All 55 Inside No 9 episodes – ranked

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton in Mulberry Close
Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton in Mulberry Close - James Stack/BBC

Dark, devilish and packed with plot twists, Inside No 9 has been the most inventive show on TV – but now the curtain has come down. Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have brought their comedy-horror anthology to a close with a very fitting ninth series.

Don’t despair just yet, though. All 55 half-hour episodes are available to watch on iPlayer, Gold or Netflix. And because each instalment is a standalone story, you can dip in wherever you fancy.

The duo decided this was the perfect point at which to bow out. “Numerically, it’s our little in-joke,” Pemberton told the Radio Times. “Nine series of Inside No 9. It could easily have stopped after five series but we were determined to get to that landmark.” “I think we’ve made our mark,” added Shearsmith. “We’re both very, very proud of it.”

Just because it’s bowing out on TV, that doesn’t mean this is the last we’ll see of the pair’s fiendish creation. It’s coming to theatres in January 2025 with a show called Stage/Fright, promising “plenty of new material and surprises for fans and newcomers alike”.

For those yet to open this box of televisual delights, Inside No 9 is a wonderful throwback, inspired by retro series such as The Twilight Zone, Armchair Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. Each episode is effectively a short play, with a self-contained story, entirely new characters and a fresh setting.

Almost all of them star either Pemberton or Shearsmith, usually both, along with high-profile guest actors. All that connects the episodes is the number “9”, which always features in some form – most frequently on a door number – and a certain hare statuette, along with twist endings and a playfully macabre mood.

As alumni of The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, the writer-stars were keen to do something without an over-arching plot, where they weren’t confined by the same old characters or location each week. The creative freedom afforded by the anthology format means that they get to play around more than on any other show they’ve made. For us viewers, this reaps dividends, because Inside No 9 is endlessly surprising.

Despite being one of the jewels in the crown of British TV, the show remains relatively unsung. Tucked away on BBC Two post-watershed, its ratings are modest (around 2 million) and it took six series to receive Bafta recognition. Yet it has a fiercely devoted cult audience. Viewers who seek it out tend to become obsessed, devour all the episodes they missed and keenly debate their favourites.

So of the 55 twisted tales, which comes out on top? Here’s our definitive countdown, from worst to best. Come inside number nine if you dare…


55. Last Gasp (series 1)

The fourth episode of the inaugural run is a morality tale about a pop megastar who blows up a balloon for a terminally ill nine-year-old fan – then immediately keels over, meaning his final breath is captured in the balloon. The girl’s family realise it’s highly valuable on eBay and greedily fall out over who owns it. Sly and sardonic but lacking the show’s trademark killer twist. It’s also a rare episode not to feature Reece Shearsmith. Perhaps he was wise to duck out.

54. Last Night of the Proms (series 6)

An unusual misfire, mainly thanks to its overtly political portrayal of Brexit Britain. At a Somerset manor house, a married couple (played by Pemberton and the superb Sarah Parish) host their annual Proms viewing party. Except  this year, the pomp and circumstance are pooped upon by some guests not singing from the same hymnsheet. This Play For Today throwback fails to pull off its uneasy blend of cringe comedy and clumsy preaching. Tasteless rather than timeless.

Zoe Wanamaker in And The Winner Is...
Zoe Wanamaker in And The Winner Is... - BBC

53. And the Winner Is… (series 4)

This episode joins the jury of a TV awards show as they decide which of eight leading ladies deserves to win the Best Actress prize. A guest cast including Noel Clarke, Kenneth Cranham and Zoë Wanamaker struggle manfully with stereotyped characters and a workaday script. It’s frothily watchable, with the odd sharp line (“I never knew Marie Curie was a real person, I thought she was a magazine”) but it lacks their usual flair, while many will see the final frame’s twist coming a mile away.

52. Private View (series 3)

An uncharacteristically clumsy episode that finds a motley crew of mismatched characters – including Morgana Robinson’s fame-hungry Big Brother housemate, Felicity Kendal’s erotic-fiction author and scene-stealer Fiona Shaw’s demented dinnerlady – mysteriously invited to a modern art exhibition. They proceed to be picked off one-by-one. Crude gags and a muddled ending mean it’s ultimately frustrating, plus it wastes a cameo from Peter Kay.

