As the Season 2 finale of All Creatures Great and Small opens, it's the day before Christmas, Skeldale House is beautifully decorated, and everything is ready for the annual party Siegfried throws for friends and clients. But early in the morning, James Herriot is rudely awakened by a phone call from a farmer with a sick cow, and he heads out without bothering to dress. Kitson (James Burrowes) is a complainer and penny-pincher. When James sees an obviously sick ewe nearby and offers to help, Kitson tells him she’s been that way ever since a difficult delivery, and she won’t survive. He refuses to spend money on a dying animal, so when Kitson is safely out of the way, James fills an enormous syringe with a sedative to ease the animal’s suffering. He picks up an interesting piece of wood, and we’ll find out why later.
Tristan and Mrs. Hall are out shopping for Christmas lunch, and so is Diana, who confesses to Mrs. Hall that she is looking forward to spending Christmas Day alone. She also advises Mrs. Hall to encourage her admirer Gerald Hammond. Thanks to Tristan there is mistletoe all over the house. We learn that three months have passed, in which he’s taken his Parasitology exam and the results will be here any day. Maggie, his former girlfriend, and he banter together briefly.
Back at Skeldale House, Siegfried is treating a one-eared rabbit, and while he’s occupied, Mrs. Hall finds Tristan's exam results in the mail and is determined not to let him get at them first as he did last year. Troubled by Diana’s revelation, she asks Siegfried if he’s going to invite Diana to Christmas lunch, and Siegfried blathers a bit; in his mind, there are women you invite to Christmas lunch and women you don’t, and Diana falls into the latter category. It might raise expectations. It is 1938, after all. It’s the reason why Mrs. Hall thinks it’s inappropriate for her to invite Gerald, although Siegfried is the one to suggest it.
Sleight of hand with the examination results continues, with Mrs. Hall blithely telling Siegfried it’s a bill and watching him back off. Eventually, she’s able to give the envelope to Tristan, who opens it, nods, and pockets the results. We also learn James has not spoken to his mother since his parents visited, and it’s his father who writes. Hopefully, the rift will be healed with a Christmas Day phone call. We also know that Mrs. Hall is not expecting her son Edward to visit.
James visits the Alderson family later that day to pick up Helen for the party and discovers another Christmas lunch faux pas. He’s brought presents and discovers the family is expecting him at lunch––Jenny Alderson is thoroughly embracing her role as a domestic tyrant and is cooking up a storm––but Mrs. Hall is expecting both him and Helen back at Skeldale. Oops. And he has to call at Mr. Kitson’s farm again on the way to the party. When James tells Helen about the dying ewe, she comments that Kitson is “tighter than an otter’s backside.” As they leave the farm, Kitson shoos a sheep into an outbuilding.
Now we learn about the mysterious piece of wood which James has been carving. He’s bringing a bit of Scottish tradition to Yorkshire by making a Cailleach, a carving of Old Woman Winter to burn at Christmas for good luck.
They’re all set for the party when Mrs. Pumphrey calls. Poor Tricki Woo is unwell, and Siegfried discovers the little dog is very sick with gastroenteritis and dehydration. He brings him back to the surgery for IV treatment, leaving Mrs. Pumphrey alone in her house, the furniture swathed in dust covers. She has let the staff off for Christmas.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Hall undergoes a transformation. Maybe Diana’s advice has made her reconsider her relationship with Gerald; her hair is down and she is wearing a low-cut, sparkly dress. But she encounters Siegfried, and both of them are very embarrassed. Usually so articulate, he stammers that she looks different, but in a good way, and she rushes away to the kitchen, muttering about sausage rolls. Next time we see her she’s changed to a more conservative dress.
James and Siegfried look in on Tricki Woo, and James jokes that things seem to be getting serious with Diana. But he stops his teasing when they realize the poor little dog is not responding to treatment, and James suggests that possibly he needs Mrs. Pumphrey––people tend to recover better with loved ones close by, and why not a dog? After scoffing at the theory, Siegfried admits that they have no other solution. Once more, he drives out to Mrs. Pumphrey’s house.
