Alan Moore once said that it's not the job of the artist to give the audience what they want, but what they need.


The first episode of Inside No. 9 season 9 – titled Boo to a Goose – is one of the rare occasions when we get both.

As an entry in the long-running anthology, it's sure to please fans with its witty dialogue, sharply defined characters, strong performances and, of course, that customary twist ending (which surely nobody saw coming).

But this is also a short slice of fiction that challenges us to look at our own behaviour and attitudes as well as that of those around us, warning against the dire consequences of being lulled into chronic inaction.

The story unfolds on an underground train struck by a power outage midway through a tunnel. In the momentary darkness that ensues, passenger Elena (Philippa Dunne) has her purse stolen, sending the carriage into a panic.

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Suspicion is directed primarily towards Mossy (Charlie Cooper), a homeless man begging on the train, and Finn (Joel Fry), an apparent conspiracy theorist clutching his rucksack a little too tightly.

Raymond (Mark Bonnar) attempts to take control of the situation by demanding that the two men submit to being searched, but only ends up escalating things further – even strangling Finn at one point, but eventually letting him breathe again.

Cleo (Susan Wokoma) condemns him for his disturbing behaviour, and is joined in revolt by Mossy and Edith (Siobhan Finneran), the latter breaking away from her own husband, Gerry (Reece Shearsmith), decrying how timid he has become in middle age.

Her husband remains firmly opposed, however, alongside Raymond, Elena, eccentric loner Harold (Matthew Kelly) and sharp-tongued drag queen Wilma (Steve Pemberton). With the schism cemented, the replacement service finally arrives.

Steve Pemberton as Wilma and Susan Wokoma as Cleo in Inside No. 9. Pemberton is wearing a red dress and purple fur coat with a blue wig and eccentric makeup whilst pointing at something with a fan. Susan is wearing a white t-shirt and red plaid skirt while looking disgusted.
Steve Pemberton and Susan Wokoma in Inside No. 9. BBC Studios/James Stack

Except this is no train, but a shady governmental organisation responsible for literally replacing people that could disrupt the status quo. (Earlier hints towards authoritarianism take the form of eerie anti-crime posters littering the carriage.)

Finn is revealed to be an agent of the group, planted on the train to create an inciting incident (the purse theft) that would separate the docile and obedient passengers from those who question authority and rebel.

When the suspended train finally arrives at the platform, perfect copies of Cleo, Edith and Mossy are waiting to replace the originals, who are killed by toxic gas in the carriage (after Finn hands protective masks to the others).

This proves largely acceptable to the group, including Edith's husband, Gerry, who we learn was himself switched out for an imposter at an earlier point in time – hence the loss of his revolutionary streak.

It's an unpredictable tale, well told in typical Inside No. 9 fashion.

Reece Shearsmith as Gerry and Siobhan Finneran as Edith in Inside No. 9. Shearsmith is wearing a suit and glasses while stood next to Finneran who is wearing a skirt, blouse and blazer. They are stood at the bottom of an escalator and are looking ahead.
Reece Shearsmith as Gerry and Siobhan Finneran as Edith in Inside No. 9. BBC Studios/James Stack

But there's a clear message here: Pemberton and Shearsmith are questioning the uncomfortable fact that, when faced with an injustice, many of us instinctively look away to protect our "quiet life".

I've done it more than once, and you probably have too. Indeed, the upholders of the status quo in Boo to a Goose show just how widespread this reflexive response really is.

In stern, veteran teacher Raymond, we see a typical authoritarian figure, probably formed by his own strict upbringing and a career focused on maintaining order in the classroom.

But in Wilma, we see someone who proudly defies convention with an outrageous drag persona – and she has paid the price for it, experiencing the ridicule and discrimination often directed towards the LGBTQ+ community.

Rather than galvanising her to fight for change, these experiences have left her embittered; unwilling to defend someone, just as no one was willing to defend her.

Elena on a train, holding on to a pole
Philippa Dunne plays Elena in Inside No. 9. BBC Studios/James Stack

Somewhere between the two is nurse Elena, perhaps representing the person many of us would most like to imagine ourselves as: calm, rational, hard-working and kind-hearted, as shown in her interactions with vulnerable Mossy.

And yet, she is given perhaps the harshest judgement of all. In a chillingly casual debrief, Finn lumps her in with a particularly desirable demographic who simply "don't get involved" in what occurs around them.

It demonstrates how even loving souls with the best of intentions can easily slip into the pervasive human instinct to look away from suffering, struggle and injustice in the myriad forms they take.

Inside No. 9's Boo to a Goose plays on the shame we carry over such inaction and asks: Are we content with being replaced by detached, indifferent doppelgängers? Is it too late to reclaim our compassion?

These are questions that demand reflecting on and discussing, but we should also remember: actions speak louder than words.

Inside No. 9 is available to stream on BBC iPlayer. New episodes Tuesdays at 10pm on BBC Two.


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