31 episodes. 31 settings, 31 stories and many many more characters, guest stars, jokes, surprises and even tears. Over six years, Inside No. 9 has built a hugely impressive back catalogue, and – currently airing its fifth series on BBC Two – is showing no sign of slowing down.
Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s BBC Two anthology sets itself two rules: every story is limited to a single location (the ‘No.9 of the title), and every story takes place over just half an hour. Within those parameters, they’ve been to the 17th century, the Austrian Alps, London’s West End, a French sleeper train and a referee’s dressing room. They’ve done it silent, singing, backwards and in iambic pentameter.
And in addition to all that, they’ve even launched a series-accompanying podcast. Every week after the series five episode airs, you can listen to Shearsmith and Pemberton’s half-hour dissection over at BBC Sounds here.
Inside No. 9 – The Geek Lowdown
How many series are there? Five plus the 2018 Halloween special
Renewed or cancelled? Series 6 is unconfirmed but rumoured.
Next series air date confirmed? Monday the 3rd of February at 10pm
Where to watch? BBC Two and BBC iPlayer
Created by: Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton
What happened last time: here are our spoiler-filled series four reviews
Inside No. 9 series 5 trailer: all bets are off
Here’s a glimpse ahead at series five, featuring Jenna Coleman, Maxine Peake and many more…
Inside No. 9 series 5 episodes: football, ghosts, magic and more
Episode one is the football-themed The Referee’s A W***er directed by Psychoville’s Matt Lipsey. Read our spoiler-filled review here.
Episode two is a ghost story titled Death Be Not Proud also directed by Lipsey and starring Jenna Coleman and Kadiff Kirwan.
Episode three is a domestic story set at Christmas titled Love’s Greatest Adventure, directed by Guillem Morales.
Episode four is magic-themed episode Misdirection, also directed by Morales.
Episode five is monologue-based episode Speaking Out Loud, directed by Steve Pemberton.
Episode six is police procedural The Stakeout, directed once again by Morales.
Inside No. 9 series 5 cast: Jenna Coleman and Maxine Peake jump aboard
The series five guest cast joining Reece and Steve is a big one. Maxine Peake (Silk) has signed up, alongside Jenna Coleman (Victoria), David Morrissey (The Missing), Dipo Ola (Baghdad Central), Phil Davis (Whitechapel), Ralf Little (Two Pints Of Lager), Jill Halfpenny (Three Girls), Steve Speirs (Star Wars), Tom Goodman-Hill (Mr Selfridge), Fionn Whitehead (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch), Kadiff Kirwan (Chewing Gum), Debbie Rush (Coronation Street) and Ioanna Kimbook (David Mamet’s Bitter Wheat).
Inside No. 9: a stage show could be in the works
Speaking at the series five launch at London’s BFI, Pemberton told the crowd that while they “haven’t really talked about doing a film because, thankfully, they keep recommissioning the series and I think we really like the 30-minute format,” a stage show is another matter.
“We certainly have talked about doing stage versions,” confirmed Pemberton, “whether it be pre-existing scripts or new ones and possibly I think that might be something that we’ll look at in the future.”
2018 saw the pair reunited as The League Of Gentlemen with Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson on a hit 47-date UK tour, an edited version of which is available to watch here on BBC iPlayer.
Inside No. 9 series 5 release date: confirmed for February 2020
Despite having finished filming all the way back in Easter 2019, the new series has been packed away until February. It starts on Monday the 3rd at 10pm on BBC Two and continues until the 9th of March, with all episodes available on BBC iPlayer after broadcast.
Flip over to page 2 to go behind the scenes of Inside No. 9…
Inside No. 9 series 5 behind the scenes
At a press launch last October for Dead Line, the pair’s devilish live Halloween episode, Pemberton described the Inside No. 9 writing process as a sociable one. “We always like to be in the same room, which a lot of writing partners don’t. We live very close to each other so we have a little office and go to the same places for our lunch and we spitball a lot of ideas for a long time.”
Shearsmith agrees. “There is a lot of talking before we begin, so we make sure where we are going and that there is no fat on anything before we start writing. That’s really helped us over the years. We really know what we want to get out of a story before we write it.”
Having dipped into multiple genres already in the anthology series, there are still styles the pair want to try out. “We’ve got a few of them in series five,” says Shearsmith. “There are some things in that that are going to be very challenging.
Is it getting tougher to come up with new and innovative ideas for episodes?
“I think what is harder,” says Pemberton, “is that when you have pulled a number of surprises, and really have genuinely shocked people, it is hard to continually do that. We don’t want to feel the pressure that we always have to do that, but then when we don’t, people go ‘it’s a shame it didn’t have a surprise at the end’.”
“It does keep us on our toes and we have to work very hard to make sure that this doesn’t become an ordinary half-hour. Our aim for the series as a whole is for people to think ‘my God I have never seen anything like that.’”
“It is a lifetime of material,” adds Shearsmith. “One of them, I always think ‘God, that could be a whole series’ rather than just one half-hour. But that’s why we can reach the heights in the stories that we’re able to, because it is concluded that week. You couldn’t do the same thing if you had to reset for next week and start again with the same thing. It’s the curse and the pleasure of it that you can reach very extraordinary conclusions.”
Pemberton continues, “It’s good for the audience as well, because you don’t know when you’re watching it who’s going to live and who’s going to die. Anything could happen and that puts the audience on edge.”
Five series in, Shearsmith describes the show’s relationship with its audience as “adversarial”. “They’re sat there like ‘right then, I’m going to get this [twist]!’ and you mustn’t do that because sometimes we don’t do that. It’s not all about the last thirty seconds, it’s the journey getting there and thinking of a good story that hooks you in.”