“All Creatures” goes into its Christmas special with it being, well, a special Christmas even before the events of the episode. It’s going to be the (presumably) first time lead Nicholas Ralph goes home to Scotland to see his folks since he left in the first episode. Veterinary practice favorite patient’s owner Rachel Shenton is marrying her longtime beau, Matthew Lewis, on Christmas Day. Callum Woodhouse is expecting the results of his latest attempt at his exams. Anna Madeley has invited her estranged son to their Christmas party, and he seems like he’s going to make the trip. And finally, Samuel West is excited to see Madeley’s friend, Maimie McCoy, at the party and continue his romantic pursuit.
There are two veterinary cases in the episode. First, Ralph’s got a pregnant dog whose having some troubles, and then Woodhouse tends to a donkey with (life-threatening) indigestion. West briefly consults on Woodhouse’s case, but he’s so preoccupied with McCoy (and Woodhouse’s unknown exam results), he exits early. Also, West is just too much of an ass to the donkey’s owner, Jake Hayes. No pun intended.
Well, not initially.
Hayes is hesitant to trust Woodhouse because Hayes is Mollie Winnard’s little brother. She and Woodhouse had a summer fling, followed by her dumping him but mostly—apparently—because she thought he was going to dump her. All three men have a romantic arc in this episode, and all three of those arcs adjust where the series had left things. At the end of the season proper, McCoy did not share West’s level of romantic enthusiasm. Woodhouse had seemingly given up rekindling with Winnard. Only Ralph—who was very mopey about Shenton’s engagement and is still just as mopey—has a congruent arc.
I’m also curious how long it had been between shooting the regular season and this Christmas special. Presumably long enough for someone to decide they needed a more diverse quaint British village, even if it is 1937. Ralph’s mother-to-be dog’s owners are an adorable old interracial couple, Cleo Sylvestre and Dave Hill, whose backstory eventually becomes a plot point. Ralph’s got to go back out and check on the dog, with nervous bride-to-be Shenton tagging along to take her mind off the wedding. Sylvestre sees Ralph’s crush and shares her own story; if she and Hill could get over rural Yorkshire racism in the 1920s, surely Ralph can handle the social awkwardness of stealing Shenton away from Lewis.
The episode doesn’t get too saccharine or dramatic about the potential for scandalous behavior. Other than it being a short arc for Madeley, who apparently didn’t notice Ralph was mad-crushing on Shenton either, not until Woodhouse tells her, and it’s then entirely inappropriate Shenton accompanied him on a call. Woodhouse alternates between gossiping and teasing on the subject, depending on who’s in the scene with him.
The special runs about ten minutes longer than a regular episode, which is fine since the finale has a couple endings. There’s the initial resolution (and set up for next season), then there’s a Christmas Day finish, complete with the king’s speech on the radio. It’s like a regular episode, but they kept going for a couple more dramatic beats.
In addition to the more diverse village—West holds the big Christmas party partially as advertising for the veterinary practice, and there’s a Black guest—the special also makes Woodhouse and West a lot cuter. West’s whole nervous thing with courting McCoy, Woodhouse bonding with Hayes, they’re both more generally agreeable than ever before.
Maybe it’s the Christmas spirit.
Madeley, unfortunately, gets the worst arc. She ends up supporting everyone else’s arc at one point or another, including McCoy, before doing a backstory reveal close to the end of the episode. Unfortunately, there’s not time to do anything more with it because it’s Christmas Day, and almost none of the episode’s initial problems have been solved. The show handles the dramatics beautifully, though director Andy Hay gives it away when there’s a country driving sequence without the “toot toot” enthusiasm the show’s always had before.
It’s a lovely Christmas special. I’m very curious how far away from these events—most will have significant repercussions—next season will pick up.