The 15 best Inside No. 9 episodes, ranked!

(Image credit: BBC)

Thanks to its fiendishly funny set-ups and shock twists, Inside No. 9 has quickly become a cult classic. Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton's dark anthology series has a remarkably simple premise – every episode takes place inside a place that is marked as a number nine – yet one that has proven endlessly malleable. Where one episode takes you on a trip back in time to a witch's trial, another puts you inside in a Samaritans-esque call centre. The only constant, barring the No. 9, is that you can expect a surprise or two before the credits roll. 

With season 5 now over, GamesRadar+ has attempted the almost unthinkable: to rank the best Inside No. 9 episodes. Below, you can find our 15 favourite episodes from the show – with minimal spoilers, in case you're watching for the first time. So, whether you're looking to get up to speed with the show's greatest hits or just want to cherry-pick some classic episodes to rewatch, here are the very best Inside No. 9 episodes – ranked!

15. "The Understudy" (season 1, episode 5)

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An early highlight, "The Understudy" focuses on the behind the scenes trials and tribulations of a West End production of Macbeth. Theatre star Tony Warner (Pemberton) and his understudy, Jim (Shearsmith), take on the coveted eponymous role. However, what starts as a dry pricking of an actor's ego soon morphs into a rather familiar tale.

This episode sticks in the memory because of how the plot mirrors Shakespeare's famous play. There's a classic five-act structure, a character who's a Lady Macbeth surrogate, and some ominous hallucinations that hint at future bloodshed. Not that it's a direct retelling – with Act V throwing up a twist that you won't recognise from Macbeth – but it's certainly among the show's best. 

14. "The Stakeout" (season 5, episode 6)

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Police shows are plump targets for an easy skewering and "The Stakeout" makes a point of listing some of the genre's most obvious tropes early on. Yet, this fleet-footed episode doesn't go for the soft target. After all, it starts in a graveyard, with two officers spending as much time talking about veganism/flexitarianism than they do about being close to retirement. 

"The Stakeout" showcases the natural rapport between Shearsmith and Pempeton, who make two coppers having a chat in a car engaging for 30 minutes. The pair have been working with each other for decades and episodes like this highlight just how much chemistry they have, as they trade quips, riddles, and exposition with ease. 

13. "La Couchette" (season 2, episode 1)

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One of the show's funniest episodes, "La Couchette" revolves around six people trying to get to some shut-eye in a sleeper train. One has a job interview with the World Health Organisation; a married couple are travelling to their daughter's wedding; an Australian backpacker has brought a bloke back for some midnight company; one person has an unfortunately gassy bowel. Oh, and I haven't mentioned the dead body in bed 9B yet… 

"La Couchette" works as we get a sense of who these characters are before and after the body's discovery. Seeing them bicker on about getting some sleep – and then about how to deal with a corpse – generates plenty of laughs, even if they involve a few more bodily functions than you might expect.

12. "Empty Orchestra" (season 3, episode 4)

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"Empty Orchestra" takes place in a karaoke booth, as a group of office workers celebrate their bosses birthday, and makes for one of Inside No. 9's lighter episodes. Boss Roger (Pemberton, with what sounds like a West Midlands accent) quickly gets as drunk as possible, while his personal assistant Janet (Emily Howlett) nurses a secret crush on Duane, much to the malevolent glee of Connie (Tamzin Outhwaite). 

The first time you watch "Empty Orchestra", you're waiting for it to all take a horrible turn. After all, that's the show's MO. Yet, the story moves along briskly, mining plenty of gags out of thematically on-point song choices. While a mystery letter hints at a dark turn, the episode forgoes the usual final act rug pull. In the end, "Empty Orchestra" is one of the show's kindest episodes, with a final shot that is as sweet as the show gets.

11. "Sardines" (season 1, episode 1)

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Inside No. 9's opening episode is impressive for a variety of reasons, but let's start with the main one. Comedies and anthologies usually take a bit of time to find their feet as they work out what they want to be. Few people say the first episode of Friends or Black Mirror is their favourite (and if you do, I'm sure I'll meet you in the comments section). 

Yet, "Sardines" is a belter, with plenty of hilarious lines, devious red herrings, and a twist that feels shocking and well-hidden on reflection. All of that from a set-up that essentially involves a group of people having to cram themselves into a cupboard as part of an icebreaker during an engagement party. It's a near-perfect intro and a testament to the show's ambitions that it doesn't sneak into the top ten. 

