Christmas TV: Paul Whitelaw’s pick of what to watch

It’s time, friends, once again to wade waist-deep into this year’s box of delights. If nothing else, it will hopefully provide some fleeting distraction from whatever ills have befallen the world by the time you read this. We begin with a hefty new adaptation of A Christmas Carol (22 December to Christmas Eve, BBC1, 9pm/9:05pm) starring Guy Pearce as Scrooge, Stephen Graham as Jacob Marley, Andy Serkis as the Ghost of Christmas Past and with a script by Steven Knight of Peaky Blinders renown. I believe the word is “prestigious.”

Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who PIC: BBC / BBC Studios

When a bout of influenza descends upon Nonnatus House, the team decide to recuperate in the Outer Hebrides. There’s no rest for the saintly, though, as the island is stricken with a nurse and doctor shortage. Welcome back, Call The Midwife Christmas Special (Christmas Day, BBC1, 7pm), the winter months wouldn’t be the same without your precision-tooled volley of warmth and pathos.

Meanwhile, sticking with the 1960s, the infamous Profumo Affair gets the epic six-part treatment it deserves in The Trial Of Christine Keeler (29 to 30 December, BBC1, 9pm).

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Having seemingly left Sherlock behind for now, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss grapple with another classic literary figure in Dracula (New Year’s Day to 3 January, BBC1, 9pm). It appears to be a fairly faithful and suitably gruesome adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, although knowing Moffat and Gatiss they’ll doubtless provide some “sexy” twists whether you want them to or not.

It’s accompanied by In Search Of Dracula (3 January, BBC2, 10:35pm), a documentary in which horror-mad Gatiss explores the fascinating historical origins and wide-raging pop culture evolution of everyone’s favourite bloodsucking Count.

As if that weren’t quite enough, A Very Gatiss Christmas continues with Martin’s Close (Christmas Eve, BBC4, 10pm), which is an adaptation of an MR James ghost story starring his old Doctor Who mucker Peter Capaldi.

Capaldi’s successor Jodie Whittaker returns after what feels like an eternity in the latest series of Doctor Who (29 December, BBC1, 6:55pm), which begins with a Bond-esque two-parter featuring guest stars Stephen Fry and Lenny Henry.

Elsewhere, series regular Bradley Walsh joins Holly Willoughby in Take Off With Bradley And Holly (Christmas Eve, BBC1, 8pm), a bespangled festive special in which our bighearted hosts give some lucky studio audience members the chance to win a trip to Lapland.

Dim-witted cultural commentator Philomena Cunk, aka comedian Diane Morgan, is as qualified as anyone to look back over this dreadful year, which she does with characteristic bewilderment in Cunk & Other Humans On 2019: Jumbo All-In-One Edition (22 December, BBC2, 10:45pm). Comedian Rhys Thomas investigates along broadly similar lines in 2019: A Year In The Life Of A Year (New Year’s Day, BBC2, 11pm), which should, as always, be a delightfully daft compendium of decontextualized clips and fake interviews. Both programmes will almost certainly be more enjoyable than an actual serious report on 2019.

It’s been ten years since the Shipmans and the Wests last graced our screens, so I suppose it’s about time we found out what they’ve been up to. Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special (Christmas Day, BBC1, 8:30pm) is being promoted as one of the season’s TV highlights, but forgive me if I can’t get excited about the return of this resolutely beige and faintly unlikeable sitcom.

I do, however, fully endorse the return of Dame Edna. In Dame Edna Rules The Waves (Hogmanay, BBC1, 9:05pm), Australia’s greatest living export (RIP Clive James) emerges from retirement for one night only in the ready-to-be-insulted company of Sharon Osbourne, Judge Rinder and Anita Rani. Your musical guests for the evening are the phenomenal Nile Rodgers and Chic. Yowza, yowza, yowza.

A raft of glowing tributes to various showbiz figures begins with Hugh Grant: A Life On Screen (23 December, BBC2, 9pm), which traces his eventful journey from bumbling rom-com actor to briefly scandal-hit Hollywood star and latter-day political activist.

In Dolly Parton – Here I Am (Christmas Day, BBC2, 8:30pm), the beloved country legend offers unprecedented access into a life behind the self-styled rhinestone Barbie façade. Dolly is a great singer, a hugely gifted songwriter and an all-round lovely person. Her wit and wisdom are an inspiration.

The late Michael Bond was an unassuming genius who happened to create one of the most cherished characters in children’s fiction. Hosted by Stephen Fry, Paddington: The Man Behind The Bear (Boxing Day, BBC2, 9pm) features fond contributions from friends and family members.
Liam Gallagher’s decades-long commitment to rock and roll buffoonery is almost quite heroic. He receives his due in Liam Gallagher: As It Was (29 December, BBC2, 10:15pm), which should contain its fair share of Spinal Tap moments.

The igloo is a glistening symbol of the Arctic and an ancient way of life, but soon it, and everything it represents, will be gone forever. Another victim of global warming. The Last Igloo (Christmas Eve, BBC4, 7:30pm) is a lyrical documentary following a typical day in the life of an Inuit hunter, as he clings on to a world that’s rapidly melting way.

On a cheerier note, The Snail And The Whale (Christmas Day, BBC1, 2:30pm) is the latest animated adaptation of a best-selling children’s book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. That other great children’s author, Michael Murpurgo, also receives the animation treatment in Mimi And The Mountain Dragon (Boxing Day, BBC1, 3:20pm), featuring an introduction from the man himself plus music by the BBC Philharmonic.

Finally, Mackenzie Crook gets ready to unsettle a whole new generation of children with his adaptation of Worzel Gummidge (Boxing Day to 27 December, BBC1, 6:20pm and 7pm), in which he also stars as the vegetable-headed scarecrow. Early reports suggest he’s imbued it with the vaguely folk horror-esque mood he created so beautifully in Detectorists.

And that’s your lot. Fingers crossed, we’ll see each other again for Christmas next year. Good luck, everyone. Paul Whitelaw