Inside No 9: Every episode ranked | We put all 54 stories in order of brilliance. You'll probably disagree..

Inside No 9: Every episode ranked

We put all 54 stories in order of brilliance. You'll probably disagree..

As the final episode airs tonight, here's our ranking of each installment of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s endlessly creative anthology. It's enitrely subjective, of course, and even our least favourite is more inventive and creative than 95 per cent of the rest of what TV has to offer… And you can vote for your favourites here.

55. Empty Orchestra (series 3)

The idea seems strong, an episode set entirely in a karaoke booth, and it looks and sounds good. But the plot, with the co-workers relationships revealed during the singalongs, is a little insubstantial.

54. Private View (series 3)

This had resonance of old episodes of The Avengers, as a group of strangers gather for a weird modern art exhibitions, and gradually get bumped off. But there wasn’t much invention to the deaths and the humour was fairly basic. A rare misfire.

53. Nana’s Party (series 2)

A surprisingly normal setting for Inside No 9, as a family gather. There’s amusing tension tension as they bicker but not much driving drama and a low on twist value. It apparently had its origins in a potential sitcom pilot, and it feels like it.

52. The Understudy (series 1)

Rooted in Macbeth, this wears its inspiration rather heavily – while the tension between a monstrous West End luvvie and his frustrated understudy is over familiar. The highlight was a scene-stealing performance from Julia Davis as the Kiwi stage manager.

51. Last Gasp (series 1)

A satire on the marketability of celebrity, this is about a family consumed by greed after they capture a pop star’s last breath, literally, in a balloon he was blowing up fro a terminally ill child. It lacked a major twist, and the modern morality tale was a bit too straightforward in its point-making. But it’s a nice idea and Tamsin Grieg is great as the WishmakerUK representative.

50. Last Night Of The Proms (Series 6)

There was a distinctly Mike Leigh vibe about this episode as a family gather for their regular party to celebrate Last Night Of The Proms – and tensions, split along Brexit lines, soon become unbearable. Ironically, it split the audience too, some loved it, some hated it, possibly both for the same reasons: the hostility was intense and the allegory about Little Englanders very blunt… although Reece Shearmsith’s Remainer was as unpleasant as the Leavers.

49. The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge (series 2)

A period episode set in a witchhunt evoked a nice sense of period and olde-worlde dialogue (though occasionally subverted it) but struggled to match the real horror of the hysterical times, and the payoff was predictable.

48. And The Winner Is… (series 4)

After The Understudy, another big industry in-joke as various broadcasting and acting archetypes gather in the jury room of a major TV award to decide who should be crowned best actress – based entirely on personal prejudices or on what might look goodin the press. The twist was a good one, but the satire en route pretty blunt.

47. Paraskevidekatriaphobia (series 8)

Best title of the run by far, trying to popularise the word for fear of Friday the 13th, though the episode itself was largely gentle farce with plenty of physicality as the deeply superstitious Shearsmith spends the fateful day at hime hoping no bad luck can befall him there  (though being Inside No 9 nothing’s quite so simple as that) 

46. The Harrowing (series 1)

If you were expecting any comedy from this episode, you’d have another think coming, given that its an out-and-out nightmarish horror, set in a creepy mansion house where two schoolgirls encounter a bedridden man with a bandaged mouth.

45. Merrily, Merrily (series 7)

This reunion between creators Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith and their old League Of Gentleman colleague Mark Gatiss also recreated a reunion of three old college friends on a boating lake. The result was poignant, if perhaps lacking the big twist we’d come to expect by this point. 

44. Diddle Diddle Dumpling (series 3)

There’s a lovely hook as Shearsmith plays an obsessive man who finds a single shoe in the street, and is determined to reunite it with its partner. However it’s a slightly one-note story – until the heartbreaking denouement, that is.

43. To Have And To Hold (series 4)

This bitter portrait of a relationship played out like a kitchen-sink drama with Harry (Nicola Walker) and photographer husband Adrian (Steve Pemberton) exchanging tense words in their moribund relationship. Although there were darkly humorous lines, this was played fairly straight as a dark secret was revealed.

42. Séance Time (series 2)

It’s a show-within-a-show with Alison Steadman brilliant as the overbearing medium Madam Talbot, holding seances as part of a reality TV show. The chills and the laughs don’t always co-exist harmoniously, but Pemberton and Shearsmith are clearly relishing sending some genres up…. with the real monsters being the TV executives.

41. Curse of the Ninth (series 9)

A period drama turns psychological chiller, based on a real classical music superstition that a composer’s ninth symphony is cursed. When piano tuner (Shearsmith) turns up at a country house, he unearths the unfinished work of a musician he admired. The played out nicely, though the twist was a little routine given the high bar Shearsmith and Pemberton have set for themselves.

