It's that time of year for surprises and parties and office romances. There may even be some family secrets, arguments and recriminations. No, not that time of year. The Shortland Street cliffhanger, of course.

It's been building all week. Victor's nemesis, Kurt Matakuare, has faked an illness and clearly has an agenda; Rachel, after getting twisted by the pool, is now refusing to see Chris; Saint Donna and Chris have finally revealed their feelings (she has been so good); and Tama has learned he's the father of Shannon's baby.

Of course, the cliffhangers tonight aren't actually designed to tie up loose ends, just keep us dangling until next year, which is just as it should be. There's not one, but two, characters left in a life-or-death situation, a serious health problem, another relationship break-up and the staff Christmas party.

Some of the action tonight is the outcome of old stories: Tama and Shannon, Victor and Kurt, and Rachel's alcoholism, which has returned in spectacular fashion and is threatening her job, her relationship and her life.

She's been nearly caught out at least once and I've been wondering how bright that Chris Warner really is. Why hasn't anyone guessed?

It's been a good year for our 10-year-old soapie. It's settled down after the disruptions of cast culling and turning into a public hospital.

New characters are now firmly established and the biculturalism perfectly ordinary.

Just a shame about that ugly uniform Waverly has to wear.

We've seen Judy Brownlee's past revealed as Anne's mother and her carefully controlled world turned upside down by the psychopathic Neil. And then Jeff Greenlaw was revealed as a practitioner of euthanasia. There's a little secret for next year.

Mention should be made of Jason Hoyte as Neil, best turn by a corpse for a long while, I only saw him twitch once.

The show is possibly lacking a real Total Bitch, and Brenda Kendall as the mother from hell fitted the bill. I thought for sure the hateful Mrs Kepple would be banging on the door wanting compensation for the accidental death of her son. Bring her back.

The big weddings of the year belonged to Victor and Anne, which seemed at first to be the most bizarre pairing possible and still doesn't seem quite right, and Waverly and Nick, which was totally right.

Naturally, they had their false starts and the attraction between Nelson, Victor's son, and Anne is simmering on the backburner. The kids have certainly had their moments too, Mihi and Marshall, Delphi's food disorder and bullying and then Marshall turning to cross-dressing for a while provided some levity.

Barb, played by Annie Whittle, also provided some laughs when things were getting a bit earnest.

So, no trucks hitting the clinic, explosions on one of the wards, kidnappings or even ferries sinking but, after 10 years, the season just wouldn't be right without the Shortie cliffhanger. Merry Christmas.