Listen up kids. In the olden days, Christmas was done differently. Families congregated together in the same room of the house. We all watched the same thing at the same time, on a big fat old set in the corner of the room (which may or may not have needed switching on five minutes early, to “warm up”).
Large boxes of Quality Street were passed around, elderly relatives were nudged awake when it was time for Morecambe and Wise and there was frenzied anticipation before the latest James Bond film was shown on the actual telly.
Now, no one wants to uninvent the iPhone, but the terrestrial TV channels do yearn for the mass audiences and excitement that once greeted creaky movies and middle-aged men in glasses who – without censure or mass outrage – shared a double bed. So what are the TV schedulers offering this year in the hope of tempting those of us willing to put down our tablets and turn on the box?
Last Tango in Halifax BBC1, 9pm
Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid star in the kind of British drama at which the BBC excels and, as the impressive viewing figures show, audiences still appreciate. The plot has modern flourishes (widower is reunited with childhood sweetheart via Facebook; lesbians) but this is an old-school, multi-generational observational family drama with comic subplot and it’s all the better for it. Everything is pointing to a series-crowning wedding although, with an hour to fill and several other relationships hovering on the edge, we will have to work for our happy ending.
In an inspired piece of scheduling, Channel 4 bins the Come Dine With Me repeats and dedicates the whole of Christmas Eve to Graham Linehan’s honkingly funny sitcom. Set in a terrifyingly realistic man cave in the basement of a dysfunctional London company it is, according to those who know their ethernet cables from their elbows, almost a documentary. Surrounded by empty boxes, unopened manuals, stickers and plastic desk toys, Moss (Richard Ayoade) and Roy (Chris O’Dowd before he was Bridesmaids famous) skive, snigger, talk about girls and tell anyone with an ailing computer to turn it off and on again. Noel Fielding lives in the cupboard. Their female boss knows nothing of these annoying computer thingies and is preoccupied with her car crash love life. In honour of this festive extravaganza, fans have voted for their favourite episode and Linehan has nominated his. There is also a repeat of the final one-off show from earlier this year and a documentary featuring interviews with cast and A-list fans.
Toy Story 3
Pixar’s utterly charming tale of a boy’s toys coping with empty nest syndrome had more than one parent tearing up in the dark privacy of the cinema. There are excellent jokes, visual and aural. The bit in which Buzz Lightyear gets his voice settings changed to Spanish will ring a bell with anyone who has only just recovered from a protracted session with a jumbo pack of batteries, Phillips screwdriver and 12-language instruction manual. The scenes at the daycare centre where the discarded Jessie, Mr Potato Head et al find themselves “donated” will ring a bell with anyone who has reversed nervously out of a playgroup, vowing never to let their child out of sight again. This is perfect for a post-lunch feet up, glass of something delicious and quiet weep. The kids might even want to watch it too.
Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
Sparkly, corny, cheesy … it’s hardly surprising that the show for which the phrase “camp as Christmas” could have been coined is part of the festive line-up. There is just time to recover from the final before Pasha Kovalev, Robin Windsor and Ian Waite whirl three famous ladies – Saturdays star Rochelle Humes, West End diva Elaine Paige and DJ Sara Cox – around the dancefloor while Aliona Vilani, Janette Manrara and last year’s champion, Flavia Cacace, will do their stuff with the fellas – singer Matt Goss, EastEnders’ actor Ricky Norwood and comic Rufus Hound. Sir Bruce and Tess Daly host, while Len Goodman, Darcey Bussell, Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood are poised with the bitchy comments, saucy superlatives and superb scores. Up for grabs is the title 2013 Christmas champions and a silver star trophy.
