Entertaining fare, but too predictable and clichéd to prove genuinely memorable. This week's Inside No.9 began promisingly, with notorious 17th-centry witchfinders Warren (Reece Shearsmith) and Clarke (Steve Pemberton) arriving at the hamlet of Little Happens to put old crone Elizabeth Gadge (Ruth Sheen) on trial for witchcraft and consorting with The Devil. The presence of genre legend David Warner as village nobleman Sir Andrew Pike was a pleasant accompaniment, too, last seen working with the duo on The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse. It's just a shame that the storyline and various creative decisions were amusing but didn't do much to subvert my preconceptions; including a double-twist ending that held little surprise.
However, "The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge" was a fun riff on classic Vincent Prince movie Witchfinder General, and evoked a lovely folk horror feel despite its one location setting in an old barn. The dialogue was also frequently hilarious, with Shearsmith and Pemberton having a fine ear for the rhythms of Olde English and how best to have characters deadpan their way through some ridiculous sentences. I also liked the dynamic of having one witchfinder (Warren) be overly-committed to his vocation, to the extent he's willing to see innocent people burnt at the stake, while his accomplice (Clarke) is more rational about the clear misunderstandings and grudges at the heart of remote local communities.
I'd love nothing more than to see Shearsmith and Pemberton tackle a more opulent period comedy, but it's a shame this dalliance just didn't do much to surprise me. It embraced a lot of the genre's tropes and was very playful with them, which is fine, but there wasn't enough here that felt fresh and invigorating. Quite a few of the jokes also fell flat for me, such as the moment Sir Pike believed a mouse 'familiar' had transformed into a bottle.
Like all comedy, it's a subjective opinion—but coming after the exciting character dynamics of "La Couchette" and the heartrending mystery of "The 12 Days of Christine" (which both had excellent twist-endings as final punches), this episode couldn't help feeling like a mid-series misstep.
written by Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith • directed by Dan Zeff • 9 April 2015 • BBC2