In fact, it's one of the most authentic depictions of stalking I've ever seen.

Making it even more horrifying, is the fact that it is real. For the most part. Baby Reindeer depicts the years-long real life stalking ordeal endured by comedian Richard Gadd, who turned his experience into a one-man play in 2019. 


Rejecting all the usual bunny boiler tropes, Baby Reindeer portrays a nuanced representation of the 'dripping tap' effect of long-term stalking, and the complex feelings of rage, fear, sympathy, frustration and confusion.

Honest and unrelenting, Baby Reindeer is an important story that effectively portrays, not only the impact on the victim (who isn't perfect, because no victim is), but the complexity of the stalker's motivations and mindset, and the lack of victim support and recognition from police — a global problem when it comes to this crime. 

It also touches on the impact of trauma and sexual assault in a way rarely seen on screen, including how it impacts future trauma and subsequent abuse. 

So, which parts are true, and what parts were left out?

How Donny meets the woman who stalks him. 

In Baby Reindeer, Donny Dunn is a struggling comedian working in a bar. One day, a 42-year-old woman — called Martha — walks into the bar, and strikes up a conversation. Feeling bad for her, Dunn gives Martha, played by Jessica Gunning, a free cup of tea. Touched by his kindness, Martha's obsession apparently begins at that very moment. 

According to Gadd, who's essentially playing himself, this part is true. He told The Times: "At first everyone at the pub thought it was funny that I had an admirer. Then she started to invade my life, following me, turning up at my gigs, waiting outside my house, sending thousands of voicemails and emails."


His complex feelings towards the stalker (and his mistakes). 

In Baby Reindeer, Gadd doesn't shy away from the mistakes he made throughout the ordeal, inadvertently encouraging the stalking. This is mostly due to his own confusion about what was happening to him, which is common. 

"The foolish flirting. The cowardly excuses as to why we could not be together. Not to mention the themes of internalised prejudice and sexual shame that underpinned it all," Gadd wrote in a piece that accompanied the show's debut. 

"It felt like a risky thing — to do a 'warts and all' version of the story where I held my hands up to the mistakes I had made with Martha. I could not shy away from the truth of what had happened to me. This was a messy, complicated situation. But one that needed to be told, regardless."

Gunning shared a similar sentiment when talking to Netflix's Tudum. "Sometimes Donny would play into her fantasy: He'd flirt back, and she'd be absolutely thrilled. He just doesn't know how obsessed she will become."

Martha's personality. 

This is one aspect of Baby Reindeer where, for reasons that include both protecting the stalker's identity and the creative integrity of the show, some changes were made. 

"Of course, this is a medium where structure is so important, you need to change things to protect people… but I like to think, artistically, that it never moved too far from the truth," he told GQ, adding he wonders whether she'd even recognise herself. 


"I honestly couldn't speak as to whether she would watch it. Her reactions to things varied so much that I almost couldn't predict how she'd react to anything. We've gone to such great lengths to disguise her to the point that I don't think she would recognise herself. What's been borrowed is an emotional truth, not a fact-by-fact profile of someone."

But, he says, any time it "veered too much into embellishment I would always want to pull it back. It's extremely emotionally truthful."

The type of stalking that took place. 

Like Dunn, Gadd received 41,071 emails, 350 hours' worth of voicemails, 744 tweets, 46 Facebook messages, 106 pages of letters, and a variety of strange gifts, over a more than four-year period from the real stalker. 

Chillingly, every email that appears in the series is one that Gadd actually received. The real Martha also harassed people close to Gadd, including his parents and a trans woman he was dating—in the show her name is Teri, and she's played by Nava Mau.

The nature of the stalking was also true to life, varying from scary to frustrating to downright annoying, and the slow-burn of fear that escalates over time. 

"When a man gets stalked it can be portrayed in films and television as a sexy thing. Like a femme fatale who gradually becomes more sinister. It doesn't carry as much threat of physical violence, is less common and can be trivialised," Gadd told The Times. 


His previous trauma and sexual assault.

This part is also true. Like Dunn, Gadd was groomed and repeatedly drugged and sexually assaulted by a successful older man, who he'd turned to for mentorship. 

In the show, his name is Darrien, played by Tom Goodman-Hill, and he offers Gadd both advice and promises to help drive his comedy career. The show depicts with disturbing and uncomfortable accuracy, the complex and long-term trauma that comes with such an abhorrent abuse of power. 

Like Dunn, the experience left Gadd wrestling with self-hatred and questioning his sexuality. 

"Baby Reindeer was [about] the messiness of my early twenties. I'd fallen for someone who was trans but with that came a lot of questioning and all of this unfortunate shame that you have when you're young. When somebody like Martha came along I saw it as some kind of weird bent to my manhood. You take this guy's life. He's just been through sexual violence but he's trying to be a comedian. He's indulging this woman who buffers his heteronormativity but he's dating a trans woman and being very secretive about it. It was taking this character and putting him between these big extremes," he told GQ.

"What abuse does is it creates psychological damage as well as physical damage. There's a pattern where a lot of people who have been abused feel like they need their abusers."

The outcome. 

While parts of this are true — particularly his dealings with the police, the ultimate outcome we may never know. 


As in the show, Gadd found his experience with the police to be farcical. Despite hundreds of messages, and Martha's previous stalking conviction, the onus was on Gadd to prove Martha was a threat, by spending hours combing through messages and listening to voice recordings. 

"They look for black and white, good and evil, and that’s not how it works," he told The Independent. "You can really affect someone's life within the parameters of legality, and that is sort of mad."

In Baby Reindeer, the law does catch up to Martha, and she receives a nine-month jail sentence and a five-year restraining order. Gadd hasn't disclosed what really happened, other than saying it has been "resolved", but does admit to having mixed feelings about it. 

"I can't emphasise enough how much of a victim she is in all this," he told The Independent. "Stalking and harassment is a form of mental illness. It would have been wrong to paint her as a monster, because she's unwell, and the system's failed her."

Feature Image: Netflix. 

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