‘All Creatures Great and Small’, Christmas Special 1985 (TV)

 

‘CHRISTMAS SPECIAL 1985’

Please feel free to comment on my review.

This is where it properly ends for me regarding the golden age of the ‘All Creatures’ series. I will be reviewing Series 4 to 7 after this, but this is where I feel ‘All Creatures’ stopped being good after this 1985 Christmas Special. This episode has the last TV appearance of Carol Drinkwater as Helen Herriot.

It’s interesting how there was this long gap between the first three seasons of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ from 1978 to 1980 and the last four seasons from 1988 to 1990 with the two Christmas Specials in between. Not certain why the decision was made to continue the series after a while in the late 80s.

I did chat to Peter Davison about it and asked at the ‘Science of the Time Lords 2019’ event why the series came back after he did ‘Doctor Who’. He said it was because of the ratings success of the two Christmas Specials that guaranteed ‘All Creatures’ to continue on from the fourth to seventh seasons.

Okay, I appreciate that. High ratings for two Christmas Specials is a good reason to carry it on. But why did they continue it without Carol Drinkwater as Helen and instead have Lynda Bellingham play the part? The show loses its credibility if they don’t have the same actress playing the same character here.

I’m not sure why Carol Drinkwater didn’t continue playing Helen in the show’s fourth to its seventh seasons after doing the Christmas Specials. Maybe she didn’t want to do it or maybe she was unavailable at the time. I’m not sure since there isn’t a behind-the-scenes documentary to confirm it.

Either way, this is where Carol Drinkwater makes her last appearance as Helen alongside Christopher Timothy as James. This is a shame as I would’ve liked to have seen James and Helen’s married life from Series 4 to 7 with Chris Timothy and Carol Drinkwater playing the characters together in the TV series.

Anyway, rant over. My parents and I saw the 1985 Special after watching the 1983 Special over the Christmas period in 2008. The 1985 Special takes place several years after the 1983 Special. So that must mean that this episode takes place around the 1950s before the Series 4 to 7 period takes place.

Once again, this is a full-length episode of ‘All Creatures’ lasting about an hour and a half. The special is also filmed entirely in film and not in film and video. It’s ironic because after this Christmas Special, the series would go back switching from film to video in Series 4. Why didn’t they keep it up with film?

The episode is of course based on the ‘James Herriot’ books and was penned by Johnny Byrne. Johnny Byrne would provide a huge contribution to the Series 4 to 7 period of ‘All Creatures’ as he essentially became the showrunner/script editor for the show’s revival. That’s something we will get to very soon.

The episode is also directed by Peter Moffatt. Wow! Peter Moffatt returns to direct an ‘All Creatures’ Christmas Special! Peter Moffatt previously directed some ‘Doctor Who’ stories. ‘The Two Doctors’ was his latest. Peter’s previous ‘All Creatures’ contribution was ‘The Beauty of the Beast’ for Series 2.

Incidentally, the theme music for the show has changed slightly. It’s still the same Johnny Pearson theme music, but it doesn’t sound the same from the original first three seasons’ run. This would be the ‘All Creatures’ theme music used for rest of the series from Series 4 to 7. It’s nice but not as great as the old.

Anyway, the episode begins with a dog being dropped off out of a car and being abandoned by its unknown owner. The dog ends up trapped inside a bog and very soon Irene Sutcliffe as Sister Rose phones up James to rescue him. James come to help and manages to rescue the dog out from the bog.

During the episode, James takes a liking to the animal, despite it having this serious terminal illness. I’m not sure what the illness is, but the dog happens to have lost bits of its fur because of it. The dog gets the name Amber by Sister Rose and James eventually takes the dog and keeps as his own at home.

This is something Helen’s not entirely happy about, since James declaring to own and keep the dog as a pet may raise the children’s hopes up for no good reason. It also isn’t helped by the fact that James didn’t consult his wife beforehand whereas he consulted their two children first. Yeah. That’s peculiar.

I mean, James does seem to act rashly and becomes too attached to the animal during the episode. It doesn’t help when the dog seems to be on the mend that he eventually runs away. James becomes worried about Amber and is short-tempered with Helen when celebrating their wedding anniversary.

