By FRANCES GRANT
Altogether now: "Don't go Delphi, don't go to stay with the evil Dominic".
Yes, it's that time on Shortland Street, the Christmas cliffhanger, when panto takes over and the wide-eyed young heroine walks straight into the arms of the villain.
Teenage rebel Delphi Greenlaw (played by Anna Hutchison) has stolen the show this year, so it's only right that the nailbiting climax should belong to her.
But the local soap has so many storylines at boiling point, it's hard to pick just where the whole shebang is going to blow open. And blow open it will, it's not an end-of-year finale without a few extras' bodies littered about, and at least one major character in mortal peril.
There's only one way to ensure the accident and emergency department gets off to a ripping start come the new year, and that's to stock it full of patients.
The cracks are showing everywhere: in the tragic marriage between clinic head Victor Kahu and his much younger, shopaholic wife Anne, for example.
The immensely unlikeable Victor, it transpires, has the hots for Donna. They deserve each other.
Then there's the ruin of the relationship between Donna and Dr Love, two hearts torn asunder by the evil manipulator Dom. You just knew when Donna loudly declared that the physiotherapist could never come between her and Chris, that it was all over.
Christmas is as stressful a time on the local sudser as it is in the real world. Chief among the broken hearts cluttering the clinic floor is that of nurse Toni Thompson. Even lovebirds Tama and Shannon are looking a bit shaky on it.
Delphi and Marshall's blossoming romance didn't have a show: no sooner had the young sweethearts managed to cinch the clinch than Delphi discovered that her loved one was still harbouring images of her murdered brother Geoff on his laptop. Too sick, even for a dauntless teen sleuth such as her.
The pictures, however, hold the vital clue to solving the murder - a bootprint in the ice in the walk-in fridge housing Geoff's body.
The whodunnit plot line has been lumbering along with all the subtlety of a patient on crutches, but the murder has been severely challenged of late by other shock/horror issues. There's Dr Love turned into alleged molester, for example, a role for which Chris Warner seems far more suited than his current Mr Nice Guy. Then there's the outrageous lies and double life of Dr Love II, aka Logan.
As usual, the real fun in the build-up to the annual finale is in the minor details: Deciding which is the best white trash Christmas tree, for example, Toni's glittery white fake or Barb's, all covered in purple.
Forget the Anne v Donna thing. Should Victor Kahu be allowed to snog anyone, ever, with that godawful face furniture?
As for that incriminating bootprint in the cooler: is it worse to be a murderer stupid enough to leave a big, clear footprint in the freezer or to have a taste for such weirdly soled shoes?
The world may be about to come crashing down, but forget all disaster victims. Next year, bring in the Greenlaw parents. A couple who could spawn such a cluster of offspring as the wayward Delphi, Geoff the gay doctor with a penchant for euthanasia and illegal drugs trials and that strange throwback to the 1950s wife, Anne, would surely be worth getting to know.