You could watch It’s a Wonderful Life while eating some figgy pudding, wearing a Santa hat and pulling a cracker, and it still wouldn’t feel as Christmassy as the All Creatures Great and Small Christmas special.
Some shows like to give us high drama at this time of year. Nothing will beat the EastEnders moment in which Den handed Angie the divorce papers (that was 35 years ago, if you want to measure your life in soap plots). Last year, All Creatures Great and Small gave us a storyline that was dramatic by this show’s standards: Helen deciding to follow her heart and jilt her fiance.
This year, there was no jeopardy. It was the gentlest of episodes. Tricki Woo the Pekingese was unwell, but no writer would be so crazed as to write out this show’s star performer. Tristan kept the secret of his exam results until the end of the episode, but we knew he’d passed them with flying colours. There was some awkwardness about where James (Nicholas Ralph) and Helen (Rachel Shenton) would spend Christmas Day, but that was soon resolved.
In short – unless you’re one of those Simon Cowell types who prefers to go jet-skiing in Barbados at this time of year – it was the Christmas of dreams. Outside, crisp and clear days with a dusting of snow. Inside, friends and family, no arguments, a roaring fire and a snoring Golden Retriever.
All presided over by the unflappable Mrs Hall (Anna Madeley), who manages to run a household, act as the veterinary practice’s bookkeeper and receptionist, and make enough sausage rolls to cater for a packed Christmas Eve party, all while looking remarkably unfrazzled. Try to channel Mrs H this festive season.
The message was one of togetherness, and of not letting people be lonely at Christmas. Mrs Pumphrey (Patricia Hodge) was rattling around that enormous house, having given the servants the day off. So the Christmas Day gathering was relocated there, and much fun was had. Earlier, Hodge had a rather moving scene in which she prepared Tricki Woo for his treatment, thinking it might be the last time she would ever see him.
All right, I’ll admit it. At times I was itching for a little more incident. Maybe something involving a cow? But overall I was content to surrender to the show’s charms, which are so considerable that even Rolling Stone magazine has hailed it as an “incredible balm” for the soul.
At the very end there was a hint that darker times are to come – the series is, after all, moving into 1939. Will this be the last merry Christmas at Skeldale House? Millions of viewers will hope not.