Snow, panto and rattlesnakes: review of Christmas Day TV highlights

Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston had chemistry, Chris Packham was enthusiastic to a fault, while there were friends aplenty for Cilla’s retrospective

Yet again Doctor Who (BBC1) proved it has the measure of a proper holiday special. There was snow, a Christmas dinner of sorts and, yes, a headless robot charging around the galaxy in search of its head, played by a funny, pompous Greg Davies, but also depth, warmth and comedy, with Alex Kingston reprising her ongoing role as the Doctor’s time-travelling wife, River Song. Considering they had never met – at least in this regenerated incarnation – there was real chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Kingston. Watching the Doctor pretending to be in awe of the Tardis’s unique proportions (it’s bigger on the inside!) was a treat, a joke broad enough to work for both Who-obsessives and families who only visit the Doctor once a year. They discussed mortality, love, belonging, and what it means to be nostalgic for the past while worrying about the future: a jumble of Christmas emotions wrapped under alien skies.

You might have come to the World’s Sneakiest Animals (BBC2) as a kind of default, “least likely to offend anyone” viewing choice, but you would have ended up with an entertaining hour packed with top trivia from an enthusiastic Chris Packham. He delighted at the California squirrels sneaking past deadly rattlesnakes by covering their fur in the smell from a discarded snake skin – “They use the snake’s own scent to hide themselves. Now that’s nature at its most devious.” He boggled at a possible solution to the enigma of zebra stripes (“a miraculous and disorientating illusion”). The sneakiest animal? The “extraordinary ability” of the cuttlefish to transform their skin to match any surface so good they looked like Hollywood computer graphics.

Cast of Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
Strictly panto ... Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special 2015. Photograph: BBC/Guy Levy

Rumba humbugs look away: the Strictly Come Dancing team know how to throw a party. This year’s Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special (BBC1) had a guest spot from Shirley Bassey, panto costumes for a very game judging panel (Darcey Bussell as Snow White, Handsome Prince Bruno Tonioli, King Len Goodman and Craig Revel Horwood … “I’m Grumpy”) and a video message from Sir Bruce Forsyth: “I was a bit worried when the surgeon stood over me and said ‘I’ll carve …’” Altogether: nice to see him, to see him … nice!

“It’s like being trapped in a massive snow globe,” said Liz McDonald, stepping out of the Rovers in her festive onesie to survey a spectacularly white Christmas on Coronation Street (ITV), probably the only place in Britain not experiencing an unseasonably warm day. More traditional were the EastEnders (BBC1) lessons in life and death as Dot scattered Jim’s ashes in the square, Stacey returned home with her new baby, and Ian Beale continued to be surprised when a fight broke out.

“Christmas is the celebration of a baby’s birth. Tis the story of a mother’s love, her fear, her faith,” we learned on Call the Midwife (BBC1), while Stick Man (BBC1), a cute story about, yes, a stick man trying to get home to his family tree, had all the joy you’d expect from Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, the creators of The Gruffalo. Meanwhile, Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special (BBC1) continued to baffle by pulling a string of retro crackers about bouncing boobs on a trampoline, smashed eggs and an elaborate Christmas tree security system.

Not too many surprises perhaps in Our Cilla (ITV), but a fond retrospective nonetheless. Tracing the life of the late Cilla Black, from her early days on stage with the Beatles, to her dominance of weekend television in the 1980s, it helps if you have spent your life on camera, and you have Joan Collins, Paul O’Grady, Cliff Richard, Ringo Starr, Jimmy Tarbuck, Lynda LaPlante and Andrew Lloyd Webber lined up. The best story was from Cilla herself. On her mother’s reaction to Cilla’s nosejob at the height of her fame: “‘You’ve been the biggest thing since sliced bread with the nose you’ve got – why’d you want to change it?’ She asked me how much I paid for it and she literally said, ‘you was robbed!’”


Richard Vine

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Strictly Come Dancing triumphs in Christmas Day TV ratings battle
BBC1 claims first and second most popular programmes as more than 7.2m tune in for dance show and 6.3m watch Bake Off

Esther Addley

26, Dec, 2016 @1:45 PM

Article image
Christmas TV viewing battle won by Mrs Brown's Boys
Sitcom featuring Brendan O'Carroll as eponymous character is surprise winner, while EastEnders suffers big ratings slump

Mark Sweney

26, Dec, 2013 @2:29 PM

Article image
French & Saunders, Black Mirror and Doctor Who: your Christmas TV planner
From Alan Partridge and First Dates to The Miniaturist and McMafia, prime your set-top box for the best telly the festive fortnight has to offer

Hannah J Davies and Phil Harrison

22, Dec, 2017 @12:00 PM

Article image
BBC serves up favourites old and new with added tinsel this Christmas
Bake Off, Outnumbered, Sherlock and Dr Who all grace a festive TV schedule as warm and comforting as a new pair of slippers

Jane Martinson

22, Nov, 2016 @12:01 AM

Article image
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

Vicky Frost

27, Nov, 2012 @12:02 AM

Article image
Christmas Day TV: gifts from Doctor Who to Downton, but not much cheer

Festive sentiment in short supply as beach scenes, polio vaccines or reflections on mortality dominate old-faithful blockbusters

Rebecca Nicholson, TV and radio editor

26, Dec, 2013 @12:01 AM

Article image
Michael McIntyre draws TV's biggest Christmas Day audience
Comedian attracts 6.1m viewers, but Queen’s speech was most watched overall

Aamna Mohdin

26, Dec, 2018 @4:39 PM

Article image
Poldark star's topless scything voted top TV moment of 2015
Aidan Turner’s shirtless mowing scene in BBC period drama sends hearts a-flutter in Radio Times poll

Jasper Jackson

31, Dec, 2015 @12:01 AM

Article image
Still Open All Hours is Boxing Day hit, attracting largest audience to BBC
One-off Christmas episode on BBC1 starring David Jason as Granville attracts a peak audience of 10 million

Mark Sweney

27, Dec, 2013 @1:37 PM

Article image
Mrs Brown’s Boys – again: how groundhog schedules destroyed Christmas TV
Strictly. Call the Midwife. EastEnders. We’ve been here before. The BBC’s Christmas offering has stagnated, and now it’s do or die

Stuart Heritage

27, Nov, 2019 @3:09 PM