I don’t know – you sit down with the family to watch a special birthday episode of a pre-watershed soap and what do you get? Attempted rape in a campervan and death by polystyrene brick. Yes, the live 40th anniversary Emmerdale got shot of Carl “I am indestructible” King, who spent his final hour on Earth prowling around with minor cuts and bruises, before flailing about in spray-on jeans and getting his brains bashed in by both Chas and Cameron.
It was a surprisingly violent 60 minutes, it has to be said. Now, I quite like Emmerdale when it’s light-hearted: a sprinkle of Marlon, a side order of Paddy and, maybe, a pinch of Betty. (Mind you, if Betty had been given any more lines tonight, we’d have still been there at half ten.) But this was at the other end of the dramatic spectrum – true, we had Nikhil fainting at the first sight of a crowning newborn, but the focus was mainly on heartache and anguish.
For those that didn’t see it, let’s just say that the closest we got to romance was the sight of Carl pinning Chas up against a wall and yelling sweet nothings like, “I killed my dad for you!” Which, I think, deep down, is what every girl wants to hear from an admirer. Tom Lister, who’s played Carl since 2004, gave a barnstorming valedictory performance: in a show once described by Les Dawson as “Dallas with dung”, he really was a bucolic JR Ewing.
Kudos should also go to Lucy Pargeter as Chas and Dominic Power as Cameron (aka the poor-man’s Robert Downey Jr), who had to carry a lot of the dramatic heft of the episode. Charley Webb also gave it some welly with Debbie’s labour pains – and did we spot Sue Devaney, one-time-sister of both Corrie’s Kevin Webster and Children’s BBC’s Jonny Briggs, as the midwife? I think we did.
If I were to be mean and rank this special against recent live editions of Corrie and EastEnders, then I don’t think it quite had the tension and pace of its contemporaries. And that’s not because of the odd mis-timed cue or muffled line. At times, almost too much seemed to be happening, the constantly shifting focus robbing some scenes of their dramatic potential. But as Carl lay lifeless on the floor in those dying seconds, it really did feel like the end of an era.
New babies – even when they have prophetic names like Jack Sugden – are ten-a-penny on soaps. But decent villains are priceless: at the moment, it’s hard to see who deserves to inherit the mighty Carl King’s crown.