51. Paraskevidekatriaphobia (series 8)

That mouthful of a title means, of course, a fear of Friday the 13th. Shearsmith plays a deeply superstitious man who decides to stay home on the fateful date in a bid to minimise the chances of anything unlucky happening. Little does he know that a whole heap of misfortune is about to knock on his door. Amanda Abbington and Samantha Spiro offer strong support, while Dermot O’Leary pops up as himself. An old-fashioned farce with one plot twist that works and another that’s gratuitously grisly.

50. Empty Orchestra (series 3)

Karaoke? Okey-dokey. The setting is a singalong booth as a group of colleagues have a fancy-dress night out to celebrate their boss’s promotion. When it transpires that one of them is about to get fired, events take a tense turn. The music is cleverly interwoven, albeit distractingly noisy, but the feelgood mood makes it feel feather-light. The druggy element feels crowbarred in, too.

49. Mulberry Close (series 9)

The nosy residents of Mulberry Close are keen to welcome their new neighbours at number nine (where else?) but something about Damon and Val (Shearsmith and Vinette Robinson) doesn’t seem quite right. Filmed using a fixed doorbell camera, it’s a mash-up of The ‘Burbs and Rear Window. Cleverly constructed but let down by a late lapse into lazy shock tactics. A nice dig at Netflix and Michael Ball cameo fail to compensate.

48. Hurry Up & Wait (series 6)

Mother of God and the wee donkey. Adrian Dunbar riffs on his Line Of Duty persona in this playful police pastiche. Shearsmith is an actor playing a cop in a true-crime drama, based on the disappearance of a baby boy from the local area 20 years previously. Can he nail his big scene and crack the unsolved case while he’s at it? A blend of satire and mystery don’t quite sing, while the twist ending, though effective, is a tad distasteful.

47. The Trolley Problem (series 9)

Surprisingly, this was the first ever two-hander with just the show’s creators on-screen. Pemberton plays a psychotherapist who saves Shearsmith from leaping to his death from a bridge. But is it a good idea to bring him back home for a heart-to-heart? Named after a though experiment in ethical philosophy, their showdown sees revelations come thick and fast before a chilling final image. Tense but overly wordy and ultimately unsatisfying.

46. Nine Lives Kat (series 7)

A puzzle box of an episodes that plays with crime clichés within a spiralling psychological drama. Katrina (Sophie Okonedo) is an alcoholic detective, tormented by her demons but determined to solve the case of a missing boy. Or is she? Twists mount up until it becomes mind-bendingly trippy. Both characters and viewers begin to question everything. A jaw-droppingly audacious meta-drama about the writing process, wrapped up inside spooky cop thriller. Sly and super-smart but too cerebral to be a classic.

45. Thinking Out Loud (series 5)

Six disparate characters delivered monologues to camera, gradually becoming intertwined as the story built towards a killer climax. It was clever and typically twisted but executed with uncharacteristic clumsiness, with the solution spelt out by an expository off-camera voice. Some viewers also criticised its portrayal of mental illness. Guest star Maxine Peake, however, was superb.

Nicola Walker and Steve Pemberton in To Have and To Hold
Top of her game: Nicola Walker with Steve Pemberton in To Have and To Hold

44. To Have and To Hold (series 4)

When a wedding photographer’s workaholism and bitterness over his wife’s fling gets in the way of his own marriage, she desperately tries to reignite their relationship. Cue an excruciating role-play sex scene (not now, Nurse Honeypot) and a highly implausible, very dark twist. A game performance from guest star Nicola Walker is the high point of this jarring instalment.

43. Nana’s Party (series 2)

A jittery domestic tale with the feel of a Mike Leigh film, this suburban comedy finds an uptight couple throwing a birthday party for the wife’s 79-year-old mother. The family proceeds to implode thanks to alcohol, infidelity and backfiring practical jokes. It’s too soapy and cheesy to pack much of a punch. Funny stripper scene, though.

42. Mother’s Ruin (series 8)

A gory gangster comedy sees brothers Pemberton and Shearsmith - the first time the pair have played siblings, fact fans - setting out to learn what dark secrets their East End villain parents took to their grave. A surprised-packed mystery with a supernatural edge, although the ambiguous cut-to-black ending is nearly as divisive as the Sopranos finale to which it pays homage. Guest star Phil Daniels was a standout but even his scenes are stolen by a possessed parrot.

