That familiar tinkle of the Inside No 9. theme has gradually become a strange source of nostalgia for me over the years. That 10-second-or-so piece of music signals the beginning of another journey into a mysterious, multi-layered microcosm of our world, each episode seemingly a polar opposite to the last. The latest series of Inside No. 9 was broadcast on BBC2 throughout January and February, and here is a (spoiler-free) breakdown of each episode.
Zanzibar, the first episode in this new series of Inside No. 9, is a beautiful production of yellows, golds and greens, as a group of unconnected strangers are brought together by something as simple as their hotel room numbers. Smiling bell boy, Fred (played by Jaygann Ayeh) and bright-eyed gem, Colette (Helen Monks) make a great, ditsy pair, contrasting perfectly against the asides and Shakespeare-like soliloquys from the episode’s somewhat shadier characters. This is an episode that really showcases the skill of its diverse cast, from Marcia Warren to Kevin Eldon and, of course, Rory Kinnear. The rhyming couplets are always pleasing, and the music score is wonderful. Zanzibar is a humorous culmination of disastrous misunderstandings and sly underhands; very cleverly executed indeed.
Inside No. 9, Zanzibar © BBC
Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room
Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room is the tale of Len Shelby and Tommy Drake, previously known as comedy duo Cheese & Crackers. Their material is now unbearably outdated, yet they meet for the first time in thirty years in order to attempt to rekindle their old material. Tommy, or ‘Thomas’ as he now prefers to be called, appears starchy and emotionally detached from the very moment Len walks in, often coming across as horrendously rude. But as the story progresses, the pair’s old emotional ties, deep friendship, and pure love of comedy become clearer. They’re not the people they used to be, in different ways for each man, but there is an old, almost brotherly love that shines through despite the unbearable tension. This episode really shows not only the acting skills of Pemberton and Shearsmith, but the great connection the two share whilst performing.
Beginning with the arrival of a removal man from a company named Handle Me Gently, Once Removed begins rather cheekily, but quickly progresses into a series of shocking catastrophes. Most of the episode is spent working out who each character is, where they’ve come from and why they’ve done what they’ve done. The viewer is always left one step behind (or, in this case, one step in front) of the goings on. It’s certainly a bit of a brain exercise, but a very satisfying one when the order of the narrative becomes less foggy. It’s not easy to keep a track of what’s happening, even after multiple viewings. Perhaps watching it backwards might help you make sense of it, but that might spoil all the fun.
To Have and To Hold
This episode is another turbulent ride full of mystery and realisations. Adrian and Harriet have become a frustrated and loveless couple over the years due to past issues, which are soon brought to the surface. In order to reignite their love for each other, the pair are preparing to re-take their wedding vows, but it is not easy to rekindle feelings when so much bad air stands between them. To Have and To Hold is a rather bleak story, quickly transforming into something disturbing, even quite sickening in parts. And with such a dainty, innocent-seeming piano score accompanying a large portion of this twisted fairy tale, To Have and To Hold really packs a punch.
Inside No. 9, To Have and To Hold © BBC
And the Winner Is…
A group of largely intolerable actors, directors and critics are stuck between four walls, unable to leave until they reach a verdict on who is to win a Best Actress award. The premise is unique but refreshingly simple, and the idiosyncrasies of the characters are allowed to naturally bloom. Pemberton and Shearsmith are undeniably skilled at assembling a bunch of diverse characters in a relatively plain setting and allowing them to slowly reveal their personalities, humour and hang-ups. Featuring Zoë Wanamaker and Noel Clarke, this episode doesn’t shy away from the silly, and serves as a bit of light relief from other recent episodes in the series.
‘Glorified bin men’ Keith, Nick and Maz are beginning the task of clearing out the council flat of deceased hoarder Frank, when they come across a mysterious parcel locked away in his safe. Although not quite as punchy as other episodes in this series, Tempting Fate is characteristically sinister and multilayered. Maz’s character (played by Weruche Opia), as opposed to most characters written by Shearsmith and Pemberton, doesn’t seem to be as sensitively written. Her blunt mannerisms and lack of empathy lead to quite a patronising view of the type of person her character represents, but in a way she serves as an interesting contrast against the world-weary seriousness of Keith (Pemberton) in particular. This story is about the disturbing inner workings of fate and shows how easily our greed can get in the way, with disastrous consequences.
Inside No. 9 is, and shall remain, a dear favourite of mine. Everyone you speak to will have a different favourite episode (though the name Migg often crops up in my house when discussing standout storylines). As ever, I eagerly anticipate the next series, so much so that I’ve even started the whole lot again in an attempt to find every hidden hare.
SERIES 1 AND 2 (THOUGHT NOT YET 3 AND 4) OF INSIDE NO. 9 ARE AVAILABLE TO WATCH ON NETFLIX