Paul Whitelaw has trawled through the festive schedules and offers a discerning selection of original drama and family favourites
‘Tis the season to watch telly, so let me be your intrepid guide. And yes, I did just spend at least three minutes making sure that intro scanned to the tune of Deck the Halls. I hope you appreciated the pointless effort.
The big news this year is Peter Capaldi’s departure from Doctor Who (Christmas Day, BBC1, 5:30pm), as he makes way for the first female Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. She’ll crop up at the very end, but first Capaldi’s dying Doc must join forces with his original incarnation (David Bradley replacing the late William Hartnell) and a time-snatched First World War Captain (Mark Gatiss) for a bittersweet Arctic adventure.
The residents of Poplar face up to their own big freeze in Call The Midwife (Christmas Day, BBC1, 7:40pm), when adverse weather conditions wreak havoc and tragedy over the festive season.
We travel further back in time for a special edition of regal drama Victoria (Christmas Day, STV, 9pm). It’s Christmas 1846, and young Queen Vic is in a melancholy mood. Pregnant with Albert’s fourth child, she reflects upon her lonely childhood while dealing with unwelcome house guests. We’ve all been there.
Adapted by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas, a lavish new production of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel Little Women (Boxing Day to 28 December, BBC1, 8pm) boasts a cast of relative unknowns as the titular sisters, as well as veteran thesps Michael Gambon and Angela Lansbury in prominent supporting roles.
Another literary adaptation, The Miniaturist (Boxing Day/27 December, BBC1, 9pm) is based on a best-selling 2014 novel about a poor 17th century Dutch girl who is thrown into an eerie web of mystery when she marries a wealthy merchant. Do the miniature figures in her dollhouse really have supernatural powers of foresight?
The much-hyped McMafia (New Year’s Day/2 January, BBC1, 9pm) may well be the first hit drama of 2018. It stars James Norton as the son of a former Russian Godfather struggling in vain to escape from his family’s criminal ties. Against his better judgement, he’s gradually drawn into a violent miasma of global drug cartels.
On a much lighter note, 300 Years of French & Saunders (Christmas Day, BBC 1, 10:35pm) celebrates the estimable comedy duo’s 30 years in television. Yes, it’s another clip show, but they’ve reunited for some new sketches while promising to unearth some never-before-seen footage.
Expectations are high for Alan Partridge’s return to the BBC next year, but before that there’s Alan Partridge: Why, When, Where, How and Whom? (27 December, BBC2, 9pm), a retrospective documentary exploring the evolution of arguably British TV comedy’s greatest three-dimensional character. Steve Coogan is joined by key Alan-enabling figures such as Armando Iannucci, Patrick Marber and Peter Baynham.
Miranda Hart abandons her usual BBC grotto for Miranda Does Christmas (27 December, Channel 4, 9pm), in which the genial comedian hosts – it says here – “a raucous party” replete with mystery star guests.
She’ll probably pass Vic & Bob on the trip across the channels, as they reboot their career-launching Channel 4 vehicle Vic Reeves Big Night Out on the BBC. For one night only, Vic & Bob’s Big Night Out (29 December, BBC2, 9pm) resuscitates ramshackle items such as Novelty Island. Guests include Matt Lucas and a certain rock superstar as you’ve never seen him before.
Vic & Bob’s spiritual forefathers Morecambe & Wise are an annual Christmas staple. This year they’re represented by Eric, Ernie & Me (29 December, BBC4, 9pm), an affectionate drama about their amazing scriptwriter Eddie Braben and his struggles with nervous exhaustion, and Eric & Ernie’s Home Movies (29 December, BBC Two, 8pm), which takes an in-depth look at their early years in showbusiness.
A nature documentary for all the family, Snow Bears (Boxing Day, BBC1, 6:30pm) tells the enchanting true story of some hungry polar bear cubs and their mother as they embark upon a 400 mile journey towards the seal-rich pack ice surrounding the North Pole. Meanwhile, wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan visits Lapland to spend time with the ancient Sami people and their beloved beasts in Reindeer Family And Me (Boxing Day, BBC2, 8pm).
Fact: Elvis Presley was at his peak, creatively, vocally and physically, in the late 60s and early 70s. Elvis: The Rebirth of The King (29 December, BBC4, 10pm) takes an authoritative look at his triumphant return to live performance following the success of his electrifying ’68 Comeback Special.
That’s all very well, I hear your murmur, but what about some quality viewing for the ankle-biters? Well, the team behind those animated adaptations of the hit children’s books by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler are back with The Highway Rat (Christmas Day, BBC1, 4:45pm). The swashbuckling tale of a ravenous rat with a sweet tooth, it’s voiced by the likes of David Tennant, Rob Brydon and Frances de la Tour.
Following the runaway success of last year’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong, the Mischief Theatre troupe return with A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong (30 December, BBC1, 7:10pm), in which Derek Jacobi and Diana Rigg endure a deliberately shambolic stage production of the Dickens classic. It’s a funny, inventive delight.
As always, do enjoy yourselves in front of the box this Christmas, but please view responsibly. This guide should ensure your safety. ■