40. Kid/Nap (series 7)

The trick here was that the action played out in split screen as two bickering criminal – Daniel Mays and Jason Isaacs – kidnapped the wife of a wealthy finanicer, played by Daisy Haggard.  A bit like Ruthless People but with a more disconcerting sense of unease beneath it all.

39. Love's Great Adventure (series 5)

Some critics and viewers understandably adored this episode, another kitchen-sink drama, but a more tender one as it told of a family struggling financially and emotionally over Christmas, but ultimately showing what they would do for other. Even if the situation was an extreme version of a situation many families ind themselves in, this was remarkably low-key for Pemberton and Shearsmith, with a story that evolved rather than spun on a big twist. Though for me that's what makes Inside 9 what it was, so this atypical story felt a little too subdued. There's no faulting  the stunning naturalistic acting, though, especially from Pemberton and Coronation Street’s Debbie Rush.

38. Cold Comfort (series 2)

One of the most inventively filmed episodes, this story was told only from the footage from CCTV cameras at a support hotline, which receives a call from a suicidal teenager. The ending was a little over-the-top, but a bold experiment all round

37. Thinking Out Loud (series 5)

Another episode that kept viewers guessing, this had that most familiar of character comedy formats of straight-to-camera addresses. Some were well rounded (kudos to Maxine Peake, especially), some caricatures. The story started a little slowly, a little Alan Bennett-esque, until hints were dropped at how these people – from a Death Row serial killer to an irritating social media influencer were intertwined. When it came, the twist was fast and brutal, and sent you thinking.

36. Mr King (series 7)

A teacher (Shearsmith) starts his new job in an insular Welsh primary school in this engaging folk-horror story that owes an affectionate nod to The Wicker Man  as it gets increasingly creepy.

35. The Bones of St Nicholas (series 8)

Aired as a one-off Christmas episode, in the finest tradition of festive ghost stories, this tale  revolved around a handful of characters spending the night in a supposedly haunted church and packed a fair amount of plot into the mysterious visions and stories of treasure. There was no massive rug-pull, but this was a solid addition to the genre.

34. Nine Lives Kat (series 7)

Alcoholic DI Kat (Sophie Okonedo) is determined to solve the case of a missing boy…. Or at least that’s what it seems, in this very twisty meta-story, that one of the cleverer, multi-layered scripts the par have produced.

33. Tom & Gerri (series 1)

This played on the fear of the insular middle-classes of coming into contact with the homeless, with Shearsmith’s Tom gradually being influenced by Migg, the tramp who found his wallet in the street. More dark than funny, it was at times a distressing look at mental illness.

32. Dead Line (2018 Halloween special)

This live episode owed quite a debt to the BBC's 1992 mockumentary Ghostwatch, which shocked the nation. If you knew that show, some of he meta-moments here might have come as less of a surprise especially given that you'd be on the lookout for Pemberton and Shearsmith's trickery. Nonetheless, the duo laced their grisly story with delicious details and let it spill out into social media. 

31. Love Is a Stranger (series 8)

This featured an excellent performance Claire Rushbrook, lonely and desperate for love, stoically ploughing on the world of online dating despite every humiliation it brings. But when she finally lines up a date, could ut be the Lonely Hearts Killer? It’s not the biggest plot-twist the show has ever pulled off, but the character study’s a charm.

30. The Devil of Christmas (series 3)

Their affectionate parody of 1970s Hammer Horror style movies paid great attention to detail, from the colour processing to the sound effects, as they told the Alpine legend of the Krampus, the legendary counterpoint to Santa Claus, a half-goat, half-human demon who punishes bad children. It was a fitting mix of the cheesy and the creepy, with a rather brutal payoff.

29. Mother's Ruin (series 8)

Excellent, menacing guest performances from  Phil Daniels and Anita Dobson were not the only thing that elevated this more grisly instalment, as two brothers broke into the home of their late mother, only to encounter the Cockney villains who now live there. And a supernatural element added to the usual mix of tension and comedy.

28. The Trolley Problem (series 9)

In this tense two-hander, Pemberton plays a therapist who saves Shearsmith from leaping to his death from a bridge, and brings him back to his home. Needless to say that wasn’t a good idea, and the psychological fames ratcheted up the intrigue until the grisly end.

27. Once Removed (series 4)

An inventive use of reverse chronology meant this playful murder-mystery piled on the moments of revelation as scenes only made proper sense further down the line, leading to an ultimately satisfying resolution at the end. David Calder’s dementia sufferer added some broad comic strokes with his delusions of being Andrew Lloyd Webber.

