Our pick of the best Christmas TV
The return of French and Saunders, David Attenborough meets an empire of ants, the Great Christmas Bake Off and, of course, a new Doctor Who – there’s plenty to look forward to on our screens this Christmas.
Saturday December 23
Even Better Than the Real Thing - Christmas Special
Paddy McGuinness returns with a festive edition of his tribute act showcase, pitting five of the world’s greatest professional cover artists against each other. This time, singers who specialise in belting out the hits of Michael Buble, Kylie Minogue, John Lennon, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen are put to the test, as Paddy challenges them to tackle iconic Christmas hits made famous by their musical idols.
The studio audience is given a chance to decide their favourite three performers, before a round of duets results in one singer being named ‘Even Better Than the Real Thing’.
Plus, as a yuletide treat, the host brings another tribute artist out onto the stage to join the contestants in a special homage to a celebrated music star.
The World’s Best Christmas Lights: From Liverpool to Bethlehem
Channel 4, 8pm
Documentary exploring the work of a Christmas decorating company from Liverpool, which for the past five years has dispatched a team to Bethlehem in Palestine to put up trimmings in Manger Square. Christmas festivities in the city in which Jesus is said to have been born reach their climax on Christmas Eve, when thousands of residents and pilgrims gather at Manger Square ahead of Midnight Mass. As such, the team’s job has been of particular importance to the West Bank city. This programme follows them to the Middle East, as budget cuts, strained working relationships with the locals, and a delay in the delivery of their much-needed lights threaten to derail their efforts.
All Star Musicals
He’s best known as a cricketer, but Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff is in the process of re-inventing himself as an all-round entertainer with a role in the new musical Fat Friends. So really, who better to present this one-off special which sees a group of famous faces, not normally known for their all-singing skills, taking on an iconic musical number at the London Palladium Theatre? Blackadder star and former Time Team host Tony Robinson, former athlete and one-time Strictly runner-up Denise Lewis, broadcaster Nicky Campbell, Miranda actress Sally Phillips, soaps stars Lucy Fallon and Michael Parr and Love, Lies & Record’s Rebecca Front all have proven performance skills, but this is still a nerve-wracking challenge. So, it’s a good job they’ve got West End legend Michael Crawford on hand to offer guidance and encouragement as they get to grips with their chosen songs.
Maigret in Montmartre
The detective’s latest case presents him with a baffling conundrum in the shape of two seemingly random murders, with the victims coming from very different ends of the social spectrum – one is a countess, and the other a showgirl. His investigation soon reveals a dark secret that is an unexpected connection between the two women, both of whom have past experiences involving the same hotel in Nice. Rowan Atkinson makes his fourth appearance as the French detective from Georges Simenon’s series of novels.
The Great Christmas Bake Off
Channel 4, 7.40pm
Spices, sweets and tasty baked treats... They’re all on the menu as presenters Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig and judges Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood head back into the famous tent for the first of two festive baking competitions. They will be welcoming back some familiar faces from Bake Off’s past, with Paul Jagger, Beca Lyne-Pirkis, Selasi Gbormittah and Val Stones going head-to-head in the opener. While ‘cake-whisperer’ Val and supercool Selasi participated in series seven, Beca appeared in series four and now has her own Welsh language cookery show called Bexws, and Paul popped up in series six and is best known for his lion-shaped bread creation. They’ll be tackling three Christmassy challenges while battling for the position of Star Baker.
It’s the end of an era – Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie and showrunner Steven Moffatt will leave the long-running sci-fi show after its latest festive edition. Strangely, that fact has been somewhat overlooked in recent weeks as the focus has been firmly on Capaldi’s successor – Jodie Whittaker, who will become the first woman to play the role when she takes over before the end credits roll on this episode. We had a taste of what the tale would involve in the final scenes of the previous series, as the Time Lord’s 12th incarnation, wounded by a Mondasian cyberman, stumbled into an icy landscape, determined not to regenerate. He was joined there by a blast from the past – the first Doctor, who joins him during an adventure that involves the mysterious glass people and their nefarious deeds. Mark Gatiss co-stars, while David Bradley plays Doctor Mk I, having already portrayed William Hartnell, who portrayed the character in An Adventure In Space and Time.
300 Years of French & Saunders
Comedy double act Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders reunite on-screen for the first time in 10 years to mark the 30th anniversary of the launch of their eponymous sketch show, which ran for six series up until 2007. This special edition features highlights from the pair’s long-running show, alongside newly recorded material, and special guest appearances by Saunders’ Absolutely Fabulous co-star Joanna Lumley (the sitcom actually began life as a French and Saunders’ sketch) and the duo’s frequent collaborator Lulu.
Travel Man: 48 Hours in Hong Kong
Channel 4, 8pm
Richard Ayoade is joined by actor Jon Hamm, star of Mad Men and Baby Driver, for a Yuletide trek around Hong Kong – the most visited and most vertical city on the planet. They join the other 26.7 million tourists, as they gorge themselves on questionable foodstuffs, traditional transportation and the world’s largest seated Buddha statue. After resting at the Peninsula Hotel for some colonial opulence, they sample street food and get their fortunes read, before taking to the air for a bird’s eye view by helicopter.
