Last season’s Christmas special ended with World War II getting started (or as close as they could get to the war starting without it starting); this season begins with the recruiters in Darrowby, but the vets are exempt from service. It’s a running subplot throughout the episode, initially very gentle, as Nicholas Ralph discovers you can override your exemption and opt-in. Everyone else starts wondering why he’s so keen.
Because it’s not a “James Herriot goes off to war” episode—one thing about “All Creatures” being based on memoirs is you could just google and spoil the story; I’m going to let myself be surprised, or not. No, it’s a wedding episode. Ralph and Rachel Shenton are heading down the aisle, complete with bachelor’s night at the Drovers, Ralph’s parents coming to town (Gabriel Quigley and Drew Cain have surprisingly little to do), and everyone worrying Shenton’s going to have second thoughts again.
There’s a lot of nice character stuff for Shenton, with the various people in her life asking how she’s feeling about this wedding, including little sister Imogen Clawson, who’s ready for Shenton to move out (even if Shenton isn’t), vets’ housekeeper Anna Madeley, and, of course, dad Tony Pitts, who gets gruffer and more adorable every episode.
But Ralph’s arc is muddled, partially through intentional obscurity (the enlistment subplot), partially because part of the story is Ralph, Samuel West, and Callum Woodhouse getting blackout drunk at the Drovers for the bachelor’s party. Madeley’s got to get them motivated and moving, with a veterinary case making it hard to make the church on time.
The episode feels more like a special than a season premiere, with nothing really being established for what’s next. There’s also this weird moment when Woodhouse comments on Ralph’s Brobdinagian sense of duty, based on something in the veterinary case, but the example was someone class shaming Ralph, not his sense of duty. It’s a disconnect.
The episode’s good; the performances are rock solid; nothing feels off; it just doesn’t feel like we’re really back in Darrowby yet. Even the Tricki Woo (essayed, as ever, by Derek) cameo feels too forced for a regular episode but just right for a summer special.
It also might just be the “missing wedding ring” subplot, running through the entire episode, is the closest the show’s ever gotten to saccharine. “All Creatures” has always been exceptionally well-balanced (save a couple times), and it’s always weird when they go too far.
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