26.  Lip Service (Series 6)

One of the more subdued entries in the Inside No 9 canon, Lip Service takes place in a gloomy and uninviting hotel room where Felix, a sad data entry manager, is holed up, spying on his wife at work – and possibly more - in the hotel opposite. Sian Clifford is the shy lip-reader he’s hired to figure out what’s going on between her and her charismatic boss. The humour is understated - aside from the comic relief of teutonic hotel manager Eric Müller – and the characters excellent, even if the payoff doesn’t quite satisfy.

25. Mulberry Close (series 9)

Who needs to twitch the curtains when you have a doorbell camera? Filmed from that distinctive point of view, this episode was like Rear Window but with smart technology, exposing the niceties of suburbia as being superficial, snobbish and passive-aggressive before ramping up the mystique for a real whodunit, that some of the neighbours are hoping will be a Netflix series. The stylist method of shooting added a suitably voyeuristic sheen to the goings-on

24. A Random Act of Kindness (series 7)

A wounded bird brings a kindly stranger (Pemberton) to the home of Helen (the excellent Jessica Hynes) and her uncommunicative teenage son Zach (Noah Valentine). The set-up may have been domestic, but it held a lot of intrigue as to who this mysterious visitor was before revealing its high-concept reasoning. A good combination of the humanity of the characters and out-of-the-ordinary plotting. 

23. The Riddle of the Sphinx (series 3)

Wearing its smarts on its sleeve, this episode is set in a Cambridge college and revolved around cryptic crossword clues, the mechanics of the revenge thriller being exposed with each puzzle solved, and each line of a densely clever script.

22. The Referee's A... (series 5)

A Relatively Normal style and recognisiable, if unique, setting of a referee's dressing room at a crunch football match belies a story with more big-drama twists than any soap opera, with plenty of funny moments, much down to Steve Speirs as the mascot. Entertaining and absorbing without wearing its cleverness on its sleeve.

21. How Do You Plead? (Series 6)

Primarily a two-handed between ailing barrister Webster  (Derek Jacobi) and his oddly-named carer, Urban Bedford,  this episode was an enjoyable  theatrical dance between the pair, with a disquieting tone of foreboding, jet-black humour and strong sense of the disconcerting.

20. La Couchette (series 2)

One by one passengers pile into the sleeper carriage of an overnight French train,and increasingly wind each other up. It’s one of the funnier episodes, with a great guest turn from Jack Whitehall, but with a fittingly murderous undertone.

19. 3 by 3 (series 8)

One of the best tricks the duo pulled off was advertising this as an On The Buses homage entitled Hold On Tight!  - only for it to be replaced by a quiz show hosted by Lee Mack at the last minute, leading some viewers to believe there had been a genuine change of schedule. But when it was revealed what happened to the contestants, no one could be in any doubt who was behind it… 

18. Death Be Not Proud (series 5)

The big surprise here was the unexpected appearance of Psychoville's serial killer David Sowerbutts and his hideous mother Maureen, undeterred by being killed off during duos previous project. They – and dismal clown Mr Jelly – brought macabre absurdity to the story of a young couple ( Jenna Coleman and Kadiff Kirwan) moving into a haunted flat. Gallows humour galore here.

17. Misdirection (series 5)

A passion project for magic fan Shearsmith, this was a very aptly named title as he played a creepy magician with a murderous secret – killing a fellow illusionist for his secret several years ago – being grilled by a student journalist. If you like No 9 for its twists (guilty!) there was more than enough to satisfy here.

16. Hurry Up And Wait (Series 6)

Top casting with Line Of Duty’s Adrian Dunbar sending himself up as yet another TV detective, this time on a dramatisation of a real case. While on location, Shearsmith’s actor character James gets an unsettling sense something is not right with the family whose home the production is using as a green room. The sense of suspense was well-balanced with a dry humour in this knowing, and ultimately creepy, story.

15. The Bill (series 3)

This episode drew considerable psychological tension from ramping up the drama of a universally recognisable situation: haggling over the tab at the end of a meal, with each man (Pemberton, Shearsmith, Philip Glenister and Jason Watkins) each insisting they should pay. It was a tight, gripping script – let down only by a postscript scene that raised more questions after an otherwise rewarding romp.

14. Zanzibar (series 4)

Forget trying to guess the twists, there was a real sense of fun in this episode, with the large ensemble – including Rory Kinnear, Bill Paterson, Tanya Franks and Kevin Eldon – seeming to relish playing out the farcical goings-on in a hotel landing, all performed in nifty iambic pentameter.

13. Tempting Fate (series 4)

A talisman that brings misery to all who try to harness its powers is at the centre of the gripping final episode in series four, which offered a unique twist on a familiar thriller storyline, with a script that moved from light to shade with deft ease. Edge-of-the-seat stuff.