41. The Understudy (series 1)

This Macbeth tribute, split into five acts, leans a little too heavily on its “Scottish play” inspiration. It’s a story of rivalry between an alcoholic West End luvvie and his frustrated understudy – who eventually takes centre-stage, at a deadly price. Blood-soaked and spooky, with a delicious turn from stage manager Julia Davis, but a little ponderous and in thrall to its own cleverness.

40. Merrily, Merrily (series 7)

Something of a League Of Gentlemen reunion. Sensitive soul Laurence (Shearsmith) arranged a boat trip across a remote lake with two old university friends: snobby doctor Callum (Mark Gatiss) and oafish PE teacher Darren (Pemberton) - joined by the latter’s gatecrashing girlfriend (scene-stealer Diane Morgan). When their nostalgic conversation took them into troubled waters, secrets bubble to the surface. This macabre remix of Three Men In A Boat boasted some zingy one-liners but the ending, while poignant, was a tad too predictable.

39. Diddle Diddle Dumpling (series 3)

When a neurotic stay-at-home dad finds a lone shoe while out jogging, he becomes strangely fixated with finding its rightful owner – straining his relationship with worried wife Keeley Hawes. This bittersweet story boasts melancholic performances from Shearsmith and Hawes, along with a heartbreaking late revelation, but it lacks humour and the ending is a tad too telegraphed.

38. Simon Says (series 6)

An enjoyably nasty fable about the perils of TV fandom. A Game Of Thrones-esque fantasy saga called The Ninth Circle ended with an infamous damp squib finale. Now a pair of nerdy devotees (Shearsmith and Nick Mohammed) visit the show’s creator (Pemberton), hoping to persuade him to write another series and end it properly this time. A deadly power struggle ensues. A hammy but fun psychological thriller, packed with sly showbiz nods.

The Last Weekend
The Last Weekend - James Stack/BBC

37. The Last Weekend (series 8)

Creative masterminds Pemberton and Shearsmith make for an affectingly convincing married couple in the finale of the penultimate series. Joe and Chas (or is it Chazz?) are celebrating their ninth anniversary at a lovely lochside cabin but how long does it take to say goodbye? Poignant relationship drama gives way, as it so often does, to something altogether more devilish. With scenes named after the five stages of grief, it packs a vicious punch. Don’t have nightmares, Blue Jean Baby.

36. Boo to a Goose (series 9)

The final series kicked off with this surprising ode to community and compassion. Nerves frayed among late-night passengers when their underground train got stuck in a tunnel. Tension cranked up when a homeless man walked through the carriage begging for money, a nurse’s purse was stolen and accusations flew. A fine ensemble cast - Charlie Cooper, Joel Fry, Mark Bonnar and Siobhan Finneran all shine - deliver a gripping morality play with a dystopian ending that you won’t see coming.

35. Tempting Fate (series 4)

Inside No 9 doesn’t get much more Tales of the Unexpected-esque than this perverse little parable in which the show’s silver-hare statuette comes to the fore. When three council contractors clear out the flat of a reclusive hoarder, they discover a bloodstained floor, a dead rat, a locked safe and a terrible curse from beyond the grave. It’s creepy, cleverly constructed and packed with twists – arguably one too many – while guest star Weruche Opia (Top Boy, I May Destroy You) provides standout support.

Seance Time
Genuinely scary: Seance Time - BBC

34. Séance Time (series 2)

When a young woman (Sophie McShera, aka kitchen-maid Daisy from Downton Abbey) visits a medium in a Victorian villa, things take a unexpectedly terrifying turn. Alison Steadman is typically superb as the black-shrouded Madam Talbot, it’s packed with horror tropes and it’s genuinely scary. The multiple twists become a little too “meta”, but it’s an effective chiller with several jump-off-the-sofa moments.

