If David Tennant isn’t your cup of tea, then the BBC isn’t going to be for you over Christmas. He departs his role as the Doctor over two Doctor Who specials (BBC1, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day). John Simm returns as the Doctor’s nemesis, the Master, more unhinged and dangerous than ever. With supporting characters played by Bernard Cribbins and Catherine Tate also returning, it’s likely to be the highest-rated drama of the season.
Tennant-mania continues with a specially filmed adaptation of the RSC’s Hamlet (BBC2, Boxing Day), with the actor reprising his role as the Prince of Denmark and the rest of Gregory Doran’s lavishly praised cast, including Patrick Stewart as Claudius and Penny Downie as Gertrude, also returning. In addition, Tennant will be a guest on comedy general knowledge show QI (BBC1, Christmas Eve), joins his former Doctor Who colleague on Catherine Tate: Nan’s Christmas Carol (BBC1, Christmas Day) and can be found reading the CBeebies Bedtime Story (CBeebies, December 21-Christmas Eve). Oh, and he’ll be starring in the BBC1 idents between programmes. There really will be no escaping him. Don’t try finding refuge on radio - he’s more or less taking over there as well.
One way to find sanctuary will be to hop on the ever-encroaching railway that continues to head towards Cranford (BBC1, December 20 and 27). The spinster ladies of the bonnet-clad idyll return for two new episodes penned by Heidi Thomas, with the small community ever more changed as the great iron way brings trouble with it. An already strong cast is joined by Jonathan Pryce, Celia Imrie and Lesley Sharp.
If all the lace and whimsy get a bit much, you may well appreciate the gentle ribbing that the costume drama genre receives in Victoria Wood’s Midlife Christmas (BBC1, Christmas Eve). The comedian’s first TV special for seven years spoofs both Cranford and Lark Rise to Candleford, as well as reuniting us with pretentious actress Bo Beaumont (Julie Walters), still struggling to escape her past as the woman who played Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques.
Elsewhere in the comedy schedules, the final episodes of Gavin & Stacey (BBC1, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day) eschew the usual seasonal trappings. Not so another special from The Royle Family (BBC1, Christmas Day), nor the glorious, semi-improvised world of Outnumbered (BBC1, December 27), where the only predictable thing is that the children will gain the upper hand over their exasperated parents.
When it comes to unruly children, there are none more sinister than the two orphans left under the care of a young governess (Michelle Dockery) in The Turn of the Screw (BBC1, December 30). Continuing the tradition of the television Christmas ghost story, Henry James’ novella has been dramatised by Sandy Welch and also stars Sue Johnston and Dan Stevens.
ITV, meanwhile, mainly concentrates on its core strengths over the festive period, with Ant and Dec’s Christmas Show (ITV1, Boxing Day) complementing a range of celebrity light entertainment shows over the festive period. On the drama front, the ongoing series of Poirot adaptations continues with a lavish Appointment with Death (ITV1, Christmas Day), while present-day crime drama Taggart celebrates its 100th episode (ITV1, Christmas Eve).
In previous years, Sky 1 has relied upon big-budget fantasy adaptations for Christmas. This year, its drama offering is lower key, but all the more interesting for it. Ten Minute Tales (Sky 1, from December 21) is a series of ten-minute short films, each of which is completely free of dialogue. With performances from actors of the calibre of Timothy Spall and Bill Nighy and with writers including Coraline author Neil Gaiman, each story promises to be a little gem.
But it’s ITV1 that delivers one of the best dramas of the season. While the BBC remakes yet another sci-fi classic, The Day of the Triffids (BBC1, December 28 and 29), a quick flip of the channel reveals An Englishman in New York (ITV1, December 28). A sequel to 1975’s ground-breaking The Naked Civil Servant, John Hurt reprises his role as Quentin Crisp. Capitalising on his new-found fame after the original film is shown in Britain and America, Crisp moves to New York, where his one-man shows go down a storm.
But it’s when he dismisses the AIDS epidemic as a ‘fad’ that he finds out not only who his friends are, but is forced to reflect on the persona he has built up for himself. It’s a highly moving film that, while unlikely to have the same lasting effect as its predecessor, shows that ITV drama can still deliver powerful moments.
- Square Eyes previews will return in the New Year