Meanwhile, the children are getting impatient about seeing Father Christmas, so James puts on the costume and Ho-ho’s to the best of his ability. But where is Tristan, the elf sidekick? He is indulging in un-elflike activities in the dispensary with Maggie, who has told him she’s getting married. She advises him that if he wants more out of a relationship, he’ll have to put more in, and it’s a sign of Tristan’s growing maturity that he takes the comment seriously.
Diana, who’s great company at a party, tries to get Mrs. Hall to talk to Gerald, but again, muttering of sausage rolls, she doesn’t engage. There’s a near miss under the mistletoe, and he gently offers friendship if that’s what she wants, although clearly he’s disappointed.
Mrs. Pumphrey sits with Tricki Woo but he’s unresponsive. He is all she has and it looks as though she may lose him.
The guests include Mr. Kitson who insists on addressing Helen as Mrs. Herriot. He and some other farmers gather in the kitchen where he leads a discussion about how farmers know their stock best, and these veterinarians (whose beer he is drinking) don’t know what they’re doing. For instance, just the other day Herriot told him a ewe was at death’s door and wanted money to do something for her, but she got better on her own! Helen, who has grown up with these men, and is not afraid to call them out, breaks the news that James gave the sheep an injection.
When she tells James of Kitson’s deception and the miraculous recovery of the ewe, it gives him an idea. He suggests to Siegfried and Mrs. Pumphrey that Tricki Woo should be given a heavy dose of sedative, in the hopes that it will give his body the chance to rest and heal. It’s risky. There’s a possibility the little dog may not wake up. But Mrs. Pumphrey agrees, and tenderly holds his paw as the sedative is given.
Siegfried, who’s obviously been pondering the issue of inviting non-family members to Christmas lunch, invites Diana. She laughs at him quite kindly, and using almost the exact language he did earlier with Mrs. Hall, turns the invitation down. But she suggests he come over for a nightcap after, which he agrees would be totally appropriate. Mrs. Hall catches Gerald taking a tray of glasses into the kitchen. She is furious. This is inappropriate behavior for a guest! Then she kisses him and invites him to Christmas lunch the next day. He is so thrilled he almost takes the wrong door out.
The next morning, James, Siegfried, and Tristan gather at Tricki Woo’s bedside. His heartbeat is very slow, and James gives him a shot of adrenaline to wake him up. It’s a Christmas miracle––Tricki Woo wakes and tucks into a bowlful of food. James drives the little dog home, where a delighted Mrs. Pumphrey invites him in for sherry.
Back at Skeldale House, Siegfried finds the envelope in which Tristan’s examination results arrived. He asks Mrs. Hall if she’s keeping secrets from him. (“Many,” she replies.) She tells him that Tristan seemed sad last night, and she didn’t like to ask about the exam results. As Siegfried struggles for the right words (it is Christmas, after all), Tristan relents and shares the good news that he passed. But we get onto dangerous ground when Siegfried asks to see the results, and Tristan is furious. With the results in hand, Siegfried is speechless.
James, meanwhile, is visiting Helen. He says he’s arranged to have Christmas lunch elsewhere. The inhabitants of Skeldale House and the Anderson family arrive at Mrs. Pumphrey’s house with food and even a tree. Delightfully, they all sing (fairly badly) while Mrs. Pumphrey and Siegfried play a piano duet. “I shall never forget your kindness,” she says.
Back at Skeldale House James phones up his parents––they take the call at a public phone box with a line waiting. James thanks them for everything they’ve done for him, which has resulted in them being apart. “Don’t be daft,” his mother says.
It’s time for the Cailleach, and James quietly recites Auld Lang Syne as they watch it burn in the hearth. Siegfried looks at Tristan’s exam results with astonishment, and he and Mrs. Hall share a quiet moment together. But as the others play a board game, which Jess the dog also enjoys and knocks over, Mrs. Hall looks out of the window to see a military plane flying overhead. This is the Christmas of 1938 and we know that in less than a year Britain will be at war and everything will change.
What did you think of this episode and of Season 2? And what do you think Season 3 will bring? Let’s discuss!