33. Kid/Nap (series 7)

A high-stakes hostage situation sees Daisy Haggard, the wife of a wealthy financier, abducted by two bickering criminals (Daniel Mays and Jason Isaacs). Naturally, the kidnapping doesn’t go according to plan. The action is presented mostly in split-screen, hence that slash in the title, which is exploited for comic effect.  An enjoyable, if lightweight, Roald Dahl-esque tale packs not one but two plot twists. Bonus points for that pay-off line: “I’m all ears…”

32. Once Removed (series 4)

When a removal man arrives to pick up a woman’s possessions from a country farmhouse, a bizarre chain of events unfold through reverse chronology. It boasts a gleefully high body count and fiendishly clever time-hops, but it frequently feels too broad and farcical to be a textbook episode. Somewhat wastes guest actresses Monica Dolan and Emilia Fox, too.

31. Lip Service (series 6)

Suspecting that his spin doctor wife was cheating on him with her politician boss, Pemberton hires a lipreader (Fleabag’s Sian Clifford) to spy on the pair’s hotel room tryst through binoculars. Naturally, he gets more than he bargained for. A heightened, shape-shifting episode that defies expectations to repeatedly switch genre - from domestic tragedy to spy drama, from romanctic noir to conspiracy thriller. Packed with neat gags and rug-pulls, it’s ingenious if not fully emotionally satisfying.

30. Love Is A Stranger (series 8)

The superlative Claire Rushbrook carries this anti-romance as softly spoken singleton Vicky, meeting all manner of unsuitable men while online dating. After a string of humiliations, she finally forms a connection and swipes right. Has she found her perfect match? Or will Vicky fall victim to the feared Lonely Hearts Killer? A well-observed black comedy about looking for love in the wrong places. Many might guess the rug-pull but Rushbrook’s poignant performance is full of quiet longing.

Reece Shearsmith, Ralf Little, David Morrissey and Steve Pemberton in Inside No 9 - The Referee's a W****r
The Referee's a W***er - BBC/Sophie Mutevelian

29. The Referee’s A W***er (series 5)

This football-themed episode kicked off (pardon the pun) the fifth series and was a twisty little treat, whether or not you’re a fan of the beautiful game. All set within the referees’ changing room before a crunch fixture, David Morrissey is excellent and even affecting as the ref about to retire. Ralf Little is his ambitious, limelight-hungry assistant. What ensues is an entertaining story of promotion, relegation, mass brawls, match-fixing and eyebrow-raising romance.

28. A Random Act Of Kindness (series 7)

The strained relationship between a single mother (Jessica Hynes, excellent as always) and her teenage son (Noah Valentine) is given a considerable push in the right direction by a mysterious stranger (Pemberton). Yet there’s much, much more to his tender domestic drama than meets the eye. A devastatingly emotive story but sadly, its mind-bending ambition wasn’t done justice by its modest BBC Two budget. One of those occasions where you wish for an injection of streaming service dollars.

27. Curse of the Ninth (series 9)

This period chiller follows a piano tuner (Shearsmith) summoned to an Edwardian country pile, where he is forced to confront the deadly power of a centuries-old curse. Cue high-class haunted house action. A starry guest cast (Eddie Marsan, Natalie Dormer, Hayley Squires), an innuendo-packed script and a genuine classical music superstition add up to a gripping mystery - although some fans couldn’t help half-expecting an extra plot twist in the final frame.

26. Wuthering Heist (series 6)

Audaciously performed in the style of Italian 16th century commedia dell’arte and set in a Reservoir Dogs-stlye warehouse, this crime caper saw Paterson Joseph’s crime kingpin hire a masked crew to carry out an elaborate diamond robbery - not suspecting that half the gang was planning to double-cross the rest. Gemma Whelan shone as the boss’ fourth wall-breaking deputy. Bold, brilliantly orchestrated fun but more in Inside No 9’s farcical tradition, rather than the dark side.

25. 3 by 3 (series 8)

An Inside No 9 rarity. Not only does it feature neither Shearsmith nor Pemberton but it wasn’t branded as part of the anthology until the closing credits. Having fooled fans by advertising a fake On The Buses spoof, they instead plonked a pitch-perfect gameshow pastiche in the schedules. Lee Mack presides as three teams compete for a cash prize but there’s more to the quiz-mad Oakwood family than meets the eye. The pacing is masterful - drip-feeding hints that it’s a hoax, building a sense of foreboding, climaxing in a supernatural shock. Eight series in, the show was still full of surprises.

