And then comes the twist at the end. Jacobi suddenly sounds sad, as if he genuinely regrets not getting Worzel Gummidge and having to take this job, even while still talking as if he was recording a DVD commentary. But he is describing something shocking even by No. 9’s standards, the murder of a terrified actress as part of a snuff film, and this is a police interview. It takes a really skilled actor to pull off that sudden swerve and keep it believable, and Jacobi does it brilliantly.
Debbie Rush as Julia, Love’s Great Adventure (Series 5, Episode 3)
‘Love’s Great Adventure’ is an episode that lives or dies by the performance of its two lead actors, Pemberton and Debbie Rush. Luckily both are great. They are supported by some excellent young actors as the children and grandchildren of the household, and Shearsmith does one of his wonderfully acerbic, almost unpleasant but with a soft undertone, characters. But without a likeable and believable couple in Pemberton and Rush, the episode wouldn’t be anything like as involving.
The reason it captures and keeps the audience’s interest despite being noticeably lacking in murders, demons, ghosts, or time travel is that Trevor and Julia are three dimensional characters. We wince for Julia when she has to tell her daughter she can’t afford the prom dress she wants, and we want to weep for her when the one she makes instead doesn’t quite work out. We root for this family, and we especially feel the truth and bittersweet sadness of the conclusion, as the family enjoy time with their son, knowing that it probably won’t last.
Fionn Whitehead as Gabriel, Misdirection (Series 5, Episode 4)
Inside No. 9 has done a few two-handers, some featuring primarily Pemberton and Shearsmith, some pairing one of them with a guest star. It takes a strong actor to hold their own against one of the writers in their own show, and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’s Fionn Whitehead is more than up to the task.
The other particular challenge of this episode is that, between the title, the subject matter of magic and magicians, and the show’s reputation for twists, the audience are primed to be looking for clues, tricks, and general wrongdoing throughout. The script wisely does not make too much of the reveal that Gabriel is plotting revenge on Shearsmith’s Neville Griffin; while it does function as a reveal, it is not a particularly shocking one. Rather, the fun here is in unpacking the magic and explaining the trick. Whitehead skilfully comes across as a not-very-good, nervous young magician during much of the episode, masking the real and much nastier trick behind his clumsy attempts until the climax – the shocker being not that he was looking for revenge, but how exactly he chose to take it.
Kevin Bishop as Arlo, Wuthering Heist (Series 6, Episode 1)
‘Wuthering Heist’ was an acting challenge on several levels. Written during lockdown, it was moved from series seven to series six and filmed under ongoing Covid restrictions. The story is a take on the historical Italian drama form commedia dell’arte, a type of very formulaic comedy that developed from ancient Greek and Roman plays. This was similar to series four’s ‘Zanzibar,’ except that ‘Zanzibar’ was a take on Shakespearean comedy, which is still pretty well known as just about everyone has studied it in school at some point. Commedia dell’arte, on the other hand, is barely known outside of Drama classes, so the actors and script together had to make sure the audience kept on top of what was happening. And on top of all that, most of them had to do it wearing masks.