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.
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!’”