We all want something a bit different from our Christmas viewing. Even if we don’t get what we want, we still look. Maybe you’d like seasonal specials of your favourites – Homeland, perhaps, where highly strung CIA agent Carrie Mathison bursts into noisy tears because she hates the jaunty bobble hat Nicholas Brody has left under the Christmas tree for her. Or maybe you’d like a festive Silent Witness, where the corpses are covered in tinsel, just to cheer everyone up. Sadly, neither of those is on the schedules, but even the most demanding of viewers will surely find something over which to pull a cracker as television puts out its best china and sets the table. Merry Christmas!
Doctor Who (BBC1)
People actually say that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a Doctor Who special . So don’t fret, your festivities will be complete once more with a seasonal one-off written by Steven Moffat. Richard E Grant and Tom Ward (who plays pathologist Harry in Silent Witness) guest-star in a story that features Jenna-Louise Coleman joining the Doctor properly (after a brief appearance in the previous series) as his new companion.
Call the Midwife (BBC1)
There’s something odd going on with Call the Midwife because it feels like it’s been around for years. But no, it’s the 2012 TV drama sensation. When it launched in January viewers swooned at its cheery re-creation of the lives of gutsy midwives based in a 1950s east-London convent. Writer Heidi Thomas (who adapted Cranford) hit every kind of chord with audiences who wanted to feel good about themselves and everybody else. In the Christmas special an abandoned baby is found on the steps of Nonnatus House and newly-married Chummy (Miranda Hart) puts on a children’s Nativity play.
We all need something to clear the cobwebs and tax our brains at Christmas, which is the job of the QI seasonal special. The guests are Danny Baker, RT columnist Sarah Millican and Phill Jupitus.
Ripper Street (BBC1)
There is nothing remotely festive about Ripper Street, but I’ve thrown it into the mix for anyone who feels bloated by good cheer and needs to escape. It will certainly clear your pipes of any vestige of comfort and joy. As DI Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and his team investigate crimes in 1889 London, they unearth the seedy underbelly of a city still tormented by the Jack the Ripper murders. Watch out, it’s weird.
Downton Abbey (ITV1)
Last year’s Downton was a Christmas Day highlight, where a nation went “aaahh” as Matthew Crawley knelt in the snow to propose to Lady Mary. And she said yes! In this second special (which isn’t set at Christmas) the Crawleys take a trip to the Scottish Highlands to stay with naughty cousin Rose (remember her? She laughed a lot and dallied with a married man in a nightclub) and her parents. But it’s a tense gathering. The servants remain at Downton Abbey, where Carson is determined to make sure that everyone works hard, even though there’s no one around for them to look after. Still, the country fair is coming up, so that gives everyone something to look forward to. There could even be a romance on the cards for dear Mrs Patmore.
Downton’s Michelle Dockery is Ruth Gilmartin whose life is turned upside down when everything she thought she knew about her mother is exposed as a lie. Mum Sally (Charlotte Rampling, in a rare appearance on TV) decides to tell Ruth of her double life as a spy for the British secret service. Hayley Atwell, below, plays Sally’s younger self.
We’re going to a party at the Brockmans! In what turns out to be misguided seasonal spirit, Pete and Sue (Hugh Dennis and Claire Skinner) invite all their neighbours around for a drink. It’s left to Ben to organise the games, which isn’t a good idea. The neighbours are an ood bunch, including a traumatised ex-weatherman. Sanjeev Bhaskar and Mark Heap guest star.
Doors Open (ITV)
This curio comes from crime writer Ian Rankin, the creator of Inspector Rebus. It doesn’t feature his renowned detective, though: it’s a standalone caper starring Stephen Fry as a professor of art and Douglas Henshall as a banker bored by his millions. The pair form a strange alliance when they decide to undertake a huge art heist. It’s an absorbing tale with good performances from the two leads.
The Girl (BBC2)
There has been a huge amount of pre-publicity for The Girl, starring Toby Jones as Alfred Hitchcock and Sienna Miller as his muse, Tippi Hedren. Made with Hedren’s active co-operation, it’s a glossy tale of bullying and obsession that grew from Hitchcock’s casting of Hedren to play the lead in 1963 thriller The Birds.
Hitchcock fixated on the actress who was to become the archetypal “Hitchcock blonde”. Much good it did her; she had a terrible time. Toby Jones channels Hitchcock brilliantly, while Miller is suitably icily beautiful as Hedren, a woman who didn’t know of the horrors that awaited her.
It's been a dizzy few years for Miranda Hart. Her cheerfully silly BBC2 sitcom won a big following - so big that Miranda now treads the well-established path to glory by moving to BBC1. In two festive episodes we return to the joke shop where we spot X Factor judge Gary Barlow as a potential love interest for our lolloping heroine.
Loving Miss Hatto (BBC1)
This is such a fantastic true story, adapted by Victoria Wood and starring Francesca Annis and Alfred Molina as Joyce and Barrie Hatto. It’s an extraordinary tale of love and fraud, centred on pianist Joyce and an elaborate, audacious hoax.
Carols from King’s (BBC2)
Feel yourself transported to a different world of harmony and light for the traditional carol service from the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge. Even as you are wrapping your presents, sit down in front of the television for a perfect oasis of calm, goodwill and joy.