Inside No 9 is back – and it’s as creepy, involving and unpredictable as ever

Ben Dowell meets Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton to discuss the return of their unsettling “comedy"

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Inside No 9’s first series brought us the unexpected, with self-contained stories ranging from one set in a wardrobe during a game of sardines to another that was entirely silent.

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All the stories are set in a Number 9 of some sort. But that remains the only constant in this wildly unpredictable and inventive show.

The opening episode of the new series is set on a tiny sleeper carriage train and features ever more bizarre and unexpected goings on. 

There are moments of slapstick (thanks in part to a farting German passenger played by Steve Pemberton), and menace (Shearsmith takes on the role of a creepily fastidious English doctor). And then something truly chilling happens.  And then something silly (mainly thanks to Jack Whitehall’s superb turn as trustafarian posh boy traveller Hugo).

Fans will not be disappointed.

Later episodes include a C17th witch story The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge which takes place in a barn; of course there were no postmen in 1649 but there is at least a strange ‘9’ shaped piece of metal outside the farm-building where the trial takes place. Another is set in a call centre (in booth number 9) while another particularly moving and involving story stars Sheridan Smith as a young Mum whose life seems to be troubled with leaps across time.

The rest of the new series take us to a grandmother’s birthday party where a practical joke goes horribly wrong and another set in a séance in a Victorian house.

Audiences never feel safe when they are in the hands of Shearsmith and Pemberton, the duo who were part of the glorious League of Gentlemen comedy troupe and the brains behind the outrageous BBC comedy Psychoville.

If you cut them open, would probably have the word “unsettling” running through them like a stick of rock.

“In a world of minute-and-a-half clips sent to you on your iPhone we have gone the other way with stories that demand your attention and keep you in one place,” says Shearsmith who notes that sometimes the twist takes place in the middle not the end of a story.

“We live in terror of people saying you have done the same thing twice. We try and keep surprising people. The idea is for you not to know what’s happening. Maybe there’s a happy ending somewhere….”

Surely not?

“Definitely, that would be the biggest surprise of all,” adds Pemberton with a laugh.

“In some ways this is a reaction almost against the box set culture. I have got nothing against box sets, I love box sets. We just wanted to do something that was against what is in vogue at the time. So the stories are self-contained.”

Shearsmith nods.

“We wanted to go back to that anthology thing we grew up watching, Play for Today, Tales of the Unexpected that kind of thing. We are not breaking the mould – it’s not a new mould but one we are dusting off.

“The great thing is we are also allowed to write what we like, we don’t feel we have to compromise.”

And they haven’t.

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Inside No 9 begins on BBC2 on Tuesday March 26 at 10pm