By the way, yes. James and Helen now have two children in the episode. In the previous Christmas Special, James and Helen had one child, Jimmy, and Helen was expecting to have another one when she was pregnant. The two children they have now are Jimmy of course as well as his little sister, Rosie.

Oliver Wilson plays Jimmy Herriot whilst Rebeca Smith plays Rosie Herriot. Oliver Wilson is a better actor to play Jimmy compared to the boy who played him in the 1983 Christmas Special. Apparently, Oliver Wilson later became a stunt double for ‘Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith’. Very ironic!

I did enjoy that scene between James and his son Jimmy when they try to see a certain barber that James is afraid of. Jimmy teases James that the barber Mr. Anderson is not out for lunch but gone to the pub. If they have amusing scenes of Jimmy teasing his dad for the rest of the series, I’ll be fine. 😀

It was also amusing when Jimmy was poking his tongue out at someone during a church service and James tried to stop him. It turns out that the person Jimmy poked his tongue out at was Tristan. And he’s with Debbie and Mr. Mount in the church service. This is the first time James and Helen see Tristan. 😀

By the way, I loved seeing those puppies at Sister Rose’s place when James and his son Jimmy go to check up on Amber. Those puppies look so cute! I feel like I want to have one of them. They remind me of Cuddles, my toy dog. 😀 There were even cats there. Sadly, those animals don’t get to be a focus.

If you’re wondering what became of Siegfried’s wife Caroline following the 1983 Special…well, he’s still married to her…apparently. We don’t get to see her in this episode sadly since she’s away with her sister here. I wonder what became of Siegfried’s wife Caroline later on during the Series 4 to 7 period.

Incidentally, Robert Hardy as Siegfried has donned a moustache in this episode compared to the rest of the series. At this point, I’m not sure if it’s a one-off thing that Robert Hardy wanted to try out for this episode. But for the rest of the series, I’m sure Robert Hardy is moustache-less when playing Siegfried.

There’s a new housekeeper now! Judy Wilson as Mrs. Greenlaw. And yes, I did check. She’s in the series for most of Series 4. She’s not exactly Mrs. Hall but is better than Mrs. Hubbard who was a bit of a disaster in the 1983 Special. Mrs. Greenlaw seems to have worked in Skeldale for some time now.

Also, Tristan’s come back! Yeah, he’s been away from Darrowby for some time. If you recall, he went to work for the Ministry of Agriculture at the end of the 1983 Special. He seems to have done well for himself. It could be that Tristan is a reformed character and is not the mischievous type he used to be.

Mr. Mount also seems to be impressed with Tristan’s improved character. Yeah do you remember, Mr. Mount? He’s the father of that girl Tristan used to go out with called Debbie. Even though we didn’t see their relationship together in that episode. That episode was called ‘If Wishes Were Horses’.

Well, in this episode, Mr. Mount is played by…John Woodvine…who was in the ‘Doctor Who’ story ‘The Armageddon Factor’ with Tom Baker. Okay, don’t get me wrong, John Woodvine is a good actor but…why is he playing Mr. Mount here? Mr. Mount was originally played by David King in the TV series.

Debbie Mount is also in this episode and she’s played by…Judi Maynard. Okay, well at least they got her casting right. Judi Maynard was Debbie in the ‘If Wishes Were Horses’ episode. But still, why didn’t they get David King back to play Mr. Mount. Was it unavailability? David King was still around that time.

I know time has passed since ‘If Wishes Were Horses’ and maybe not many viewers remembered what Mr. Mount looked like from that episode in this Christmas Special. But as I’m currently watching the series to review on my blog, I’m curious why they went for John Woodvine instead of David King here.

John Woodvine isn’t anything like David King in terms of a performance for Mr. Mount. He’s prouder and seems aristocratic compared to David King, no disrespect of course. Before this episode, things were pretty much consistent in terms of casting characters especially during the first three TV seasons.

