Christmas TV preview: Paul Whitelaw's guide to the best festive viewing

From a fond Christmas Day farewell to much-loved sitcom Ghosts to a witty Boxing Day documentary about Noel Coward, Paul Whitelaw previews the tastiest televisual morsels to enjoy with your turkey this festive season

It is, as Saint Noddy Holder once so delicately hinted, Christmas, and as usual the TV schedules are positively heaving with festive shenanigans. So let’s barrel on.

We begin with a pair of animated feline adventures penned by celebrated children’s authors. Judith Kerr’s Mog’s Christmas (Christmas Eve, Channel 4, 7:45pm) follows our adorably mischievous heroine during a magical rooftop night in the snow, while Julia Donaldson’s Tabby McTat (Christmas Day, BBC One, 2:30pm) tells the story of a cat who becomes inadvertently estranged from his busker companion. They’re both delightful.

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His recent regeneration scene notwithstanding, Ncuti Gatwa makes his eagerly anticipated debut in Doctor Who (Christmas Day, BBC One, 5:55pm), which also introduces new companion Ruby Sunday (former Coronation Street regular Millie Gibson). It’s written by triumphantly returning showrunner Russell T Davies, and all we really know about the episode so far is that it involves nastily fanged space goblins and a cameo from Davina McCall playing herself. Gatwa is the main draw, though. A brand new Doctor, a brand new era, it’s all terribly exciting.

Tabby McTat PIC: BBC/Magic Light PicturesTabby McTat PIC: BBC/Magic Light Pictures
Tabby McTat PIC: BBC/Magic Light Pictures

Alas, the end is nigh for family-friendly sitcom Ghosts (Christmas Day, BBC One, 7:45pm), which bids farewell with a typically charming episode. It will be missed. Comfortingly bittersweet business abounds in Call the Midwife (Christmas Day, BBC One, 8:15pm). It’s the late 1960s, humankind is circling the moon, but the residents of Poplar are dealing with their usual earthly everyday concerns. Life trundles on. As does Call the Midwife, it’s been commissioned for at least two more series.

Barry Humphries, a bona fide comedy titan, passed away this year. He receives his documentary due in Barry Humphries: The Last Laugh (Christmas Day, STV, 10pm). The man who would be Dame was an improbably quick wit with a determined lifelong penchant for pricking pomposity and hypocrisy. And we loved him for it.

Dame Edna must surely have been an influence on Caroline Aherne’s most famous alter ego Mrs Merton, who also had an unerring ability to insult celebrity guests with devastating one-liners while always managing to keep them onside. Caroline Aherne: Comedy Queen (Christmas Day, BBC Two, 10:30pm) is a touching Arena profile of the much-loved and hugely talented comedian who passed away in 2016 at the tragically young age of 52. Among those paying tribute are her The Royle Family cohorts Craig Cash, Sue Johnston and Ricky Tomlinson, plus fellow comic and close friend Steve Coogan who sums her artistry up: “She showed that clever, intelligent comedy could appeal to everyone.”

The polymath brilliance of Noel Coward is celebrated in the suitably wry, witty and elegant documentary Mad About the Boy: The Noel Coward Story (Boxing Day, BBC Two, 9pm). A fascinating touch of class while we’re picking at our leftovers.

Ghosts Christmas Special PIC: BBC/Monumental/Guido MandozziGhosts Christmas Special PIC: BBC/Monumental/Guido Mandozzi
Ghosts Christmas Special PIC: BBC/Monumental/Guido Mandozzi

In Imagine... French & Saunders: Pointed, Bitchy, Bitter (Wednesday 27th, BBC One, 10:30pm), one of the greatest and most genuinely ground-breaking double-acts of their generation reflect on a remarkable partnership, a symbiotic friendship, that’s endured for over 40 years. The programme has a runtime of 90 minutes, so it does a pretty good job of covering practically every aspect of their career together while also touching upon hit solo projects such as Absolutely Fabulous and The Vicar of Dibley. Dawn and Jen are great value throughout, and I’m relieved to report that on this occasion unavoidable Imagine... host Alan Yentob is only marginally irritating. Sing Hosanna.

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A companion piece of sorts, Dawn French is a Huge Tw*t (Thursday 28th, BBC One, 10:25pm) is an entertaining stand-up show recorded earlier this year at the Palladium. French has never trod the boards as herself before, but she’s entirely at ease – a naturally funny raconteur who’s only too happy to share a lifetime of endearingly embarrassing blunders. Gary and Martin Kemp reunite with writer/director Rhys Thomas in the very funny spoof documentary The Kemps: All Gold (Friday 29th, BBC Two, 10pm), a most welcome sequel to their 2021 collaboration The Kemps: All True. Gary and Martin delight once again in sending themselves up, they get the joke and run with it. As we reconvene with the chalk and cheese Spandau Ballet brothers, they’re pointlessly estranged. Can this emergency intervention heal the rift?

But enough of all that perishing mirth, let’s end with a jolt of darkness. Agatha Christie's Murder is Easy (Wednesday 27th and Thursday 28th, BBC One, 9pm) involves a killer on the loose in – where else? – a sleepily picturesque 1930s English village. Preview copies weren’t available, so I can’t in all honesty vouch for it, but Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Christie.

So there you go and there we are. Another bumper festive feast, as TV continuity announcers used to say. Have fun, let it all hang out, but please view responsibly.

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