12. Boo to a Goose (series 9)

Brilliant character work - and a cast of top comedy talent – briskly and efficiently introduced us to nine disparate people suck on a late-night underground train. Unusually for Inside No 9 it carried a message, about community and compliance, as well as a dystopian ending no one would see coming. 

11.  Wuthering Heist (Series 6)

Not everyone loved this wilfully showy episode, combining heist drama with the medieval masked Italian theatrical tradition of commedia dell’arte but its audacity, sense of fun, and inability to take itself seriously made it a real joyous romp.  The premise may be ‘something a drama teacher would have a wank to’ – as guest star Gemma Whelan says in one of the many fourth-wall-breaking moments. But it was bloody funny with it, even if lacking the major twists that define Inside No 9.

10. Simon Says (Series 6)

If there’s such a thing as an archetypal Inside No 9, this might be it, with Pemberton playing the creator of a hit TV series and Shearsmith the obsessive fan who turns up at his home after a dramatic incident. The episode owes a debt to Stephen King’s Misery, but plays out in its own way, full of twists and surprises, while tackling the complex interplay between creator and fan.

9. Wise Owl (series 7)

Visually memorable, thanks to the spoof public information films that punctuate the live action, and emotionally memorable thanks to Shearsmith’s powerful performance as the troubled Ronnie. This episode also struck an issued balanced between the darkness of the storyline and some mordant humour.

8. The Last Weekend (series 8)

This episode walloped viewers with a particularly brutal ending, given Pemberton and Shearsmith had so  convincingly sold a tender relationship story of  a loving married couple celebrating their ninth anniversary at a lochside cabin. If you’re here for the twists, this was a doozy.

7. The Stakeout (series 5)

Shearsmith may protest that 'it's not always about the twist', but this was another classic – the sort that would have you rushing for the 'play again' button to see all the clues hiding in plain sight that you missed along the way. That there was to be a bloody end was revealed at the start, but then we rewound into it a tight two-handed that was playful with a touch of mystery as two cops chewed the fat on a stakeout, aware that one of their colleagues had formerly come to a grisly end.

6. Plodding On  (series 9)

The big twist to their final ever episode? It was all rather lovely. Set in 'real life' – at the wrap party for the siries - allowed for an affectionate look back at ten years of prodigious output, full of in-jokes and references for fans to enjoy. It might not have made so much sense if you're new to the anthology, but even so seeing actors play against type - including Shearsmith and Pemberton interrogating their own relationship – is a delight. 

5 CTRL, ALT, ESC (series 9)

A slight revisit to a theme of one of their most brilliant episodes, this was nonetheless a masterful story in its own right, with Pemberton a father dragging his family to an escape room, despite his daughters’ protests. Of course all is not what it seems but the suggestion this was going to be a gory slasher was exquisite misdirection for a story so heavy with symbolism and clues to be decoded you’d want to watch it again just to see how clever Shearsmith and Pemberton had been.

4. Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room (series 4)

In this beautifully bittersweet episode, Pemberton and Shearsmith paid affectionate tribute to the now-unfashionable double acts of the 1980s, via their naff alter-egos Cheese and Crackers. And they pulled off quite the balancing act to parody the politically incorrect gags such as the ‘Ching-Chong Chinaman’ while still recognising technical skills. And most of all it was the authenticity of the relationship between the two men that made this such a stand-out.

3. Sardines (series 1)

The very first episode established Inside No 9 as something special, literally squeezing in the guest stars as a huge cast – including Timothy West, Anne Reid, Katherine Parkinson, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Ben Willbond, Anna Chancellor and Tim Key – crammed into a closet. during a party game. They are all great characters and their flawed relationships came put under scrutiny as an elegantly witty script unfolded.

2. A Quiet Night In (series 1)

A fine concept, brilliantly executed as Shearsmith and Pemberton take on the more-or-less silent comedy. They play two burglars creeping around a swanky modern house – all glass and steel, all the better to see them by. While most their scripts are dextrous with words, this showed them masters of slapstick, too. And with a great bit of stunt casting Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter Oona was a guest star. Rhis was only the second episode, but along with Sardines established Inside No 9 as an innovative, unexpected series.

1. The 12 Days of Christine (series 2)

Few would disagree about this choice, I think. This was an astonishing piece of television, with a stunning performance by Sheridan Smith as a woman whose life seems to be fracturing around her, brilliant direction as the emotional story falls into place, and inspired writing. It really is like nothing else on television, walloping the viewer with a sucker punch after an absorbing ride that puts your soul through the wringer, packing more into 30 minutes than some films do in 90. Remarkable stuff.

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Published: 12 Jun 2024

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