Matt Smith’s last hurrah before he passes the sonic screwdriver on to Peter Capaldi. It promises to be something of a greatest hits compilation, featuring Cybermen, Daleks, the Silence and those creepy statues that cry mercury tears. New character Tasha Lem (Orla Brady) appears out of the Doctor’s past to freshen up the mix. Whovians hope many of the current season’s irritating loose ends will be tied up to give the new boy (Doctor number 12 by some reckonings and 13 by others, a subject which will also be tackled in this episode) a clean start in 2014’s new series. We are also promised cooking. And nudity. Bonus.
Death Comes To Pemberley
PD James, one of the most distinguished writers of the late 20th century, takes on Jane Austen’s greatest work, Pride and Prejudice, and imagines what might happen next. Sadly her masterful detective Adam Dalgleish does not emerge, dripping alluringly, from a pond. But there is a murder (of the reprobate George Wickham, husband of Lizzie Bennett’s flibbertigibbet sister Lydia) and ensuing investigation. Some critics of the book, published in 2011, felt that the then 91-year-old James could have speeded up the action and increased the body count. However, no-one doubted the elegance of the prose or the intellect that added note-perfect new characters to Austen’s originals. In this TV adaptation, a cast that includes Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth Bennet, Matthew Rhys as Mr Darcy and Matthew Goode as Wickham should certainly do it justice.
Downton Abbey Christmas Special
25 December is traditionally a tumultuous day for Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) and this one looks set to be no different. She got engaged to Matthew in 2011 and lost him in 2012. This year, she may well decide which of her two dogged suitors will be the next Mr Abbey. And there are plenty of other enticing plot lines left dangling from the end of the last series. Could Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) be reunited with her shadowy fiancé, last heard of in Germany? Will she turn up pushing a pram? And what about the bold Lady Rose (Lily James), last heard of breaking off her engagement with a nightclub crooner? The show is centred on her long-awaited coming out ball at Buckingham Palace and it would be foolish not to expect her to break some unexpected hearts in the course of the evening. Glitzy guest stars include Shirley MacLaine and Paul Giamatti as Lady Cora’s visiting mother and brother.
The Tractate Middoth
Reworkings of A Christmas Carol aside, the spooky Yuletide yarn has fallen from favour in recent years. The multi-talented Mark Gatiss (of League of Gentlemen, Sherlock and Doctor Who scriptwriting fame) looks set to put that right with a new version of MR James’s tale of an ill-fated academic research project. Sacha Dhawan – recently seen in An Adventure in Space and Time, Gatiss’ drama on the beginnings of Who – stars as the librarian searching for a seemingly obscure Hebrew text. The Tractate Middoth is followed by a documentary, fronted by Gatiss, about MR James and his mastery of the ghost story.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
As the generation that first read the Potter books grows up, what could be more comforting on a Boxing Day evening than a turkey doorstep and a whirl on the broomstick with the older, bolder Harry and the ever-dependable Ron and Hermione? In this penultimate film in the series, based on a book so long and complicated the scriptwriters had to split it in two, the battle against the Dark Lord Voldemort is reaching its climax. For those muggles who find all these horocruxes, resurrection stones and elder wands as confusing as the rules of Quidditch, there is a fantastic lineup of British talent to enjoy. Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw are the ghastly suburban Dursleys, Julie Walters the motherly Mrs Weasley, and it wouldn’t be Christmas without Bill Nighy, appearing here as Minister Rufus Scrimgeour, sporting Jack Vettriano’s old hair. Daniel Radcliffe stars.
David Walliams calls in a lifetime’s worth of showbiz favours to create this talent-strewn version of his bestselling children’s novel. Young Ben (Reece Buttery) is dispatched to stay with his grandmother, who runs a tight ship based on nights in, Scrabble and cabbage soup. He is, understandably, bored out of his tiny mind. Until somehow it transpires that gran was once an international jewel thief and she needs her grandson’s help to tie up some unfinished business. Cue a crazy romp that takes in a meeting with the Queen (played by Joanna Lumley) and the unwanted interventions of a nosy neighbour (Rob Brydon). Walliams himself appears as Ben’s Strictly-obsessed dad, opposite Miranda Hart as his mum. What japes.