Christmas and New Year TV highlights

Benjie Goodhart / 19 December 2017

Our TV critic presents a televisual festive feast to entertain the whole family.

Right. The turkey’s in the oven, the sprouts have those funny little x’s in the bottom, and the grandkids have already eaten all of their Christmas sweets and are swinging off the light fittings with the abandon that only children in the grip of a sugar rush can manage.

And now you’ve caught up on how Margaret’s knee is bothering her, and heard about Geoff’s new job in accounts, there’s really very little left to discuss.

That’s where the sweet, sweet embrace of Christmas telly comes in. Here is the best of the action on the box over the Christmas and New Year period. Hurrah, and a happy Christmas and a healthy and fun-filled 2018 to you all.

Informative, in-depth and in the know: get the latest entertainment news, interviews and reviews with Saga Magazine.


Saturday 23rd December

Our Friend Victoria, 9:30pm, BBC One: Actor Anne Reid, an old friend of the late Victoria wood, presents a celebration of the comic’s life, with particular emphasis on her many Christmas Specials. Co-stars and friends line up to lavish deserved praise on this talented, warm and funny woman.

Christmas Cruising with Jane McDonald, 9pm, Channel 5: Drowning in wrapping paper, excess food and empty bottles? Imagine you’re spending Christmas on the high seas (well, the Rhine), with Jane McDonald for company, courtesy of Channel 5, as she checks out some of Europe’s finest Christmas markets.

Sunday 24th December

All Star Musicals, 6:40pm, ITV: Musical theatre legend Michael Crawford guides a series of celebs through an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza. Good fun for fans of musicals. If not, now might be a good time to complete that last-minute wrapping.

Mary, Mel and Sue’s Big Christmas Thank You, 7pm, BBC One: In my imagination, Mary Berry inhabits National Trust tea rooms in the home counties, but for this one-off festive special she’s reuniting with Mel and Sue and heading off to a community centre in the Rhonda Valley to surprise some deserving locals with a proper Christmas knees up.

Child Genius vs Celebrities Christmas Special, 8pm, Channel 4: Comedian Rob Delaney, newsreader Cathy Newman, prankster Dom Joly, and the inimitable Janet Street-Porter clearly haven’t seen Child Genius before, or they’d realise the folly of taking on these cold-eyed intellectual assassins in a battle of wits. Should be fun!

Maigret in Monmatre, 8:30pm, ITV: Sacre bleu! A countess and a showgirl have both been murdered. But are the two cases linked? And what dark secret did the pair share? Mon Dieu, let’s send for Monsieur Bean.

Gogglebox 2017, 9pm, Channel 4: The armchair critics pass judgement on 2017’s telly, including Bake Off, Strictly and Doctor Foster.

Monday 25th December

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast, 3pm, BBC One and ITV: The Queen rises from her Christmas table, probably in need to a nap as much as the rest of us, and instead of lolling on the sofa, addresses the nation and the Commonwealth.

The Highway Rat, 4:45pm, BBC One: One of the most popular Christmas staples of recent years has been a star-studded animated adaptation of the works of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. This year, The Highway Rat gets the star treatment, with a cast including David Tennant, Tom Hollander, Rob Brydon and Frances de la Tour. Magical.

Read our interview with the queen of British children’s books, Julia Donaldson and watch a trailer for The Highway Rat

Doctor Who Christmas Special, 5:30pm, BBC One: Peter Capaldi steps out of the Tardis for the last time in this Christmas epic from outgoing showrunner Steven Moffatt. New Doctor Jodie Whittaker also makes a brief appearance. Goodbye, Peter – you’ve been marvellous, and will be missed.

Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special, 6:30pm, BBC One: One person who will not be having a merry Christmas is Craig Revel Horwood, who will doubtless be chewing his arm off as he is forced to watch both Judy Murray and Jeremy Vine dance again. Fortunately, some other old favourites will be taking to the floor with a little more panache…

Call the Midwife, 7:40pm, BBC One: There’s a cold snap in Poplar where, as usual, Christmas cheer mixes with the harshness of 1950s East London. Christmas drama, with added babies – what’s not to love?

The Great Christmas Bake Off, 7:40pm, Channel 4: Former bakers Selasi, Val, Paul and Beca return to the tent in the hope of securing Star Baker status in a surprisingly tense Christmas special.

Tom Jones and Beverley Knight’s Gospel Christmas, 9pm, BBC Two: Pretty much what it says on the tin.

Victoria, 9pm, ITV: Feature-length Christmas special of Daisy Goodwin’s lavish period drama. Prince Albert is getting ludicrously over-excited about Christmas, leaving Victoria to take a more practical approach. Sound familiar, ladies?

Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special, 10pm, BBC One: First of a festive two-parter. Each to their own. I’ll be in the kitchen, weeping quietly into an eggnog.

300 Years of French and Saunders, 10:35pm, BBC One: A look back at 30 years (they exaggerated a touch in the title) of majestic comedy from the pair, including new stuff, greatest hits and special guests.


Tuesday 26th December

Natural World, 6:30pm, BBC One: Kate Winslet narrates this fascinating, beautiful, and high-tension documentary following a journey undertaken by two polar bear cubs.

Little Women 1/3, 8pm, BBC One: Showing over three consecutive nights, this adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s literary classic examines the lives of four sisters on the verge of adulthood during the US Civil War. Michael Gambon and a 91-year-old Angela Lansbury co-star.

Travel Man: 48 Hours in Hong Kong, 8pm, Channel 4: Richard Ayoade and Mad Men actor John Hamm explore Hong Kong for a long weekend. I love this show, but Hong Kong seems to be stretching the concept of a getaway weekend somewhat, no?

The Miniaturist 1/2, 9pm, BBC One: More literary period drama from the beeb, this time set in 17th Century Amsterdam. Based on Jessie Burton’s bestselling novel, this is the story of a wealthy but joyless home, and the dolls’ house within it that seems to possess disturbing predictive powers. Ramola Garai, Hayley Squires and Alex Hassell star.

Wednesday 27th December

World’s Strongest Man 2017, 8pm, Channel 5: Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without our annual opportunity to check in with a group of heavily-bearded, enormous Scandinavian men lifting up huge rocks and pulling trucks with their teeth. Luckily, James Richardson can supply just that, on every night from now until New Year’s Day. Hurrah!

Alan Partridge: Why, When, Where, How and Whom? 9pm, BBC Two: Steve Coogan and co celebrate his magnificent comic creation in this one-off documentary, ahead of Partridge’s return to TV next year.

Miranda Does Christmas, 9pm, Channel 4: The unique figure of Miranda Hart pops up, just a couple of days too late, with her guide to surviving Christmas. She is joined by celebrity guests including David Tennant, Sam Smith and Prue Leith.

Thursday 28th December

Still Open All Hours, 7:30pm, BBC One: David Jason returns as Granville for a new seven-part series of cosy corner shop comedy. Stephanie Cole and Tim Healy co-star, and the series opens with a festive special.

The Secret Life of Five Year Olds on Holiday, 8:30pm, Channel 4: The fly-on-the-wall show that eavesdrops on adorable little people as they navigate their way through the complexities of life goes abroad for a one-off special. The kids (plus parents) are off to Cyprus, for ice cream, sand castles and swimming. Delightful.

What Britain Bought in 2017, 9pm, Channel 4: Retail guru Mary Portas takes a look back at… um… what Britain bought in 2017. Sharp risers include unicorns, big knickers and gin!

Friday 29th December

Eric and Ernie’s Home Movies, 8pm, BBC Two: Footage from Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise’s home movies, chronicling their extraordinary rise to become the nation’s favourite entertainers. Straight after this, on BBC Four, is a one-off drama, Eric, Ernie and Me, starring Stephen Tompkinson as the duo’s brilliant writer, Eddie Braben.

Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out, 9pm, BBC Two: The duo revive their deliciously absurd TV show for the first time in 26 years, including all the old favourite characters and catchphrases.

Saturday 30th December

Guess the Star, 7pm, ITV: Jonathan Ross hosts this one-off gameshow in which celebs have to spot other celebs pretending to be still other celebs. Yes, really.

A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong, 7:10pm, BBC One: After the success of last year’s comedy, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, an all-star cast comes together to put on the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol – as badly as possible. The play is to be performed by the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, featuring such luminaries as Sir Derek Jacobi and Dame Diana Rigg.

The Price is Right, 8pm, Channel 4: Whatever they give the audience in this show, I want some. Alan Carr presents this one-off relaunch of the gameshow classic, in front of an audience positively hyperventilating with excitement. All the old favourite games are here, in a surprisingly diverting hour of TV mayhem.

Sunday 31st December

A Right Royal quiz, 3:30pm, ITV: Fern Britton (yay!) presents a playful quiz to discover how much we know about our royal family. I am already mentally preparing to be roundly thrashed by my mother, who knows more about the royals than they do themselves.

Alan Carr’s New Year Specstacular, 9pm, Channel 4: Two-hours of fun and games, sketches, and celebrity guests you’ve probably never heard of, in this high-energy and occasionally baffling entertainment extravaganza.