24. Mr King (series 7)

A sinister tale which wouldn’t feel out of place in the duo’s alma mater, The League Of Gentlemen. When teacher Shearsmith takes up his new posting at a rural Welsh primary school, he struggles to escape the shadow of his fondly remembered predecessor, Mr King. Little does he suspect that he’s about to play a vital role in the villagers’ harvest festival. A gleefully twisted homage to classic folk horror, complete with creepy children. A local episode for local people.

The Devil of Christmas
Horror tale: The Devil of Christmas - BBC

23. The Devil of Christmas (series 3)

Spooking up the Christmas 2016 schedules, this festive “film within a film” is one of the bravest episodes format-wise – and one of the most unsettling, too. Filmed in Seventies horror style, it sees an English family holidaying in an Alpine chalet and being told the creepy folk tale of the demonic Krampus. Then the footage is rewound and a director’s commentary from Derek Jacobi kicks in. The nasty, pitch-black twist is shocking yet satisfying, the retro pastiche spot-on. All it lacks is a little wit. Bah, humbug.

22. The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge (series 2)

This one is like a grown-up Horrible Histories. An old crone (Ruth Sheen) stands accused of witchcraft in the 17th century village of Little Happens, and will be burned at the stake if found guilty. The local magistrate (horror stalwart David Warner) summons two renowned witchfinders, partly as a publicity stunt to put the town on the map. It’s a lovingly rendered horror spoof which had Blackadder-esque fun with ye olde periode language, but some viewers felt that the supernatural ending was lacklustre. (Great Goody Two-Shoes gag, though.)

21. The Bones Of St Nicholas (series 8)

This festive pleasure finds pompous Dr Parkway (Pemberton) spending Christmas Eve in a reputedly haunted church. He’s vexed to discover he isn’t the only one who’s booked to stay. He’s joined by a chatty married couple (Shearsmith and Shobna Gulati), while the eccentric church warden (Simon Callow) is never far away. So why is Parkway so desperate to be left alone? A clever spin on a seasonal ghost story, this morality tale is merry and macabre in equal measure.

20. La Couchette (series 2)

All aboard for Agatha Christie with chronic flatulence. Series two opened with this claustrophobic whodunit, set in the cramped confines of a French train’s sleeper carriage. Passengers try to get some sleep but it becomes impossible due to noisy arrivals – and the discovery of a corpse in one of the bunk beds. Yet another great guest cast – Julie Hesmondhalgh, Mark Benton, Jessica Gunning and Jack Whitehall – deliver a comedy-heavy script with yet another killer twist. There are perhaps a few too many scatological gags to make the top ?????, though.

19. Misdirection (series 5)

Reese Shearsmith indulges his passion for magic with this macabre tale of revenge on a murderous illusionist. Nine years after the famed Neville Griffin (Shearsmith) killed old stager Willy Wando (Steve Pemberton) and stole his “chair-raising” levitation trick, Wando’s grandson Gabriel (Fionn Whitehead) poses as a student journalist to interview Griffin. A game of conjuror cat-and-mouse ensues, complete with a late twist and ingenious reveals.

18. The Bill (series 3)

This stagey little gem follows four friends who go out for a post-badminton tapas dinner and the circular argument that breaks out over who should pick up the tab, much to the exasperation of the waitress. A tight script takes its time to reveal its secrets but when it does, it’s worthy of Roald Dahl. Guest stars Philip Glenister, Ellie White and Jason Watkins shine, while the twists are deliciously done. Let’s go Dutch in future.

Zanzibar
Shakespeare meets Richard Curtis: Zanzibar - BC

17. Zanzibar (series 4)

Not many comedies are creative enough to carry off rhyming couplets in primetime. The fourth series opened with this bedroom farce set along one corridor at Hotel Zanzibar, where guests speak in iambic pentameter. Cue attempted murder, mistaken identity, monologues to camera and a Shakespeare-meets-Richard Curtis romantic comedy. Led by Rory Kinnear in a dual role, it’s nimbly written, played with a knowing wink and full of five-star charm.

16. The Harrowing (series 1)

“Who lives here, The Munsters?” The debut series climaxed in chilling fashion with this Gothic yarn. Two schoolgirls house-sit at a creepy mansion and are summoned upstairs by the residents’ bed-ridden disabled brother – who has cloven feet and a bandaged mouth. Genuinely terrifying with a bleak ending, forsaking humour for nightmare-inducing scares. Guest stars Helen McCrory and Aimee-Ffion Edwards are excellent. It’s also noteworthy for being a rare Pemberton-free episode.

