If you think you’ve already seen “All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS, you probably have. Viewers across the world — and right here in Utah — years ago sat down and watched the beloved British series about a rural veterinarian in the 1930s.
And the 90 episodes, which originally aired 1978-80 and 1988-90, have been repeated frequently over the decades on PBS stations. It’s a period piece, so it’s not like it’s going to feel outdated, right?
Well, not entirely. An all-new version of “All Creatures” debuts Sunday on PBS’ “Masterpiece” (8 p.m., Channel 7). It’s the same fact-based story of newly minted vet James Herriott (Nicholas Ralph), who arrives in rural Yorkshire, England, and is quickly caught up in the lives of the locals and their animals.
Both the old TV series and the new are based on the series of autobiographical books by James Herriott, the pen name of Alf Wight.
“We made a commitment to his children, Rosie and Jim, that we would remain faithful to the books — the spirit of the books and the intent of the books,” said executive producer Colin Callender.
“It has been up to the writers to take the original material and try to work with it with a perspective from today.” said “Masterpiece” executive Susanne Simpson.
Which is not to say that the new “All Creatures Great and Small” feels modern. It’s very much of the mid-1930s, complete with veterinary equipment used in the 1930s, which Callender accurately describes as “like walking into a medieval torture chamber.”
(No animals were harmed in the filming of the series.)
But books can be adapted differently.
(Photo courtesy of Matt Squire/Playground Television (UK) Ltd.) Nicholas Ralph stars as James Herriot in “All Creatures Great and Small.”
“We felt that the psychological underpinning of the characters could be explored more fully,” Callender said. “We felt that the role of women in this society could be dramatized more fully and center stage.”
The female characters — including Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton), James’ love interest, and housekeeper Mrs. Hall (Anna Madley) — are considerably more developed this time around. Because, fortunately, the world and television have made at least some progress in that area in the past 30 to 40 years.
“We spent a lot of time making sure that those characters were really fully dimensional and not just placeholders,” said executive producer Colin Callender.
The reboot is also arguably funnier than the original.
“In the books, there’s enormous humor,” Callender said “I had forgotten that until I reread the books ... and I think that comes through in the series.”
What’s inarguable is that the new series looks better than the original. They both include no small amount of gorgeous Yorkshire landscapes, but technology is better than it was three or four decades ago.
“We clearly had the opportunity to shoot on sort of glorious high-definition technology,” Callender said.
What hasn’t changed is the overall feel of “All Creatures Great and Small.” It’s heartfelt and even heartbreaking at times. It’s warm and funny and engaging.
“The whole point of revisiting the series,” Callender said, is “that there is an appetite for harking back to days gone by — a time when family and community were the sort of core values at the heart of British life.
“I remember with great affection the day when, as a family, we would sit down and watch television together when we were growing up. And my feeling was that audiences want that.”