10. "Love's Great Adventure" (season 5, episode 3)

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While Inside No. 9 is known for its last-minute reveals and macabre punchlines, this high point from the latest season is noticeable for being absent of both. Instead, it has an elliptical style, giving us a brief scene from each day in December on the run up to Christmas. We see Trevor (Pemberton) and Julia (Debbie Rush) having hushed conversations about saving money for presents, as well as them sharing family meals with their daughter and grandson.

As the story unfurls, playing out like a traditional kitchen sink drama, we learn about the family's struggles, but also their desire to support each other, even when boundaries are crossed. Pemberton has never been better, grounding his character in a way that makes him feel painfully real, making every scene he shares with his son Patrick (Bobby Schofield) resonate all the more strongly. 

9. "Cold Comfort" (season 2, episode 4)

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After his sister's death, Andy (Pemberton) decides to volunteer at a Comfort Support Line call centre. While his initial calls tend to be from PPI robots, he eventually receives a call from Chole, a 16-year-old who overdosed. From there, the story trundles down a particularly dark path as we see how that call affects Andy. 

What makes "Cold Comfort" stand out is how it boasts style and substance. All the action is shown either through a webcam at Andy's desk or CCTV cameras around the building, making you feel as if you're illicitly listening in on the incredibly private calls. Meanwhile, the narrative's tension gradually simmers to an effectively bleak boiling point, as all the apparent loose threads weave together.  

8. "The Devil of Christmas" (season 3, episode 1)

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As you can guess from the title, this episode is the Christmas special, and an incredibly dark one at that. If the opening minutes hint that we'll be getting a send-up of '70s British horror, complete with a 4:3 aspect ratio and some oversized caricatures, then a voiceover from the film's director reveals it's going to be a lot more meta than a simple pastiche. 

Said director is Dennis Fulcher, who we never see, but is voiced by Derek Jacobi. His pithy commentary is playful, landing several jokes over his (intentionally) hammy film about Krampus. One anecdote about actors never eating food while filming is especially funny. For a while, it seems like Jacobi's commentary is the show's signature twist, but a hauntingly grim final act proves otherwise. Horror fans will love it, but it's maybe not one for the family after the Christmas meal.

7. "Dead Line" (season 4, episode 7)

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Pulling off a live episode of TV is hard enough at the best of times, but what makes this Halloween special so enthralling is that it's a live episode that managed to incorporate the spectre of technical issues into its narrative. What starts out as a (deliberately) staid story of a pensioner discovering a lost phone quickly morphs into something spookier, as a loss of sound means an old repeat of the show has to be played instead. That doesn't quite go to plan either, as we then switch to various cameras dotted around the studio, capturing the actors waiting in their dressing room, hoping the technical fault will subside.

There's no denying that "Dead Line" worked best during its initial live airing. For instance, Shearsmith and Pemberton were tweeting during the episode as part of it. Seeing that must have been a thrill (sadly, I only caught it on catch up), but that doesn't mean that the jokes and eventual horror doesn't land. Hearing a version of Shearsmith describe them having to restart the show at 11 as "pathetic", then watching through his GoPro night vision as he's chased through the studio by something is an endless rewatchable Halloween treat.   

6. "Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room" (season 4, episode 2)

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Marrying drama and laughs is something of an Inside No. 9 speciality and this instalment is perhaps the perfect blend of the two elements. The story follows a Morecambe and Wise-type double act who reunite after 30 years but who are struggling to reconnect. Crackers (Pemberton) misses the glory days of their hoary routine, while Cheese (Shearsmith) has moved on and runs a successful business.

As the episode moves through their old bits and current feelings, it's hard not to oscillate between fits of giggles and an uneasy sense that a devastating reveal is just around the corner. When said rug-pull does come, it's a moment of genuine pathos, as we learn what brought Cheese back to his ex-partner in comedy. This is one of the rare episodes in the show where sobs are more likely than gasps.

5. "Diddle Diddle Dumpling" (season 3, episode 5)

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While Inside No. 9 is known for its fantastic writing, "Diddle Diddle Dumpling" also boasts some of the most striking imagery in the series, thanks to director Guillem Morales's use of mise-en-scene. What initially starts as a funny yarn about David (Shearsmith) becoming obsessed with a single shoe left in front of his house soon becomes an uneasy watch, as his determination to find its owner drives a wedge between him and his wife Louise (an excellent Keely Hawes). 

