It’s the most wonderful time of the year. For plenty of reasons. First of all: Christmas telly then Christmas itself because, of course, the big day always comes second to the plethora of goodies the BBC have got lined up for us. This year, amongst the traditional festive specials of your favourite shows (from Doctor Who to Call the Midwife to Mrs Brown’s Boys), we have a starry adaption of Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot as well as the return of those boys in leather with The Musketeers starting back in the new year. Before that, you can feast your eyes on the likes of Mapp and Lucia, The Boy in the Dress, Miranda, That Day We Sang, The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm and more. Now, reader, let us take our highlighters and peruse the Radio Times, marking in everything that’s really worth your while…
Featuring Harry Hill in a rare as hen’s teeth acting appearance, The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm will be beamed, ready for consumption, onto your screens on Christmas Eve. At the time of writing, the full small screen outing for Norman Hunter’s original dippy professor is unavailable but the clips available for preview are very promising. Joining Hill are the likes of Vicki Pepperdine, Simon Day, Ben Miller and the writer, the hugely talented Charlie Higson. Definitely one to pencil in.
On Christmas Day itself, we have the Strictly Come Dancing festive special which, in a rather unfortunate change will now feature former contestants with gymnast Louis Smith, singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor and presenter Lisa Riley amongst this year’s line-up. Bruce Forsyth will return to hosting duties (although I dare say it won’t be all “nice to see you, to see you nice”-s thanks to the bubbly Claudia Winkleman doing a terrific job filling his shoes) and be reunited with Tess Daley. Following that, we have Doctor Who with Peter Capaldi is in his first seasonal special alongside funny man Nick Frost and Jenna Coleman as Clara, the Doctor’s allegedly departing sidekick. While I can’t confirm anything, I will say that Last Christmas is a real treat. It’s a slightly more reined in (unintentional pun), typically tricksy Moffat episode with plenty of heart and it packs yet another tremendous performance from Capaldi as well as a stellar turn from Jenna Coleman.
Things go a bit quiet after Christmas Day but on Boxing Day, we have the now traditional adaption of one of David Walliams’ children’s books taking the evening slot. This year the BBC have selected The Boy in the Dress, a strange choice considering it is, by far, the least whimsical of Walliams’ back-catalogue. But with a cast containing Jennifer Saunders, Tim McInnerny, Meera Syal and model Kate Moss herself, it’ll be a blast, I’m sure. Following that, we have the return of David Jason in a further series of Still Open All Hours, Roy Clarke’s fusty sequel to the classic Open All Hours. Going simply by the first episode, it’s hard to see the BBC’s thinking in commissioning it for a second series with six more episodes of painfully dated humour. Last year’s one-off was a sweet trip down nostalgia lane but reviving it again was a really bad move.
If you’re looking for better comedy then you would do well to check out Mapp and Lucia, Happy Valley and Inside No. 9 star Steve Pemberton’s adaption of E. F. Benson’s novels. Pemberton himself goes in front of the camera alongside Miranda Richardson as Elizabeth Mapp and Anna Chancellor as Lucia Lucas. Judging by the first episode, this looks terrific as it’s one of the closest things to a period drama we’ll get this Christmas. The story pits Mapp and Lucia, two suitably refined women of the upper-middle-classes, against each other in a 1930s battle of the bourgeois. In less capable hands this could come off as horribly conceited and smug but Pemberton handles the material deftly with a sterling direction from Diarmuid Lawrence. It’s rib-ticklingly good comedy.
As we edge into 2015, the BBC’s headline drama for New Year’s Day is Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer’s interpretation of Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot. Starring Dustin Hoffman as lovelorn pensioner Mr Hoppy and Judi Dench as his ebullient neighbour who, unfortunately for Mr Hoppy, only has affections for her tortoise, this is a lovely if overlong love story skilfully directed by Dearbhla Walsh. One to gather the family round for.
Later in January, it’s the return of daffy detective drama Death in Paradise and with Ben Miller six feet under, Kris Marshall is still going strong as clodhopping Englishman abroad DI Humphrey Goodman. The opener is yet another masterclass in how to convolutedly murder someone with haunted plantation owner Elias Thomson, a man with many enemies, featuring as this week’s victim, bumped off mid-séance. Series creator Robert Thorogood makes another attempt to shoehorn in character development and it’s awkward, particularly when it’s the compelling mystery that makes audiences tune in. Much like in the third series, the numbers in the Honoré police force are shook up yet again with another officer departing from the team.
If that silly bout of the tropics doesn’t tickle your fancy then get ready to buckle your swash with the return of The Musketeers. Going by the opener it is, as writer Adrian Hughes promised, “darker and sexier” but it’s the still same fun romp of a show.
And that’s your lot. There are still plenty of terrific-looking programmes on the box over the next fortnight or so that I’ve missed but it’s been difficult picking and choosing individual shows to concentrate on. However, the programmes I’ve looked at have all been smashing and, in my view, festive TV has never been better.
Contributed by Patrick Sproull