In fact…oh wait! Is this where it starts? This is where they decided to recast characters starting with Mr. Mount before moving onto Helen for the rest of the series. This was where the ‘inspired’ decision took place? It all makes sense now. The TV show should’ve definitely stopped here with this TV special.

Anyway, with Tristan, he seems to be escorting Debbie Mount to church. This is a surprise especially for James and Helen who are sceptical about Tristan’s improved character. And at least we do get to see Tristan and Debbie together briefly in a few scenes in this tale compared to ‘If Wishes Were Horses’.

It’s interesting how Tristan tries to take it up with Debbie again by convincing her self-disciplined father that he’s taken the pledge and is a regular churchgoer. You can see how this plan isn’t going to work before it’s started. Even for me, I knew that Tristan wouldn’t keep up his new churchgoing spirit.

Mind you, at least Tristan does give it a try even if it’s for a short while. I would’ve preferred this storyline exploring more of Tristan’s relationship with Debbie compared to him trying to impress her father. As far as I’m concerned, we know very little of Tristan and Debbie’s relationship in this episode.

I also wasn’t aware that Mr. Mount was a completely devout churchgoer. I mean, maybe it was mentioned briefly in ‘If Wishes Were Horses’, but here in this episode seems to be strongly emphasised. It gets demonstrated when Mr. Mount, Debbie and Tristan are saying grace over dinner.

Earlier on, it was interesting how Mr. Mount enquires about Tristan’s reformed character to Siegfried before he returns and appears proper in the episode. Last time, Mr. Mount wanted nothing to do with Tristan. Now he has a change of heart. It’s so difficult to see the connection with a different actor here.

I did like the reunion between Tristan and Siegfried when they meet each other in the surgery at Skeldale House. Siegfried is clearly happy to see Tristan again and there’s less of the bickering between the two in their brotherly relationship. Tristan’s reformed character also seems to be rubbing off well.

When Tristan and Siegfried are with Mr. Mount and his daughter Debbie at their home, Mr. Mount shares his ownership of a bottle of brandy to Tristan. Apparently, it’s a bottle Mr. Mount bought but never actually drank himself. A bit pointless but then again, he probably saved it for a special occasion.

But remember that brandy bottle. It’s important for later on. For you see, when Tristan is having dinner with the Mounts at their house, an emergency arises when one of Mr. Mount’s horses is going into labour. Tristan is on hand and uses his veterinary skills to handle it. He’s much in control here. 😀

Tristan asks for hot water, towels and rope from the Mounts whilst also asking for Siegfried to come over and help too. This Siegfried does after attending to another case regarding a cat, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Tristan seemed to manage well though by that point with his shirt off attending the horse.

Tristan manages the delivery of the calf from its mother with Siegfried supporting him. It was tense how Tristan managed the delivery with Siegfried’s help and it looks like Peter Davison and Robert Hardy are professionals. They must have had some proper veterinary help to make it look so authentic.

Eventually, Tristan delivers the calf from its mother and all is well. The Mounts are grateful to Tristan and cups of tea are about to be offered. But Tristan wants something else other than tea. He fancies a glass of brandy instead. This Mr. Mount gradually and reluctantly provides. Wow! That is bold, Trist!

I mean, why did Tristan outwardly declare he wanted some brandy instead of tea. Did Trist have a moment of confidence then before he forgot who he was. This could easily jeopardise his relationship with Debbie as well as the respect he gained from her father. I don’t see what prompted him to do it.

Siegfried seems clearly amused when Tristan demands a glass of brandy and drinks it down proudly before Mr. Mount. I don’t think anything happens after that scene since Mr. Mount and Debbie never return again. Ever! After this episode, Mr. Mount and Debbie never come back. The mind does boggle.

Anyway, enough of that. Siegfried has his own story attending to a cat that has been severely abused and taken up residence at Mr. Barnett’s scrapyard. George Little guest stars as Walt Barnett. That name sounds familiar. I checked and apparently Walt Barnett was in ‘The Beauty of the Beast’ episode.

Walt Barnett was a nasty, demanding client who seemed to go out of his way to be unpleasant in that episode. And in this episode, he doesn’t seem to have changed much. Or has he? Anyway, I didn’t register that Walt Barnett had been in the series before since he’d done only one episode in Series 2.