15. Death Be Not Proud (series 5)

A surprise treat for devotees of previous “PemberSmith” project Psychoville, this was effectively an audacious crossover episode. It began with a young couple (played by Jenna Coleman and Kadiff Kirwan) moving into a haunted flat. The property soon began to give up its dark secrets, which saw the fan-pleasing arrival of Psychoville’s bowl-cutted serial killer David Sowerbutts and his grotesque mother Maureen. There was even an uproarious cameo from clumsy hook-handed clown Mr Jelly. Throw in metaphysical poetry puns, dance routines, adult babies and actual babies, and you had hilarious pitch-black comedy combined with macabre horror. “Sorry, mum, I done a bad murder...”

14. Dead Line (live Halloween special)

When Pemberton and Shearsmith boldly took on a live episode, we should have expected the unexpected. What began as a typical twisting tale about a lost mobile phone soon evolved into something more meta, in the vein of notorious 1992 mockumentary Ghostwatch. The audio cut out, a continuity announcer apologised for the technical problems and we were flung into an immersive horror, set backstage at a haunted TV studio. In-jokey details, spoof news stories and tweets from the stars enhanced the experience. Viewers who didn’t fall for the fake glitches and change the channel were rewarded with serious scares.

13. The Riddle of the Sphinx (series 3)

This deliberately oblique, verbose episode revolved around cryptic crossword puzzles. A girl breaks into the office of a classical Cambridge professor and crossword-setter, who catches her in the act and proceeds to teach her how to solve cryptic clues. Naturally, twists ensue and it turns into a beautifully constructed revenge thriller. Gothic, gruesome, dizzyingly clever and, although low on humour, hugely enjoyable.

12. Tom & Gerri (series 1)

Game of cat and mouse, anyone? When a hirsute homeless man returns a lost wallet to primary school-teacher Tom, the mysterious tramp ends up moving in with him – much to the annoyance of Tom’s girlfriend Gerri (Gemma Arterton). This Pinter-esque domestic thriller plays with audience expectations, layering twist upon twist and building up a sense of creeping dread until its affecting, downbeat ending.

11. CTRL, ALT, ESC (series 9)

The third-to-last episode packed an unexpectedly poignant plot twist. Jason (Pemberton), his wife Lynne (Katherine Kelly) and their two teenage daughters (Kalli Tant as the snarky elder child was a standout) take a family trip to their local escape room, run by Shearsmith’s jobbing actor. It’s not really the girls’ idea of fun but they patiently indulge their puzzle-mad dad. Can Jason find a way out of “The Killer’s Lair” before they run out of time? The final reveal was heartfelt and rather beautiful with a rare happy ending. Wasn’t it?

10. Cold Comfort (series 2)

Innovatively shot and full of dread, this one plays out entirely from the perspective of CCTV cameras in a Samaritans-style support hotline, where a difficult phone call from a suicidal teenage girl has traumatic consequences for the volunteers. Shot with four fixed cameras, with all the feeds on-screen throughout, it’s visually static but cleverly choreographed. Guest stars Jane Horrocks and Nikki Amuka-Bird add sterling support, and it ends with a bang.

Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Plodding  On
Plodding On - BBC/James Stack

9. Plodding On (series 9)

One for the fans but in their last ever episode, the delightfully devilish duo had earned it. Set in the unisex loos at their own series wrap party, a galaxy of 49 guest stars from previous episodes popped in and out (Anne Reid, see Sardines below, was a particular scene-stealer), while it soon became apparent why our tuxedo-clad hosts were avoiding each other. Could they fix their fraying friendship? And what would be their next project? Packed with in-jokes and knowing callbacks, this was a greatest hits of a half-hour. A masterfully meta, hugely entertaining and emotionally satisfying way to end.

8. Sardines (series 1)

The first episode of all set the bar intimidatingly high. During an engagement party at a stately home, the guests play a game of sardines. One by one, they squeeze into a wardrobe and scandalous secrets emerge. A cracking cast includes Katherine Parkinson, Timothy West, Anna Chancellor, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Anne Reid and Tim Key, while the script skilfully develops the set-up from fun-and-games towards murderous suspense. It’s Beckett-meets-Hitchcock: claustrophobically tense, blackly comedic brilliance.

