This Christmas special, “All Creatures,” goes for the jugular: the main veterinary case is a very sick Tricki Woo, whose illness panics pretty much everyone who’s ever met him. When Patricia Hodge calls for assistance, Samuel West heads out, but he, Callum Woodhouse, and Nicholas Ralph all have significant involvement in the A-plot as the episode progresses.
There are a lot of subplots going on—with the threat of imminent war (it’s Christmas 1938, after all) undergirding the whole episode. The subplots (not in order of importance): Woodhouse waiting for his exam results, which echoes back to last season’s Christmas special, Woodhouse and bartender love interest Mollie Winnard sort of reuniting for a rendezvous, housekeeper Anna Madeley’s proto-romance with now pal Will Thorp, West’s romance with Dorothy Atkinson (who’s barely in the episode but excellent as always), Ralph and Rachel Shenton talking about married practicalities, Ralph tending jerky farmer James Burrows’s cow, and, finally, Ralph and Shenton having two Christmas Day commitments. He promised Madeley they’d be having Christmas lunch with the practice; Shenton thought they were having lunch with her family; her little sister, Imogen Clawson, has been going all out putting it together.
Plus, Ralph waiting to talk to his parents on the phone, not having heard from mom Gabriel Quigley since he told her he wasn’t coming home to Glasgow in the last episode.
And it’s not even a particularly long Christmas special. It’s a few minutes longer than a regular episode, and half that time is the sentimental (albeit well-executed) Christmas tracking shots.
The practice is also throwing their annual Christmas party, which throws various characters together and helps their plots along, but it’s mostly background to the veterinary case with Tricki.
It’s a great episode for Hodge, who’s now entirely out of Diana Rigg’s shadow (it helps the character’s quite different), including her friendship with Ralph. Oh, and, of course, Ralph is terrorizing Woodhouse to find out about his exam results. I’m not sure there’s a wasted moment in the episode; they’ve got so much to get through.
A number of the plots just get stirred, so they don’t stick to the sides, arranging things for further development next season. As a result, the episode’s not exactly done in summary; it’s just in a hurry, starting with Ralph’s unkempt appearance when he goes out to Burrows’s farm on an emergency.
There’s lots of good acting from the cast, not just Hodge. Ralph, Woodhouse, Madeley, and Shenton all get some excellent scenes. Shenton once again is floundering between plot points, but they seem to have gotten it squared for next season. Unfortunately, there’s a little less development on Madeley’s romance—and the “should be a bombshell” revelation she’s still married; unless I’m forgetting something, the show always made it seem like she was a widow.
It’s a particularly good veterinary case, too, and not just because it’s the show’s most adorable regular animal. There are twists and turns, with West having to consult the other boys on medical treatment and best bedside practices. The show never gets saccharine about the plot either, which is impressive. Though it might seem like they could easily go that route because the patient’s obnoxiously cute.
As Christmas specials go—in general—it’s a good one, and as “All Creatures”’s actual season two finale, it’s a splendid capstone to the season. They did have that one stumble (well, two stumbles in one episode) without further unsteadiness. Next season’s going to be a lot—based on how they’ve paced the first two seasons, World War II’s breaking out in the last couple episodes of the regular season (September 1939)—but I’m expecting them to ably handle it.