Helen receives the phone call from Mr. Barnett who rudely demands that Siegfried Farnon comes over to attend to the cat at his scrapyard. Siegfried checks on the cat and does everything he can to try and cure it. But every time he comes up with an ailment, the cat’s condition is getting worse for every day.

Mr. Barnett, irascible as ever, informs Siegfried that he’ll pay for any bills required to make the cat better. Siegfried reminds Barnett that the priority should be on the cat first rather than on the money. But as it happens, there seems to be far more to Mr. Barnett’s irascibility as far as the cat is concerned.

It turns out that Mr. Barnett has taken quite a liking to the cat, which is a surprise considering his mean-spirited manner. Eventually, when the cat dies, Mr. Barnett breaks down into tears before Siegfried. Barnett thinks Siegfried will laugh over him once he’s gone, but Siegfried says he understands.

Despite that, days later, Mr. Barnett pushes his way to the front of the crowd paying bills to the vets at Skeldale to pay his own. He still hasn’t lost his irascibility despite the loss of a cat which he seemed to like. But maybe Barnett is a little wiser since there is clearly more to his character than just his irascibility.

Like I said earlier, it’s James and Helen’s wedding anniversary in the episode. I did like that scene between James and Helen when she reminds him about the wedding anniversary and getting a haircut. There is a little teasing between them especially when James remarks Helen blackmailing him.

And as I also indicated earlier, James is reluctant to have a haircut from a rather rough and tumble barber: Bobby Knutt as Josh Anderson. Now I’m pretty sure Josh Anderson’s a down-to-earth, friendly chap. But I wouldn’t fancy him being my barber especially with him being so rough-handed in the job.

This is clearly demonstrated when James goes to see him whilst at the pub one day. James witness Josh Anderson attending to a client and the client cries out in pain when he has his haircut. James manages to get an appointment for a haircut by Josh, but he’s clearly not looking forward to having it.

Going off on a tangent with this subplot, there’s a scene where Josh Anderson has his lovely little dog seen to by Siegfried at the Skeldale surgery. Siegfried has to put his dog out in order to perform some kind of operation on him. But once Siegfried’s finished, it turns out that the dog is not breathing at all.

Panic ensues but thankfully Siegfried manages to find a way to save the animal. In the most unusual way possible, Siegfried swings the dog around to and fro to wake him up. That was something I did not expect to see. Was this something Siegfried used to learn in the war or from a long time ago here?

Thankfully it works as the dog wakes up and just in time before Josh Anderson comes in to collect him. Siegfried acts like everything’s alright. I’m surprised he wasn’t breathing deep with relief from using that unusual technique to revive the dog. Helen was a witness to the event. How surprised was she? 😀

Anyway, after much prompting by Helen, James has his haircut by Josh Anderson and thankfully he manages to survive it. It was quite amusing when Josh Anderson seemed to indicate that he could read people’s minds and predict the future. James believes he found his information somewhere else.

Unfortunately, James and Helen’s wedding anniversary gets spoiled when Amber goes missing. As I implied earlier, Amber seemed to be on the mend especially when James, Helen, Jimmy and Rosie were playing with him up on a hill. That scene of the four Herriots and the dog Amber did feel picturesque.

But when Amber goes missing and everybody starts to go out looking for him, things become strained for James. During the anniversary night, James becomes irritable when setting up his cufflinks. He’s miserable when he’s with Siegfried, Helen and Tristan as they toast a drink together in the living room.

When at the restaurant, Helen spills her wine and James gets irritable with her over it. It’s at that point that Helen gets angry with James, knowing that he’s worried about Amber gone missing yet demands for him not to spoil their anniversary night. Eventually, James says he’s sorry to Helen as they’re dancing.

I did like those dance scenes between James and Helen in the episode, especially after James has calmed down over Amber gone missing. It’s rather tender and sweet to watch. Eventually, when James and Helen are driving home, they stop to listen to the prisoners of war singing away in a nearby camp.

