Stacia Briggs flicks through the Christmas TV listings
13:48 17 December 2015
The Christmas TV line-ups have been announced and you’ll be unsurprised to hear that they’re packed with comedy, drama and festive specials you probably haven’t been waiting for
I’m not sure about you, but the only desperate repeats I hope for at Christmas are those that are the result of gluttony rather than lazy television scheduling – and yet here we are again, careering towards another mince-pie infested Groundhog Day on the box.
This year, there will be more repeated shows on TV at Christmas than ever before, with the main channels serving up nearly 10 per cent more re-runs that last year – out of a total of 1,132 shows being screened during the festive fortnight across BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4, 811 have aired previously, meaning the total number of repeated programmes, excluding news and weather, will rise from 63 per cent to 72 per cent.
In the terrestrial channels’ defence, more than 90 per cent of BBC1 peak-time viewing will be brand new and on Christmas Day there are no repeats on the Beeb between 10am and midnight, even if it doesn’t feel that way when Mrs Brown’s Boys is on.
And to be fair, amid the hideous festive specials and various other variety glitter balls, there are some real sparklers heading our way this Christmas – but I digress. In the words of the musical itself, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start: not only will the hills be alive on ITV on Monday December 21 at 8pm, the cast of The Sound of Music will be too as they stage a live performance of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.
Mr Selfridge star Kara Tointon has the daunting task of stepping into Julie Andrews’ shoes as Maria while Downton Abbey’s Julian Ovenden will be Captain Von Trapp. Even better, Pointless’s Alexander Armstrong will be in the cast – hopefully as the Mother Abbess.
On December 22, look out for We’re Doomed: The Dad’s Army Story (BBC2, 9pm) a one-off drama ahead of the film version of the classic series which will hit the big screen in February which takes a look at the comedy’s origins and appeal with a stellar cast which includes Paul Ritter, Julian Sands, Mark Heap (who I LOVE), Keith Allen and John Sessions as Arthur Lowe.
A day later, Kate Winslet narrates Snow Chick (BBC1, 8.30pm) which follows an Antarctic Emperor penguin chick as it tries to survive in one of the world’s harshest environments – if you’re not rooting for the penguin within five minutes, your heart is as frozen as the penguin’s posterior.
On Christmas Eve, set the festive mood by watching Carols from King’s, filmed at King’s College Cambridge which is about as Christmassy as it gets with readings and carols in an evocative setting – perfect background music for last-minute wrapping with a glass of mulled wine (BBC2, 5.45pm).
Then if you’ve had a bit too much mulled wine, wind down and relax with The Sleigh Ride (BBC Four, 8pm) which is hot on the heels, ahem, of the channel’s Canal Trip narrow boat journey in the spring and sees a camera attached to a traditional jingle-bells sleigh pulled by Sami reindeer across the snowy wastelands of Lapland in real time, for two hours. I’d have called it ‘It’ll be all-white on the night’.
Huge in my household (with me, anyway) is watching the Queen (Vic) on Christmas Day. Ah, the EastEnders Christmas special, woe and misery to all mankind, a reminder of however badly things are going in your house, it’s got to be a whole lot better than being married to Ian Beale or living with Phil Mitchell when he’s rediscovered his love of booze.
This year, a Slater meets their maker, Kat and Alfie Moon make a brief return to Albert Square following their lottery win, Stacey unlocks the mystery of the key, Bobby strikes again, Kush faces the firing line, there’s another Carter wedding to go horribly wrong and I expect it will snow, even though it never, ever does in real life.
Christmas Day also boasts Stick Man, Julia Donaldson’s tale of the spirited Stick Man brought to cartoon life by narrators who include Martin Freeman, Hugh Bonneville and Jennifer Saunders (BBC1 4.45pm), Doctor Who (BBC1 5.15pm), which sees Peter Capaldi answer a call from a crashed spaceship meeting Greg Davies, Matt Lucas and his wife Alex Kingston, on the way and the Strictly Final and Christmas Special (BBC1, 6.15pm) which presumably involves people you vaguely recognise dancing.