Morales fills every shot with pairs of items, lending most shots a sense of symmetry while also adding to David's angst about finding a home for the single shoe. There's also the use of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" on the soundtrack – a neat trick that enhances the story's final moments. Suffice to say, you won't be forgetting them in a hurry, as the real reason behind David's obsession is revealed. 

4. "To Have and To Hold" (season 4, episode 4)

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"To Have and To Hold" is one of those episodes of Inside No. 9 that could swing in any direction. It follows struggling couple Harriet (Nicola Walker) and Adrian (Pemberton) as they attempt to fix their marriage. Early scenes slowly peel back the pair's history, revealing why Adrian struggles to be intimate with Harriet. Yet, just when you think you have it pegged, a second act twist completely changes the episode's dynamic, going from domestic drama to something much darker. 

Despite the turn of events, "To Have and To Hold" manages to nail the tonal shift. One awkward moment sees Harriet try to reignite the spark is spectacularly cringing in the funniest possible way, while a surprise trip leads to one of the tensest moments on the show. If you can stomach a Pot Noodle after this, you're made of stronger stuff than me.   

3. "A Quiet Night In" (season 1, episode 2)

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Another early highlight, "A Quiet Night In" is something akin to Michael Mann directing a Laurel and Hardy sketch. Two hapless burglars (Shearsmith and Pemberton) try to break into a house to steal a valuable painting – all while the owner (Dennis Lawton) is still inside. What follows is a series of near-perfect escalations, as the pair encounter motion detector lights, some adorable dogs, a row between the owner and his (presumed) partner, and a suspiciously well-timed visit from a cleaning goods salesman.  

What really makes this episode sing though is the fact it's completely silent. Watching the chaos unfold with little more than some diegetic music and (very) expressive faces makes this an absolute riot from the moment we see the burglars trundle up the garden, which only makes the swift ending all the more shocking…    

2. "The Riddle of the Sphinx" (season 3, episode 3) 

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Arguably the darkest episode of Inside No. 9, "The Riddle of the Sphinx" initially seems like it's a knockabout ode to cryptic crosswords. It starts with Nina (Alexandra Roach) breaking into the office of Professor Squires (Pemberton) – who also sets the weekly cryptic crosswords for the student paper – in an attempt to learn the answers for his latest brain teaser. Despite Nina's night time excursion into his office, Squires takes a shine to her, trying to teach her how to solve it on her own. 

What becomes quickly apparent is that the pair have ulterior motives, both playing a game of cat and mouse where the upper hand is routinely exchanged between themselves. It's not until the introduction of Professor Tyler (Shearsmith) when the episode truly takes a turn for the disturbing. Reveals stack on top of each other as we discover just how connected the trio are. A final, pitch-black joke hidden in the crossword is as satisfying as solving a cryptic itself. 

1. "The 12 Days of Christine" (Season 2, Episode 2)

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Inside No. 9's best episode will always be up for debate – after all, the show veers between styles consistently – but "The 12 Days of Christine" is our pick. It contains everything  that makes the show so brilliant: belly laughs early on, creeping dread in the middle, and a moment that effortlessly recontextualizes everything at the end. 

At the centre of all that is a powerful performance from Sheridan Smith as the eponymous Christine, as we watch her mature over the episode's length. What puts "The 12 Days of Christine" ahead of every other episode is the final moment when all the pieces slot together – a moment of clarity when you realise what the story has actually been about (we won't spoil anything here, just go watch!). 

As effective on a repeat viewing as it is on the first, "The 12 Days of Christine" remains the show's most moving episode by some distance, and our pick for the best episode of Inside No. 9.

Want to read more of GR+'s rankings? Here are the best Rick and Morty episodes and best It's Always Sunny in Philidelphia episodes!

Ben Tyrer

Hello, I'm GamesRadar's News Editor. I've been working in the games industry since 2013, after graduating from Bournemouth University with a degree in multimedia journalism. Since then I've worked for Official PlayStation Magazine as a staff writer and games editor, as well as writing for Official Xbox Magazine, Edge, PC Gamer, GamesMaster, PC Games N, and more. When I'm not moaning about being beaten on FIFA and Warzone, I'm writing news, features, and reviews for this wonderful site.