The festive television schedules are full of repeats, Christmas specials, soaps and films that are seen year in, year out. But in amongst all the stuff you could quote in your sleep are some real gems. To save you from missing anything, and searching fruitlessly through the listings – here’s a guide to the televisual highlights between Christmas and the new year. All you have to do decide is what to watch.
Christmas Day wouldn’t be Christmas Day without an adventure with the Doctor. This episode – The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe – is set in England in the 1940s, where the Doctor links up with a recently widowed woman and her two young children as they are evacuated to Dorset. The Arwell family soon find themselves transported to a Narnia-like snowy land through a big blue parcel. Only the foe they’re battling is much more scary than the White Witch…
BBC One, Christmas Day, 7pm
For fans of period drama Downtown Abbey is back for a two-hour Christmas special. It’s 1919 and Lord Grantham is hosting a lavish party. Despite appearances, all is not likely to go smoothly and there’s plenty of tension, what with Bates’s arrest for the murder of his wife, Mary’s rocky relationship with Sir Richard Carlisle and a new suitor with a past for Rosamund.
ITV1, Christmas Day, 9pm
Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley return for two episodes (the first on Christmas Day) as Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone. All the original cast are back for the return of Ab Fab, and it’s sure to be exactly the latter.
BBC One, Christmas Day, 10pm
I have fond memories of an adaptation of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers from the early 1990s, starring Ian Holm (who went on to play another very famous small person). I loved the idea that there were tiny people living under the floorboards, making their furniture and other items from everyday human belongings. No matter how hard I tried, I could never create anything as brilliant out of old toilet rolls, matchboxes and bits of string as the Borrowers did. Starring Stephen Fry, Victoria Wood, Christopher Ecclestone and the fabulous Robert Sheehan as Spiller, this adaptation has the feel and magic of the one I watched as a child.
BBC One, Boxing Day, 7.30pm
The Royal Bodyguard
Sir David Jason heads back to the BBC in a new comedy role as Captain Guy Hubble, an ex-guardsman who is head of security at Buckingham Palace. After saving the Queen’s life in an act of bravery he is appointed as Royal Bodyguard. Hilarious escapades follow.
BBC One, starts Boxing Day, 9.30pm
Granted, it’s not the first story that springs to mind when you think about Charles Dickens and Christmas, but Great Expectations is one of those great winter tales, something you can curl up with on the sofa when it’s cold outside. For those who don’t want to work their way through the novel, this new adaptation has a stellar cast, which includes Ray Winstone, Gillian Anderson and David Suchet, and is suitably haunting.
BBC One, December 27, 28 and 29 at 9pm
Fast Freddie, the Widow and Me
A proper cheesy Christmas story starring Laurence Fox as a wealthy narrow-minded luxury-car dealer who has to spend the run-up to Christmas helping troubled young adults after being found guilty of drink-driving. He meets recently widowed Laura, and 18-year-old Freddie, who has only months to live. Even though you’ll see what’s coming miles off, you should keep the tissues handy.
ITV1, December 27, 9pm
Forget Robert Downey Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch is back as the detective in the first of three episodes. Sherlock and John Watson (Martin Freeman) face a secret conspiracy involving the British government in A Scandal in Belgravia. And THE woman in Sherlock’s life is introduced, the ruthless and brilliant Irene Adler.
BBC One, New Year’s Day, time TBC
The best of the rest
The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff
Featuring an impressive cast including Robert Webb, Katherine Parkinson, Stephen Fry and David Mitchell, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff is a great spoof, sure to entertain those who love period dramas, and those who loathe them.
BBC Two, starts December 19, 8.30pm
Michael McIntyre’s Christmas Comedy Roadshow
The comedian is joined is joined by a host of famous, funny friends to help you end Christmas Day with a laugh, no matter what dramas have taken place during the day.
BBC One, Christmas Day, 10.30pm
Strictly Come Dancing
Five celebrities and their professional partners battle it out to be crowned champion.
BBC One, Christmas Day, 8pm
Christmas Day films
Kung Fu Panda, BBC One, 12.35pm
Monsters vs Aliens, BBC One, 3.10pm
Ratatouille, BBC One, 4.50pm
Aladdin, ITV1, 1.15pm
Happy Feet, ITV1, 3.10pm
Big, Channel 4, 5.20pm
Ice Age 3, Channel 4, 7.15pm