‘The Prodigal Returns’ (TV)

  

‘THE PRODIGAL RETURNS’

Please feel free to comment on my review.

Here we are at last on the seventh and final season of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’. For the most part, I have enjoyed the reboot era from Series 4 to 7 since the episodes have been really entertaining.

I still have issues regarding the reboot era. Not just with Lynda Bellingham’s casting as Helen, but also with the presentation of family situations in the Herriots as well as Siegfried’s which we never see here.

Despite that, I was looking forward to enjoying Series 7 and finding out whether things I wanted to see improved will be presented. I hoped we’d see James and Helen’s family again and Siegfried wife and kids. 🙂

The biggest advantage of Series 7 is of course the return of Peter Davison as Tristan Farnon. I was so glad to see Peter back as Trist after a long absence. Hopefully he’ll improve the quality of the episodes.

The first episode of Series 7, ‘The Prodigal Returns’, is by Christopher Penfold, based on the ‘James Herriot’ books. Chris Penfold is not a stranger to the ‘All Creatures’ series. He wrote an episode before.

Chris Penfold wrote the episode ‘Mending Fences’ in Series 6. He would later write the 1990 Christmas Special ‘Brotherly Love’ to end the series. Interesting that he was chosen to pen Series 7’s first episode.

The first episode of Series 7 is directed by Michael Brayshaw. Unlike previous seasons, there aren’t blocks of episode directed by one person after the next. The directors’ order for episodes is mixed up.

Michael Brayshaw directed four episodes of Series 6 before directing the first one of Series 7. This includes ‘Blood and Water’, ‘Where Sheep May Safely Graze’, ‘The New World’ and ‘Mending Fences’.

I find Michael Brayshaw to be good director on ‘All Creatures’. The work he delivers in each episode he directs is top quality. He’s clearly become a popular director for the series. I appreciate that aspect.

But how does he begin the first episode of Series 7? With the opening titles sequence he used for Series 6? You know? The one where James and Siegfried come out of a shop before getting into a car?

(groans) Seriously? We’re using that opening titles sequence again?! I don’t like that opening title sequence! I preferred the one used by Tony Virgo for his episodes in Series 6. Why use that title sequence?

Michael Brayshaw even reuses the similar end credits sequences with James, Siegfried and now Tristan driving a car each before showing the three in a car driving through water. Was this title sequence popular?

I would’ve thought we’d gone past the stage of using an old title sequence for the TV show. We should have at least had a new titles sequence in Series 7 despite having one previous director from Series 6.

Anyway, let’s get on with talking about the episode. We begin with Christopher Timothy as James visiting John Sharp as Mr. Biggins…(groans) Not this guy again! Why do our vets still see Mr. Biggins?!

I still haven’t forgiven Biggins for trying to poison James one time. 😀 Anyway, Biggins tries to wiggle his way out of something he was meant to pay in a bill to the vets; but claims that he has forgotten it.

James assumed Biggins asked him to come out to attend his cow, but it wasn’t anything of the sort. He wanted him out to sort out this bill problem he’s got. Why do farmers not want to pay bills to vets?

The Biggins subplot isn’t a lot in the episode as James meets him later on and tries to persuade him to pay a bill in exchange for giving him a jack for his vehicle. Biggins reluctantly agrees to sign the cheque.

I thought that James was getting to get his own back with getting Biggins to sign a cheque to the vets. But it transpired the cheque is dated for usage in the following year, which is problematic for our vets.

How mean is that of Mr. Biggins? >:D Anyway, it’s time to talk about the real star of the episode – Peter Davison as Tristan. He returns to Darrowby after a long absence in Ireland doing tuberculin testing.

How long did he have to do that tuberculin testing? It can’t have been two years. James’ tuberculin testing period in ‘Sleeping Partners’ must’ve been shorter than that. Tristan must’ve worked very hard.

Tristan returns home in style via car. He must’ve been doing ‘Great British Car Journeys’ and is on his way to pick up James. 😀 Actually; Peter was busy doing two seasons of ‘Campion’ at around that time.

It was funny when Trist was saying ‘hello’ to the sheep as he passed them by in the car. He must be out of touch. 😀 He also meets the enthusiastic Brian Osborne as Bert Chapman stopping him on the way.

Tristan eventually return home to reunite with Lynda Bellingham as Helen as well as James. He also reunites with Robert Hardy as Siegfried. I’m sure both brothers were very happy to see each other again.

James has also arranged to welcome Tristan back in grand style – by playing a practical joke on him. Now that’s really mean, James! There is no need to treat Trist like that after such a lengthy absence.

And what is this practical joke James has arranged? He has Helen write a forged ‘welcome back’ card to Tristan and have it signed by a girl named Susie Parker. Apparently, Tristan saw Susie before he left.

