Graham Humphreys/BBC

‘Descent into Madness’: Inside No.9’s scariest episodes

Creators Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have a uniquely British flavour of black comedy and are known for creating infamous plot-twists, some chilling enough to stick with viewers long after watching. Being an anthology, there’s no reason to watch the episodes in any order, allowing viewers to dip in and out of the series at will. We have round up the nine scariest, most disturbing episodes for you to binge this Halloween.

Mr King 

Alan Curtis, a teacher with an unknown background, winds up at a rural Welsh primary school, and he is immediately overshadowed by the memory of his much-loved predecessor, the eponymous Mr King. He struggles to adapt to life in the village – he’s particularly stunned that his class seem to have no knowledge of the outside world – but after an accusation is made against him, he must fight to clear his name. This is an episode that never feels quite right, and it builds and builds to a wonderfully dark climax that we won’t spoil here.

Séance Time

A young woman visits a medium for a séance – she’s introduced to the mysterious Madame Talbot (Alison Steadman), for a chat with the dead that becomes increasingly lively. It’s a classic story of things not being as they appear, with horror and comedy fusing together in a deliciously dark cocktail that will have you laughing one minute and jumping the next.

The Harrowing

The show’s first foray into out-and-out horror remains one of its best. It sees a teenager head off to a Gothic mansion to housesit while its owners (Shearsmith and Helen McCrory) head out to an event. They stress that there is one important rule Katy needs to follow – do not disturb Andras, a severely disabled family member who lives upstairs. Of course, things are neither that simple nor that mundane, and Katy is faced with a horrifying night.

Private View

One of the first episodes I watched, ‘Private View’ is about a group of people who seemingly have nothing in common, except they have all been invited to the same private art exhibition. It quickly turns into a macabre ‘whodunnit?’ after the visitors started being killed one after another. But who (or what) is behind these deaths and what is the significance of the posthumous art exhibit?

To Have and to Hold

Suburban couple Adrian and Nicola are living in a loveless marriage in what seems to be a black comedy about relationships. But the episode takes a dark and highly disturbing turn when it’s revealed that Adrian has a secret reason for his lack of interest in his wife. The sudden twist in atmosphere turns this dull suburbia into the stuff of nightmares and, if nothing else, you won’t be able to look at a Pot Noodle in the same way again.

Dead Line

Inside No.9 doing a live Halloween episode – it was guaranteed to be frightening. The story followed an old man (played by Pemberton) who found an old mobile phone in his local graveyard and tries to get in touch with the owner. But things took a darker turn, one that caught a nation off-guard and sent a lot of people to bed terrified. One of the greatest pieces of British horror television, ‘Dead Line’ still packs a chilling punch.

Diddle Diddle Dumpling

While the concept for this episode isn’t scary in itself – a man becomes preoccupied with returning a missing shoe to its owner – it quickly spirals into a psychological horror about obsession. David (Shearsmith) is plagued by grief; causing a strain on his family, and this is furthered by his fixation on the shoe. You won’t be able to look away from David’s descent into madness.

How Do You Plead?

Derek Jacobi is the lead in this instalment, playing a dying barrister Webster haunted by memories of a past case. His only companion is his carer, Bedford, who learns that his patient may have plans for him. Webster is an unpleasant man and there’s an undercurrent of atmosphere that only builds. The episode benefits from several tonal leaps, but they all end up in the same dreadful place.

Wise Owl

Ronnie has spent his life trying to do the ‘right’ thing, guided by the public information films of his childhood. Despite Ronnie’s attempts to follow the rules, the Wise Owl may not ‘always be right’ like he claims. The combination of old-fashioned animation and repressed memories from Ronnie’s troubled childhood make this episode one of the scariest in television, so we recommend checking the content warnings before watching.







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