There’s Call the Midwife at 7.30pm on BBC1 – Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) goes missing in London – Mrs Brown’s Boys at 9.45pm on BBC1 – Agnes wants a peaceful Christmas BUT THINGS DON’T GO TO PLAN YAWN YAWN YAWN – and Michael McIntyre’s Big Christmas Show at 10.25pm on BBC1 which sees the squeaky-voiced one interviewing all manner of stars that haven’t been announced yet but which will probably include someone from Call the Midwife or Mrs Brown’s Boys.
All of the above, however, fall under the shadow of Downton Abbey, which is airing its last-ever episode at 8.45pm on ITV. Will Lady Edith be gifted even a modicum of happiness? Will she make things up with her sister after the ‘Marigold reveal’? Is Daisy going to take her chance with an admirer? Will a baby be born in a stable to the Bates’? Is Lady Rose in the family way? Have the Carsons sorted out their bedroom issues? So many ends to tie, good job we’ve got all those advertisement breaks to look forward to so that we’ve got time to fill in any blanks ourselves.
If you’re allergic to drama or schmaltz, head to Channel 4 for Gogglebox spin-off Gogglesprogs which will be shown at 8pm – passing the remote control to the kids, the usual sofa cast has been replaced with schoolchildren who will, ironically, probably all be in bed by the time this is shown, having woken at 3am and thrown a 5pm tantrum that wipes them out until Boxing Day (when you should watch Shaun the Sheep The Farmer’s Llamas with them on BBC1 at 6.15pm – Shaun is like sunshine on prescription).
On Boxing Day at 9pm on BBC1, there’s good news and bad news for fans of Aidan ‘Poldark’ Turner: the good news is that he’s back on the telly in an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, the bad news is that it contains no tight breeches, skinny dipping or naked scything.
Instead, it’s a classic whodunit featuring 10 strangers who get together for dinner on a remote island in Devon, each hiding their own secret - and just in case a dinner party featuring 10 strangers isn’t bonkers enough, no one knows who the host is. I hope it’s not Kirstie Allsopp, she lives in that neck of the woods.
Just before Aidan-ogling on the same channel, try Dickensian, one of the most ambitious drama offerings this Christmas (or, possibly ever), a 20-part, star-studded adaptation of many of Charles Dickens’ work which will feature some favourite characters interacting in a way no one has ever envisaged.
Written by EastEnders’ maestro Tony Jordan, the characters are set free from their narrative restraints and brought to life in the kind of soap opera instalments that Dickens himself would surely have approved of. Pauline Collins plays Mrs Gamp from Martin Chuzzlewit, Caroline Quentin is Mrs Bumble from Oliver Twist, Tuppence Middleton is Amelia Havisham and Stephen Rea as Bleak House’s Inspector Bucket.
We may finally find out who would win in a fight: Fagin or Scrooge?
As the old year wanes, there are some treats on telly to see out 2015. David Attenborough returns to BBC1 on December 30 at 9pm with his Great Barrier Reef documentary almost 60 years since he last filmed there. Technology has improved a tad, and this new three-part series uses all the latest cutting-edge camera equipment and filming techniques to explore the wildlife and underwater scenery.
Attenborough described the Reef as: “An enormous piece of costume jewellery clinging to the bosom of Australia.” Full marks for trying to capture the difficult-to-reach 18-25-year-old young males demographic, David.
However rough and jaded you might feel after the excesses of New Year’s Eve, stay up long enough to watch the Sherlock Christmas Special on BBC1 at 9pm on January 1 which sees our clever hero (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his trusty sidekick Watson (Martin Freeman) transported back to the times of hansom cabs, top hats, frock coats, steam trains and pea-soupers.
The Abominable Bride features an eerie bride returning to the streets of London after her death with an unslakeable thirst for revenge, appearing in fog-shrouded Limehouse and the bowels of a ruined church and leaving Sherlock and Watson fighting to combat an enemy seemingly from beyond the grave. I may well be taking style tips from the Abominable Bride for my upcoming wedding in spring.
So: what am I looking forward to watching most this Christmas? No competition: Fungus the Bogeyman on Sky One, December 27 at 6pm. It’s my favourite book of all time, written by Raymond Briggs (no relation, sadly) and I received it on Christmas Day when I was seven, so it feels apt that 17 years later, ahem, I should be watching a brand new adaptation of it starring Timothy Spall and Victoria Wood.
What could be more festive than a story about a miserable anti-hero living in an upside-down netherworld where gloomy nihilism is the order of the day? Sounds like Christmas dinner at my place.