7. The Stakeout (series 5)

Shearsmith and Pemberton take centre-stage themselves and only narrowly fail to crack the all-time top five. The pair play lowly police officers, keeping watch over a graveyard plagued by drug-taking and vandalism. As they bicker and banter in patrol car number nine, we learned that the senior officer is recovering from a recent trauma and the other is quietly counselling him – until an astonishing late twist propels the action into an entirely new genre. As the story shows its devilish hand, viewers realise the imaginative duo had been leaving clues for us all along.

6. How Do You Plead? (series 6)

A damned delicious slice of fantasy horror, beautifully performed. A celebrated barrister, played by the great Sir Derek Jacobi, lays dying in bed. He has a guilty conscience, however, so summons his saintly carer (Shearsmith) to get a few things off his chest. Alan Bennett meets Angel Heart, anyone? The double twist ending was unexpected and chillingly dark, even by Inside No 9’s standards, while Jacobi was perhaps the show’s best guest star yet. Nerds take note, though: this was strictly his second episode, after providing a voiceover for series three’s “The Devil At Christmas”.

5. Wise Owl (series 7)

“Don’t be a twit, you.” Shearsmith is devastating as troubled Ronnie, who has spent his entire life trying to do the right thing, guided by his memories of the Wise Owl public information films from his childhood. These “Charly Says”-style Seventies animations are authentically spot-on. However, childhood nostalgia soon turns nightmarish in this gut-punch of an episode. Black humour comes from the bad taxidermy, scares from the mounting dread. As buried secrets surface, it has real emotional resonance. An eccentric gem - not least when the triumphant twist makes for an empowering ending.

Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearmsith in Inside No 9 - Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room
Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room - BBC/Sophie Mutevelian

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

Washed-up northern double-act Cheese & Crackers (from “the arse end of variety”, as they put it) reunite after 30 years apart for one last gig in front of an invited audience. While they run through their hoary old material in rehearsal, resentments resurface and the incident that caused them to fall out comes back to haunt them. An evocatively nostalgic, poignantly soulful two-hander – guest actress Sian Gibson only makes a fleeting, if crucial, appearance – it has a twist to take your breath away and bring tears to your eyes. Gorgeous.

3. Love’s Great Adventure (series 5)

One of the most affecting episodes, along with “Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room (4) and The 12 Days of Christine (1), this naturalistic kitchen sink drama comprised 24 scenes, following a financially strapped family as they opened their Advent calendar and tried to scrape enough funds together to make Christmas special. Their secrets slowly emerged, troubles were tackled and everyone came together for a festive ode to family. Combining poignant tragedy with warm comedy, it was an ingeniously constructed love story and a low-key delight.

2. A Quiet Night In (series 1)

One of the endlessly creative show’s most challenging conceits was this ingenious, virtually silent comedy. Two hapless cat burglars break into a swanky modernist house to steal a priceless painting, tip-toeing around while the couple who live there argue. This hypnotic half-hour combines old-fashioned slapstick with modern flourishes and deadly twists. (Neatly, guest star Oona Chaplin even happens to be the granddaughter of silent movie king Charlie Chaplin.) Stripped of the usual quip-smart dialogue, it was a bold experiment for only the second-ever episode, but the duo pull it off with enormous wit and style.

Sheridan Smith in The 12 Days of Christine
Never better: Sheridan Smith in The 12 Days of Christine

1. The 12 Days of Christine (series 2)

No prizes for guessing our number one. Viewers were blindsided by this devastating 2015 mini-masterpiece, starring Sheridan Smith (never better) in the title role. After Christine meets Adam (Tom Riley) at a New Year’s fancy dress party, her life begins to unravel around her and happiness slowly dissolves into heartbreak. A dozen holidays, 13 months apart, provide snapshots of Christine’s life but gradually the clues – flashing lights, broken eggs, alarm chimes, visions of a mysterious man – build into something eerily emotional, dream-like and deeply moving. Like an arthouse film in one-third of the running time, it’s a tour de force of storytelling, craft and chronology which adds up to one of the finest 29 minutes of TV you’ll ever see. If you haven’t had the pleasure, seek it out.


Which is the best episode of Inside No 9? Do you agree with our ranking? Let us know in the comments below.