Jools’ Annual Hootenanny, 11:20pm, BBC Two: The former Squeeze star and current champion of a huge and eclectic range of music presents his annual Hootenanny (whatever one of them is) with performances from acts including Ed Sheeran, Mavis Staples, Beth Ditto, Ruby Ware and Jessie Turner. Ask your grandkids.

New Year’s Eve Fireworks 2017, 11:55, BBC One: I think you can probably guess what happens in this one.

Monday 1st January

Grandpa’s Great escape, 6:55pm, BBC One: A huge-hearted family comedy-drama based on David Walliams’ book, this is just the way to relax and recover from the excesses of the night before. A charming tale tinged with sadness, and based on the bond between a grandfather and his grandson, this stars Sir Tom Courtenay, Walliams himself, and Jennifer Saunders.

The Great Festive Bake Off, 7:40pm, Channel 4: After last week’s Christmas version, this week sees the return of former tent-dwellers Benjamina, Rav, Rob and Sandy. Delicious.

Sue Perkins at the Chimp Sanctuary, 9pm, BBC Two: The ever-delightful, animal-loving Perkins travels to Louisiana, to a sanctuary where former lab-chimps can see out their retirement in peace and tranquillity. But what kind if lives have they had? And was the research really worth their suffering?

McMafia, 9pm, BBC One: This lavish eight-part crime series, starring James Norton as a banker reluctantly sucked into a web of international organised crime, has already been compared to The Night Manager, one of the best and most talked-about shows of recent years.

Tuesday 2nd January

The Greatest TV Moments of All Time, ITV, 8pm: Paddy McGuinness presents a homage to the finest moments from the last 50 years of TV, with the public voting for a winner for each decade and, finally for the overall winner.

The Real T. Rex with Chris Packham, 9pm, BBC Two: The naturalist uses new research to create the most accurate CGI T Rex ever seen.

Celebrity Big Brother: Live Launch, 9pm, Channel 5: Emma Willis presents series six trillion of the format, featuring a bunch of celebs you can almost guarantee you have not heard of. The series starts with an all-female house.

Prince: Last Year of a Legend, 10pm, Channel 4: Documentary charting the last 12 months in the life of the superbly charismatic and talented performer, including his secret White House gig for the Obamas, and at his tragic death, in April 2016.

Wednesday 3rd January

Tom Kerridge’s Lose Weight for Good, 8pm, BBC Two: If you’re likely to take advice from anyone about losing weight, you could do a lot worse than Tom Kerridge, who has lost a staggering 12 stone in recent years. He believes he can help people lose weight with a diet of delicious healthy comfort foods, and he’s recruited 13 volunteers to see if he’s right.

Miriam’s Big American Adventure, 9pm, BBC One: It had to happen. You couldn’t be that consistently entertaining, brilliantly bonkers, cantankerous and hilarious, and not be given your own series. And so it is that Real Marigold’s Miriam Margolyes is embarking on a road trip through Middle America in this three-part series. It should be wonderful. All hail the Margolyes!

Girlfriends, 9pm, ITV: Kay Mellor’s new six-part drama stars Phyllis Logan, Miranda Richardson and Zoe Wannamaker as three 60-something friends navigating the vicissitudes of life together. A cracking cast and a writer capable of great warmth and humour ensures that this should be a real treat through the long winter nights.

Look out for our interview with the cast of Girlfriends in the January 2018 issue of Saga Magazine

20 Kids and Counting, 9pm, Channel 4: Following the fortunes of the Radford family, who is about to be joined by Sue and Noel’s 20thy baby.

Thursday 4th January

Death In Paradise, 9pm, BBC One: Ardal O’Hanlon takes up the reins as the detective on the Caribbean island of Saint Marie, in this new eight-part series. If it’s so paradisiacal, why do people keep getting murdered there? I think I’d rather take my chances in Midsommer!

A House through Time, 9pm, BBC Two: Four-part documentary series looking at a single house in a Liverpool street over the last 180 years. What can this one house tell us about British history in that time? Presenter David Olusoga hopes quite a lot…

Hunted, Channel 4, 9pm: The country’s biggest game of Hide and Seek is back for another six-part series, as nine British citizens turn fugitive.

Friday 5th January

The Big Soap Quiz: coronation Street v Emmerdale, 9pm, ITV: Stephen Mulhern presides over affairs as a team from Corrie takes on a team from Emmerdale to see who knows more about their own shows.  Expect a lot of laughter and merriment, and the odd surprise appearance from some old friends.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, 9pm, Channel 4: Ron Howard’s feature-length documentary charts the touring years of the Beatles, and features interviews with a stellar cast of musical glitterati.

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