Inside No. 9 – ‘Seance Time’

seancetime

Series 2, Episode 6

CONTAINS SPOILERS

This episode at first feels like it is going to be similar to the final episode of series one, ‘The Harrowing’. Both take place in a spooky Victorian-styled haunted house. Tina (Sophie McShera) goes there for a seance, and is greeted by Hives (Reece Shearsmith) who introduces her to a medium named Madam Talbot (Alison Steadman), who is dressed in funeral garb and has a porcelain baby doll.

During the seance, a tambourine flies off the table, and Madam Talbot becomes possessed by a demonic creature, and calls Tina’s name. Then the creature itself appears behind Tina. She is terrified, and then something unexpected happens. This has all been a television prank, and she’s on a show called Scaredy Cam. Hives is really Terry, a faded TV star, Madam Talbot is actually Anne, an old theatre actress, and the demon is an actor named Clive (Dan Starkey), who hasn’t had much luck in his career. He wants to play Hamlet, but his most recent role playing the cat in a Dick Whittington panto for 3 months.

We find out that Scaredy Cam had been axed at some point in the past, but what they were filming now was it’s revival. Tina says that her favourite ever episode was one where Terry was dressed as a gorilla, and a little boy wet himself on live TV. This was a popular episode generally, and has become a big internet meme, with the producer Gemma (Cariad Lloyd) saying they should use it in a top ten list they are doing, and try to track down the boy and interview him for the show. Terry doesn’t like this idea at all, saying he doesn’t even want it in the top ten. There are suspicions that there is more to this than meets the eye, especially when Clive reveals that in the original script, his role was “spirit of little boy”,  but it had been changed at the last minute to “Blue Demon Dwarf”.

The second prank victim we meet is Peter (Steve Pemberton). Gemma, watching on the camera  laments that they won’t be able to use any of the footage, as Peter isn’t very watershed friendly. He stood in some dog shit on the way in and swears a lot, meaning they’d have to bleep all his words out. He also notices the tambourine and snaps the string off. He finds Madam Talbot and her porcelain doll funny rather than scary. But the worst comes when the “demon” appears behind him, and he punches him in the face, knocking him out.

The others then reveal that it is a television prank, but the consequences of this one are all too real. Clive ends up dying from his injuries shortly after, meaning the police have to be called. Terry is mainly annoyed at how this will mean the show will be cancelled again, mentioning the first time it happened was because of the episode where the little boy wet himself on live TV, and Terry ended up doing bingo adverts. He tells Gemma they can try and pin all the blame for it on Peter so the show can continue. Gemma is disgusted at this, saying that if keeping her career means having to treat people like that she’d rather not have it.

On the camera, Terry notices Clive stood up and walking about. Terry goes to the set, and Clive is stood with his back to the wall, and refers to himself as “Spirit of little boy”. He says he was scared when Terry was dressed up as the gorilla, and that because of how everyone laughed at him afterwards, and that he likely suffered school bullying because of it, he jumped into a river and drowned. Terry, for a moment, thinks this is a prank the crew are playing on him, but then he goes up to Clive and sees that he is dead, and then he sees a zombie-like version of the boy, William (Caden Ellis Wall).

A policeman and Gemma arrive on the set, and find Terry standing over Clive’s body. Terry has wet himself in fear. We then see the zombie boy appear on the camera, and the episode ends.

The twist that comes early on in the episode was very good, and this was a twist I did not see coming at all. At first I thought they were using every horror cliche in the book (music box, flickering lights, creepy porcelain dolls etc) and I wasn’t too impressed by it. The deep demonic male voice which Madam Talbot spoke in when “possessed” was hilarious if anything. But as it turned out, all the horror film motifs being clunky and overegged was intentional, as it was meant to show a TV programme creating a haunted house rather than an actual haunted house. I did not expect the twist for it to be a hidden camera show, so that was well played. It helped with how the episode was advertised before it was screened, with the title and all the promotional material suggesting that the main story was the seance and that Tina would be the protagonist. But it turned out all of that stuff was incidental to the main story. I think it also made the real ghost story even scarier when it happened. It reminded me a bit of an Anthony Horowitz children’s book Groosham Grange, where at one point the main character is on a ghost train, and the artificial horrors of it don’t bother him, but then the train suddenly takes him back to the real monsters of Groosham Grange, and he can tell the difference straight away.

The archetypes in ‘Seance Time’ are very funny. Terry, the TV presenter who seems friendly and cheerful on screen is actually a bitter has-been who loathes the general public. “He comes over much nicer on the telly” says Tina after she has met him. “It’s all in the edit” replies Gemma. Anne is a pompous, diva-ish luvvie, and had one of the most popular lines in the episode. “Do you know, I was very nearly Marple. They said I wasn’t sweet enough. Fuckers”.

The make-up artist Amanda (Alice Lowe) is cold and detached throughout the episode, but the fact she remains so after Clive is injured is what makes it shocking. When Clive is bleeding she is more concerned about the wig, which they have hired. When she finds out Clive has died, she just wants to get the false teeth out of his mouth as they “cost a fortune”.

This episode was very well-written, and I like how much thought Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith put into everything. Once again, they give characters names when they are never referred to by name in the episode. It is only in the end credits that we find out Clive and William’s names.

This episode had an abrupt, ambiguous ending, leaving no definite answers, which increased the mystery of it. We don’t know the ultimate fate of most of the characters. There’s also the question of is it a ghost story, or is it just Terry going mad? It could also be read as Terry’s guilt getting the better of him if you want a non-supernatural explanation, but it could also be read as a ghost story (as the audience see the ghost at the end, when the characters don’t).  Perhaps it’s a bit of both. In any case, I think there is something to be said for leaving some questions unanswered and allowing the audience to make their own conclusions.

Overall, series two of Inside No. 9 was a lot better than series one, which was already very good. I really hope that there is a third series, as I honestly think this is too good a series to only last 12 episodes. The format of the shows allows for experimentation and variety, so in theory it could last a long time. Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith are brilliant writers and actors who set themselves very high standards, so I think it would be a real shame to see this series go.

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