Dark, peculiar and ever so slightly squeamish in places, this week's no. 9 shows Shearsmith and Pemberton's gleeful return to their renowned and horrifically funny trademark style - with mixed results.
After last week’s emotional crash, bang and wallop of an episode this week’s Inside No 9 is slightly more gentile on the senses. Only very slightly however – this is a story from the dark and twisted minds of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton after all.
If last week was an experimental ploy at toying with audience expectations, then this week’s episode shows an eerily familiar return to form as the writing/performing duo do what they do best and find the funny side to horror.
The episode – entitled ‘The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge’ – is set during the 17th Century in the ironically named village of ‘Little Happens.’ The village magistrate, Justice Pike (David Warner), summons a pair of fearsome witch-finders, Masters Warren (Shearsmith) and Clarke (Pemberton), to investigate a claim of sorcery made against the seemingly harmless old crone, Elizabeth Gadge (Ruth Sheen).
The story plays on the superstitious beliefs that were rife in this time period to considerable effect. The writers’ frivolous toying with the language in this episode is perhaps the most chucklesome element of the entire episode; the use of crude accusations involving “kissing the devil’s arse” and “drinking from demonic teats” are ridiculously amusing in their hyperbolic nature. It could be argued however that, as the episode, and the trial, continues the humour in this old-English language begins to wear off slightly and leaves little else to really laugh at.
Though the writers have ingratiated their plot into this archaic setting there are certain elements of contemporary life embedded cleverly within the story. For instance, the first half of Elizabeth Gadge’s trial is held amongst an audience of the local peasantry, who behave in an amusingly similar fashion to that of Jeremy Kyle’s audience, laughing and expressing discontent when they’re not permitted to see the gory stuff. There is also a gently amusing riff in which the writers imagine how one would take a selfie – or “likeness” – in such times.
The cast of this episode is also exceptional, as it to be expected in this series. Shearsmith and Pemberton had key roles to play this time, as the witchfinders Warren and Clarke (the names of whom appear to be selected in homage of the late actor of the same name). Shearsmith’s Warren is the more sadistic of the pair armed with a cold, snivelling voice and a proud collection of torture tools. Meanwhile Pemberton’s Clarke is more sympathetic seeking to find the truth in a more level-headed fashion.
The guest stars of the episode are also very good. David Warner’s performance as Justice Pike is disturbingly funny, as the actor’s grave and serious demeanour is undercut by the camp and salacious nature of his character. Warner’s appearance, alongside the medieval-esque setting is also nostalgically reminiscent of one of the Shearsmith and Pemberton’s former works: The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse in which Warner played the evil Dr. Erasmus Pea. Similarly, Ruth Sheen plays the titular character of Elizabeth Gadge to great effect, while there are other pleasing supporting roles by Paul Kaye, Sinead Matthews and Horrible Histories‘ Jim Howick.
Overall, this episode is sure to please fans of Shearsmith and Pemberton’s previous work, with it’s grisly, archaic content and dark humour – but the laughs aren’t as big as one might hope, and the inevitable plot twist of this story isn’t nearly as surprising or as unexpected as in previous episodes.
Inside No. 9 is broadcast on BBC Two and BBC Two HD on Thursdays at 10pm.