Inside No 9 review: The end is in sight for this delightful, twisted creation

The ninth and final series of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s anthology is here, with a whole new menagerie of oddballs

Sean O'Grady
Wednesday 08 May 2024 22:30 BST
Get a sneak peak at the final series of Inside No. 9

Inside No 9 is back for its final series, which also happens to be the ninth in a long and hugely entertaining run. It’s a tribute to the stamina, creativity and careful craftsmanship of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith that fans are still left wanting more. But nine is a nice, appropriately odd number to end upon (and soon there’ll be a live stage show).

In the first episode, “Boo to a Goose”, nine passengers, mostly strangers, are almost literally thrown together on a Tube train that suddenly stops in a tunnel. Briefly, power is lost, and in the pitch dark a meek, sweet-natured nurse, Elena (Philippa Dunn), has her purse stolen. A rather formal, irascible physics teacher called Raymond (Mark Bonnar), with the air of a regimental sergeant major, sets about interrogating the occupants of the carriage, demanding to search bags and go through pockets.

Some, such as a beggar called Messy (played by Charlie Cooper with touching vulnerability), object to being badgered and victimised. Others, such as Gerry (Shearsmith), on the way home from the theatre, cheerfully cooperates; but his wife, Edith (Siobhan Finneran) thinks Raymond is a bully (he is), and grows impatient with her husband, whom she also fears has lost all the “firebrand” passion of his youth. Referring to a disappointing performance of the musical Oliver!, she tells her husband, “I want more, Gerry. I want more!” Pemberton and Shearsmith have lost none of their talent for casual wit.

Indeed, such are the growing tensions about the missing purse that others too fall out. Matthew Kelly’s Harold, a most authentic “nutter on the train", gives everyone the creeps with the disgustingly stinky (unseen) contents of his shopping bag and his habit of quoting the Beatitudes. Not a likeable sort. Neither is the drag queen – stage name “Wilma Dickshow”, all long lashes and fushia, with a vicious tongue – played by Pemberton. Wilma scoops out a prosthetic but terrifyingly realistic boob at Raymond as he searches her, just to be outrageous. As provocation, it succeeds, as do the Lily Savage-style asides – “Not everyone who tapes their knob to their arsehole is a drag queen, but y’know.”

The accidentally assembled travellers end up forming into two distinct groups. The first, led by Raymond, is in favour of persecuting the others in search of the missing purse and, to their mind, the pursuit of justice and re-assertion of law and order in their little universe. The others are made into enemies because they’d rather not violate their companions’ privacy, and would prefer to let the whole thing go. This includes the victim of the theft, Elena, who’d not say “boo to a goose”. Finn (Joel Fry), a young man with a rucksack, comes under maximum pressure and suspicion and tries to find a compromised way out. Needless to say, and without giving the game away, it doesn’t end well for the more trusting folk on board. Elena, though, does get her purse back.

It’s all a bit silly, obviously, and to be honest, not up there with the very best efforts by the Inside No 9 team, but it’s a nice satire on our contemporary taste for conspiracy theories and paranoia. The claustrophobic fear engendered by being isolated with a scattering of oddballs on the last Tube home is well captured – we barely set foot out of the carriage. And the distinguished cast give us a gallery of diverse grotesques, all by turns weird and pitiable.

‘Boo to a Goose'
‘Boo to a Goose' (BBC Studios/James Stack)

Without spoiling anything, this is one of the more “sci-fi” editions of Inside No 9, and has the usual satisfying echoes of The Twilight Zone, Tales of the Unexpected, Hitchcock, The Avengers and The Prisoner. It’s all the more sad, then, that the delightful, perplexing, disturbing melange of twisted, bestial, sadistic, obsidian dramas that Pemberton and Shearsmith have produced since they embarked on their BBC Two odyssey nine series ago, is drawing to its conclusion. Sadly, there’s no twist to this ending.

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