Oh yeah, there’s a prisoners of war camp situated nearby in Darrowby containing Russians who are about to go home since the war is over. James even becomes friendly with one of the Russian prisoners, Paul Gee as Fu Manchu, who works for Graham Rigby as Mr. Ripley at times in this episode.

The next day, James continues to search for Amber but still has no luck. Eventually Mr. Ripley and Fu Manchu come over to Skeldale House to bring back the dog Amber whom they found. The dog Amber is in a pretty critical condition and James does everything he can in order to cure it again. But it’s grim.

James is at the point of desperation when he can’t seem to cure Amber who he’s clearly grown attached to during the episode. Siegfried eventually confronts James on the issue and persuades him to make a right choice in order to spare Amber from any more suffering. It’s a tough decision for James to make.

Fortunately James makes the right one as he goes out at night to put Amber the dog to sleep forever. Helen witnesses this when she watches James from a view at the bedroom window. It was pretty sad and heart-breaking to see this happen whilst watching the episode as James got so attached to Amber.

Going back to Mr. Ripley…oh wait! Graham Rigby played Larry Madison in the ‘Doctor Who’ story ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’. That’s handy to know. 😀 Anyway Mr. Ripley is a farmer/client that James meets who has a gate problem. Meaning that Mr. Ripley has failed to repair his front gate when James visits him.

The first time James visits Mr. Ripley at his farm, he struggles to open the front gate. This is despite the fact James told Mr. Ripley on the telephone to have the gate open for him when he arrived. Did Mr. Ripley just forget to do that? James waves at Ripley to come over but Ripley just waves back. Huh?

Actually to be fair, Mr. Ripley is a gentle soul if a bit docile. But he doesn’t seem bothered about the fact that the front gate happens to be a mess, especially when James tries to open it and parts of it come off. Some of those parts could severely injure James in the process. It’s amazing James is in one piece.

Mr. Ripley reassures James that he will get onto fixing the gate as soon as possible. He guarantees it in fact. But when James and Tristan visit Mr. Ripley at his farm for the second time, Tristan struggles to open the gate himself and injures his leg. James shouldn’t laugh as he knows that could be fatal. 😀

James even points out to Mr. Ripley that Tristan’s injured from trying to open the front gate when entering via the car. Mr. Ripley doesn’t seem that bothered but reassures James that he will get onto it. I wonder if there are people like that who are so docile and forgetful in rural areas. I suppose there are.

There’s a funny sequence in the episode where James and Tristan try to tame one of Mr. Ripley’s cows before they’re about to treat it. But as James and Tristan try to pin the cow down, the cow is rebellious and manages to break free from its grasp. James mocks Tristan’s acquired Ministry of Agriculture skills.

With time getting on, Mr. Ripley gets Fu Mancha to tame the cow instead. This miraculously works and James and Tristan are able to treat the cow. I found it funny when James and Tristan’s efforts fail and someone else does the job for them. Fortunately it doesn’t stop James being friendly with Fu Mancha.

Fu Mancha even asks James to help treat an owl that he’s been taking care of when staying at the prisoner of war camp. We get to see James drive over to the prisoner of war camp where Mancha is staying at and eventually we see the owl. The owl appears to be very beautiful as James attends to it.

The episode closes with James and Helen in the garden with Siegfried joining them and Jimmy and Rosie playing in the background. Siegfried says some nice things to James and Helen before he leaves. James and Helen then play with Jimmy and Rosie in the garden before the end credits begin to roll up.

After the end credits, James visits Mr. Ripley at his farm for one more time and it turns out he kept his word and fixed the front gate. The gate looks brand new and James seems pleased that Mr. Ripley kept his word. But despite fixing the gate, James still has trouble trying to get it open until it falls over.

I enjoyed the 1985 Christmas Special of ‘All Creatures’. It’s not as good as the 1983 Christmas Special, but it was enjoyable and it does set things up for the next four seasons to come in the series. It’s a shame Carol Drinkwater didn’t return to play Helen in the next four seasons as it’d be great if she did.

‘Christmas Special 1985’ rating – 8/10


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