All Creatures Great and Small
WE’RE BACK. The delightful and nothing-truly-bad-can-happen-here theme music remains, with its cheerily animated pastoral setting. I love this goddamn show. Just give me some jaunty piano music and people in period hats walking dogs in the countryside.
When we last met in the Yorkshire Dales, Siegfried was lying to Tristan about the latter passing his veterinary exams. Surely this cannot backfire! Mrs. Hall was sad about her worthless son, James was promoted to Senior Vet, and Helen broke off her wedding to Hugh, but do we really care about that?
Are there James and Helen stans for this version of All Creatures? I looked them up on Tumblr, and it appears so, but I am BAFFLED. If you replaced Helen with a handsome coat rack, it and James would have the same level of chemistry (but also, imagine James gazing passionately at a coat rack on the moor and think how fun that would be).
Speaking of stans and ships, I know Mrs. Hall’s friend Dorothy did absolutely nothing wrong, but I did do a smug Caroline Bingley smile when I realized she was not in this episode. MRS. HALL/SIEGFRIED 4VR. Their relationship is as married as ever, with her calling him by his full name when he’s in trouble but also helping him do what’s right. Wow. So great. I can’t wait for them to inevitably get together, because if they do not, I will picket Channel 5 in the U.K., which is apparently where it airs over there.
James is visiting his family in Glasgow and helping out at the local vet, which specializes in pets instead of livestock. This took me down a research rabbit hole on the rise of pet ownership: Essentially, pets became popular among the middle class in the United Kingdom in the mid-19th century, so by the 1930s here, they were well-established. However! It makes sense that they would still not be as common in the farming communities.
On another history sidebar, we can pinpoint the year to 1938, as a newspaper headline says, “Britain and Italy Sign Pact,” and this is likely the Easter Accords, which was a pact between Britain and Italy to try to keep Italy from becoming a German ally and to keep Britain from helping France when it was inevitably invaded (this pact had minimal success and ended in 1940).
If the year 1938 makes you nervous regarding our peaceful and bucolic escapist show — well, yes, that makes sense. I, too, am nervous! We’re one year away from World War II, but I will push that mentally aside and focus on the murdered birds and overly excitable dogs (no connection) to be found in this episode. But also, why can’t the Yorkshire Dales be like Brigadoon and just vanish into the mist every evening, reappearing for one day every hundred years. This is but a simple request.
James has a choice to make in this episode. Will he move back to Glasgow and be with his family in his hometown, or stay with the Farnon practice and help sheep? This Glasgow vet who’s pooh-poohing farm animals has clearly never met Clive, Bull of my Heart (REMEMBER CLIVE?), but I will forgive him, because to have never met Clive is a true tragedy of life.
James returns to the Yorkshire Dales and is picked up by Tristan. Tristan … is fine. This actor is still not endearing to me, which you need to be for this type of character, but he occasionally tries to do the kind thing, so — he is fine. He’s just tootling along, thinking he passed his exams when he absolutely did not, which, I get Siegfried wanted to save the Christmas Vibe, but this?? would be devastating?? Can you imagine having repeatedly flunked your final test to get your degree, and finally you find out that you passed and you can finally feel genuinely proud of yourself and believe that you haven’t let your brother down, and then IT WAS ALL A LIE? This is a horribly stressful plotline. I’ll come back to it shortly.
Siegfried shows up at a farm in his little green roadster, and I am so excited to see him that my notes say “SIEGFRIIIIIEEEEEEEEED.” He is clenching his pipe between his teeth! With his little bag! And his bucket hat or whatever it is! James is delivering a lamb and Siegfried is micromanaging him, but I can’t pay full attention because there is a different lamb named Herbert who shows up, having been rejected by his mother. I will be your new mother, Herbert. My cats would be very confused but would grow to accept Herbert as he trotted around the apartment.
Other than James’s decision about whether to stay or go, we have an untrained dog plotline, a dead budgerigar plotline, and a what-do-you-mean-you-lied-about-Tristan-passing-his-exams plotline. (Also, James and Helen and their romance, I guess.)
The untrained dog belongs to Helen’s sister Jenny. His name is Scruff and he’s very cute, but he is also chasing the sheep around until they have a calcium deficiency. This sounds like a joke (maybe?), but it is a very panicky situation and emergency calcium shots are required! At first, it looks like there are fifteen dead sheep in a field, and I had my own panic about whether Herbert was okay (he’s fine/perfect), but they are all alive. Side note: do I need a calcium injection? Do we all need them? Do humans get a calcium deficiency when faced with sudden stress, or is it just a sheep thing? Questions to ponder.
Scruff will be put down by Helen and Jenny’s father, but James and Jenny whisk him away and train him not to attack sheep. As the aforementioned owner of two cats, I am so impressed by how quickly Scruff learns not to go after the sheep. If I try to teach my cats anything, they stare at me blankly or do the exact opposite of the thing I asked. All those sheep would be dead or mildly annoyed.
And so Scruff is saved! I am a little disappointed that my first thought, which was that Scruff would be tamed by learning to parent baby lamb Herbert, did not come to fruition, but I accept that I have just been watching too many The Dodo videos. Herbert is instead adopted by a sheep whose baby died, so he is all set.
Tristan kills a blind woman’s bird. He goes to visit Mrs. Tompkin, who just needs her budgerigar’s (read: parakeet) beak clipped. It’s such a simple task! Despite allowing Tristan to practice under false pretenses, Siegfried thinks this is a mild enough assignment to entrust him with, and I guess I would agree! I knew when Tristan was walking down the street to her house, and jaunty music was playing, that something silly was going to happen, but what does happen is that he immediately kills Peter the Parakeet while taking it out of the cage.
He tells Mrs. Tompkin that he’s going to clip the beak at the office and takes it back there, where he decides to buy a new budgie, and he shoves Peter in a drawer because he is a monster. Siegfried inevitably finds Peter and asks Mrs. Hall if she knew about this (she did), but she swiftly turns the tables by entrapping Siegfried into admitting he lied about Tristan passing his exams. She says Tristan can never find out the truth, which — what?? What were the rules around practicing as a veterinarian in the 1930s??
Not to be a nerd, but I looked it up. According to the Veterinary Surgeons Act of 1881, it was unlawful from 1883 onwards to style yourself a veterinary practitioner if you were not a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. As of an amendment in 1948, it was illegal in the U.K. for anyone other than a registered veterinary surgeon to practice! This all just seems very potentially harmful to Tristan unless there is a giant loophole I am missing.
Siegfried agrees not to tell Tristan, though (OKAY), and he goes along with Peter the Parakeet being replaced with the ersatz Peter, who isn’t even the right color. I think there’s something implied about how it’s all for the best, and to tell Mrs. Tompkin the truth would be cruel, but this is condescending and also a weird theme for the episode! Tell Tristan he isn’t a vet! Tell Mrs. Tompkin her bird died because birds are sometimes very fragile and also Tristan isn’t a real vet!
Whatever, I love this show.
James stands outside the pub with Tristan, drinking and looking around at all the farm animals. He decides to stay with his chosen family, who all welcome James back. WELCOME BACK TO US ALL.
Items for Pondering
• Will Tristan be arrested in ten years for being an illegal vet?
• Did anyone else think Helen looked like Leia on Hoth with her hair and outfit?
• Can we Brigadoon the town? If we try really hard?