BBC's Christmas programmes not all ho-ho-ho

Festive specials with Mo Farah and Fabrice Muamba lift spirits despite Call the Midwife baby emergency and glum Doctor Who

A tear-jerking Call the Midwife special and a sombre yuletide instalment of Doctor Who mean this may not be an entirely merry Christmas on the BBC, which has unveiled its highlights for the festive season.

Ratings phenomenon Call the Midwife – which became the BBC's most successful new drama series in a decade at its launch early this year – features, appropriately enough, a baby born in difficult surroundings in a special Christmas episode.

"For something to be feelgood, it doesn't have to make you deliriously happy – it has to touch your heart in a deep way. And for me that's what Christmas is all about," said Heidi Thomas, writer and creator of the show, which is based on Jennifer Worth's memoirs of practising midwifery in the East End during the 1950s.

"But ultimately it's a very hopeful episode, very resolute: it's about people finding strength through trial, really. It feels very Christmassy to me – I don't think it's wrong to cry at Christmas."

The Snowmen, this year's seasonal Doctor Who adventure, will also follow a less than entirely jolly trajectory: the episode will see Jenna-Louise Coleman introduced as new companion Clara and the unveiling of a new look for Matt Smith – and also another side to the Doctor, according to executive producer Steven Moffat.

"The Doctor at Christmas is one of my favourite things – but this year it's different," said Moffatt. "He's lost Amy and Rory to the Weeping Angels, and he's not in a good place; in fact, he's Scrooge. He's withdrawn from the world and no longer cares what happens to it."

But there is some joy on the BBC's yuletide schedule: Call the Midwife's Miranda Hart gets a second starring role, with a special instalment of her self-penned sitcom Miranda – and there are also festive editions of Graham Norton, Sarah Millican, The Royle Family and Mrs Brown's Boys.

There will also be a Strictly Come Dancing special including Fabrice Muamba, the footballer who suffered a heart attack while playing a match in March and has since retired from the game.

Room on the Broom, an animated film by Julia Donaldson, the author of The Gruffalo, will be screened for children, and an adaptation of David Walliams' book Mr Stink will star Hugh Bonneville, Sheridan Smith, Johnny Vegas and Walliams himself. CBeebies has a Jack and the Beanstalk for smaller children.

Also for a family audience is Superstars – a revival of the entertainment show that will feature 16 Olympic athletes, including Mo Farah, Nicola Adams and Lizzie Armitstead, competing against their Team GB teammates in a variety of disciplines.

There is a trio of standalone dramas: a two-part adaptation of William Boyd's Restless; a Victoria Wood-penned tale of the pianist Joyce Hatto in Loving Miss Hatto; and Toby Jones and Sienna Miller starring in The Girl, the story of Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren.

There will also be religious programming for Christmas, including Rowan Williams taking a look back at his time as archbishop of Canterbury, Songs of Praise led by Katherine Jenkins, and the traditional Carols from King's.

"The BBC has a rich tradition of being at the heart of British families' Christmas celebrations, and we believe this year's line-up is one of the most exciting yet," said Roger Mosey, controller of BBC Vision.

Contributor

Vicky Frost

The GuardianTramp

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