Based on Jessie Burton’s best-selling novel, this new two-part drama should make for intriguing viewing – especially if anyone in your family got a dolls’ house for Christmas. Set in 1686, it stars Anya Taylor-Joy as 18-year-old Nella, who has left her home in the country to start a new life as the wife of wealthy Amsterdam merchant Johannes Brandt (Alex Hassell). However, when she turns up to her new home, it isn’t her husband who greets her but his cold sister Marin (Romola Garai) – the first of many clues that not everything is as it seems in the Brandt household. When Johannes does eventually appear, he comes bearing a wedding gift in the form of a doll-sized replica of their home. The job of furnishing the dolls’ house fall to an elusive miniaturist (Elizabeth Berrington), but her tiny creations mirror what is going on within the house with alarming accuracy and even seem to predict the future.
Wednesday December 27
Alan Partridge: Why, When, Where, How and Whom?
We still have a little while to wait before Norfolk’s most famous TV and radio presenter returns to his rightful home at the BBC in 2018. In the meantime, this retrospective documentary will look back at Alan Partridge’s journey from broadcasting caricature to award-winning study of pathos. We hear from the man behind the man himself, Steve Coogan, as well as some of the acclaimed team that helped created him 25 years ago – Armando Iannucci, Patrick Marber, Peter Baynham, Rebecca Front, David Schneider and Doon Mackichan. Interviews and never-before-seen archive footage, including improv sessions, rehearsals and unseen outtakes, help shed a light on the genesis of the legendary comedy character, while some of the best loved characters in Alan’s world: Felicity Montagu (Lynn), Simon Greenall (Michael), Sally Phillips (Sophie), Phil Cornwell (Dave Clifton) and Tim Key (Sidekick Simon) share their thoughts on why they think Alan will always have the last laugh.
Miranda Does Christmas
Channel 4, 9pm
Her self-titled sitcom may have ended, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get a Miranda Hart festive special this year. Instead, she’s here with a programme to remind us how much fun Christmas used to be when we were kids – and why that doesn’t have to stop just because you’re a grown-up who has to buy presents instead of waiting for Santa to deliver them. To distract from some of the seasonal stress and put the merry back in Christmas, she’ll be going carolling, spreading joy among festive shoppers and inviting a gospel choir to perform a mash-up that includes a yuletide take on a Destiny’s Child classic. She’ll also be joined by celebrity guests including David Tennant, Sam Smith and Prue Leith.
Thursday December 28
Attenborough and the Empire of the Ants
Winter in the Swiss Jura Mountains. A region where it seems nothing lives in the frozen landscape. However, hidden beneath the snow, billions of individuals are about to stir, because this glittering winter wonderland is home to hundreds of nests of wood ants. Each minute resident is hunkered down in the corridors and chambers of their tiny cities, hibernating through the worst of the cold and barely moving. However, when the snow begins to melt, their lives will change dramatically. As spring arrives, David Attenborough introduces viewers to the protagonists of a spectacular story – the queens and workers of an incredible ant society. It’s an incredible journey which should ensure you’ll never look at these humble insects in the same way again.
Bruno Mars: Live in Harlem
BBC1, regions vary
When you’ve sold more than 180 million singles around the world, safe to say you don’t have to worry too much about where your next meal is coming from. Bruno Mars is one of those artists, an effortlessly cool musician who was greeted with open arms when he made this concert film in one of the most iconic regions of New York. As a kid, the aspiring star grew up watching shows from the Apollo Theatre, so little wonder he feels so at home singing in the city that never sleeps. So, whether you’ve been a fan since the early days; warmed to him during the phenomenal success of Uptown Funk, or are just a casual observer, now’s your chance to see one of the world’s greatest showmen in action.
Friday December 29
Tim Vine Travels Through Time Christmas Special
It’s Christmas time at Tim’s antiques shop, and special guest Emma Bunton needs his help to make an antique silver lion as good as new. Thanks to his time-travelling grandfather clock, Tim travels back to Tudor England, arriving in the court of Henry VIII to source an identical replacement. He soon finds Anne Boleyn (Bunton again) desperate to impress King Henry, arranging a Christmas party in his honour. When Tim meets the monarch, he’s mistaken for the new court jester and immediately put in charge of the entertainment. Sally Phillips, Danny John-Jules and the Rev Richard Coles also star.
Eric & Ernie’s Home Movies
Just when you thought you’d seen every programme possible featuring or about Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, along comes another. Actually, there’ll be an extra one on top of this – BBC Four is set to broadcast Eric, Ernie & Me about their relationship with Eddie Braben, the man who penned many of their most famous routines. This offering, however, as you may have guessed from the title, shows them not at work, but at home. Filmed by each other and their loved ones, much of this footage hasn’t been seen by the wider public. It features scenes shot at play, on tour and on holiday, from summer seasons in Blackpool to their efforts to make it in the US, as well in their roles as family men. Morecambe’s wife Joan and his three children are among the contributors.