Tristan was drunk at the time – very drunk in fact – and there’s the possibility he may have proposed marriage to Susie. But he can’t recall if he had. Once Tristan reads that ‘welcome card’, he’s in a state. 😀

Okay, why would James spring such a joke like that on Trist? And in poor taste? Is this to get back at Trist for all the practical jokes he played on James? James can be a naughty boy on a few occasions. 🙂

The joke goes on for quite a while. Helen becomes concerned that James and Siegfried may have gone too far in the practical joke. But even Siegfried wants to keep the joke running and torment his brother.

We eventually do get to meet Susie Parker, played by Francesca Hall. She turns out to be a nice girl and is actually married to Kevin Walton as Joe Manton. Tristan does not realise that until the very end.

To be fair, James does try to warn Tristan about Susie already being married to Joe when she’s trying to see him and when they’re in the Drovers. I thought things were going to end in disaster for Trist. 😀

Thankfully that doesn’t happen as Susie meets Tristan in the Drovers and introduces Joe as her husband. Tristan is relieved and he doesn’t realise James played the joke on him by the episode’s end.

Another subplot with Tristan going on in the episode is that there’s a new housekeeper arranged for him. Because James and Siegfried now live away from Skeldale house, Tristan will be its only occupant.

Huh! That’s sad, isn’t it? Ah well, at least Siegfried’s got his brother’s best interests at heart…yeah right…with arranging for his new housekeeper to look after him. Something Tristan’s not happy about.

The housekeeper happens to be the widowed Mrs. Alton whom Tristan hasn’t met yet. James and Helen are right in their predictions when Tristan’s none too pleased about Siegfried arranging this matter.

This is because Siegfried didn’t consult him on the matter. But Siegfried’s insistent and tells Tristan to go and meet her at her house. Tristan reluctantly agrees and he soon meets Debbie Arnold as Sylvia Alton.

Tristan changes his mind about having Mrs. Alton as his housekeeper at Skeldale house. At least, that’s what he believes when she claims to be Mrs. Alton. Yeah, even I could see she ‘lied’ through her teeth.

Soon, Tristan gives Sylvia Alton a tour of Skeldale and the two begin dating. Siegfried assumes that Tristan and Sylvia are engaged to be married since he’d been assuming that following the Susie Parker prank.

I don’t know why Sylvia would lie to Tristan that she was the ‘widowed’ Mrs. Alton agreeing to be the new housekeeper at Skeldale House. Maybe she wanted to get out and be away from her mother.

Very soon, the truth gets revealed as we meet the real Mrs. Alton, played by Jean Heywood. I’ve seen Jean Heywood in Series 4 of ‘Jeeves & Wooster’ where she played Aunt Dahlia. It was good to see her.

I know she only appears briefly in this first episode of Series 7 and I’m sure we’ll get more of her in later episodes. Siegfried resolves the dispute by having Mrs. Alton being housekeeper instead of Sylvia.

Sylvia is angry with Tristan for not sticking up for her and she breaks up with him. Even though it was her fault for lying to Tristan in the first place! Seriously, girl! Why think lying would get you anywhere?

Oh and incidentally, we never see Sylvia ever again. That’s right! She doesn’t come back in future episodes of the series. I’m very surprised since Mrs. Alton stars in the rest of Series 7 in ‘All Creatures’.

Which leads me to talk about the housekeeper role. I’m glad they’ve got a permanent one for the rest of Series 7 in Mrs. Alton, since the previous one Mrs. Greenlaw had mysteriously vanished in Series 4.

The episode also features James having to deal with a family who seem to be ignorant of their seriously ill dog. This is because the family are addicted to watching TV. Sadly, that’s very true for most families.

The family includes Diana Davies as Mrs. Birse. She’s distracted watching TV and doesn’t take on James’ advice to attend to their dog and bathing him with some treatment. It frustrates James greatly.

He ends up bathing the dog himself and soon meets the neighbour Keith Marsh as Mr. Howell. It’s clear Mr. Howell has an interest in the dog’s well-being as well as his wife Josephine Antosz as Mrs. Howell. 🙂

When James pays a visit to the Birse family another time to attend to the dog, Mrs. Birse tells him that he’s next door with the Howells. James goes over to see the Howells who lovingly attend to the animal.

Getting frustrated with the Birses’ lack of interest in their dog and pleased that the Howells care more for him than they do, James comes up with a idea. He suggests Mrs. Birse gives the dog to the Howells.

Mrs. Birse isn’t willing at first to give up their animal but after much persuading from James, she agrees. It’s amazing how the Birses still haven’t changed their ways by the time they give up their dog.

I liked it when James sees the Howells walking their new dog in the street. The Howells seem to be a nice couple and I like how James interacts with them in the episode, making this a sweet dog subplot. 🙂

‘The Prodigal Returns’ is a very good beginning to Series 7 of ‘All Creatures’. It was great to see Tristan back and I’m looking forward to how this season progresses, especially with Mrs. Alton as the housekeeper.

‘The Prodigal Returns’ rating – 8/10


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