Inside No. 9’s most surprising twist might be that seven series in, it’s just as high-quality as it was at the start. With the latest run of episodes, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have proved that they’re still perfectly capable of entertaining us, moving us and wrong-footing us at every clever turn.
Far from running out of ideas, Series 7 gave us our first outdoor episode of Inside No. 9 in Merrily, Merrily and dipped its toe into sci-fi territory for the first time in A Random Act Of Kindness. Through the use of split-screen, Kid/Nap allowed us to see multiple locations at once, to some extent breaking away from the show’s usual restrictions. The creators have certainly managed to keep things fresh – and perhaps also linked to this is the fact that three new directors were brought in, with Al Campbell, Louise Hooper and Kieron Walsh taking on two episodes each.
In addition to Series 7’s more unexpected ventures, we got some episodes inspired by sources that it’s hard to believe Shearsmith and Pemberton haven’t touched on before. Namely, the Wicker Man-esque story of Mr King and the creepy public information films at the centre of Wise Owl. They also used Nine Lives Kat to build on a theme which featured all the way back in The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse, weaving a multilayered, meta tale around the relationship between writers and their own characters.
Merrily, Merrily served as a surprisingly understated opener, with Shearsmith, Pemberton and their League of Gentlemen collaborator Mark Gatiss playing university friends reunited aboard a pedalo – plus the always hilarious Diane Morgan as an interloping girlfriend who’s turned up expecting a yacht party. It delivered everything that Inside No. 9 does best, with laughs, intrigue and rising tension, culminating in a rather poignant ending. After this, the series only went from strength to strength, and the unsettling Wise Owl finale proved to be its crowning achievement.
Inside No 9 is known just as much for disturbing its audience as it is for making them laugh and cry – and this series was no exception. It truly outdid itself with Wise Owl, deploying an unholy combination of public information films and taxidermy (at one point even featuring a public information film about taxidermy) to really dial up the eeriness. There was also no shortage of creepy kids this time around, from the faceless child characters we glimpsed in Nine Lives Kat to the unnerving schoolchildren of Class 9 in Mr King.
When it came to guest stars this series, Daniel Mays and Daisy Haggard gave standout comedic performances in the riotously fun Kid/Nap as an inept kidnapper and his not quite so clueless kidnapee. Meanwhile, Jessica Hynes and Noah Valentine were heartbreaking as a struggling mother and son in A Random Act Of Kindness, perhaps one of the show’s most moving episodes to date.
The BBC has commissioned a further two series of Inside No. 9, which will take it up to (appropriately) nine series. As an anthology show which offers something totally different each week, it’s only natural that fans have some episodes they enjoy more than others – and it largely comes down to personal taste. For me, Series 7 has been one of Inside No 9’s most consistently excellent series to date, so I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Inside No.9 series 1-7 are available via the BBC iPlayer