A star rating of 3 out of 5.

It's hard to be too critical about the latest Ghosts Christmas special. On the one hand, the brand new episode comes in relatively light on big laughs, which is disappointing given the strong third series we enjoyed earlier this year. Instead, the ensemble sitcom focuses on ramping up the 'aww factor' for a story all about showing kindness to those in need. With this in mind, giving it any less than three stars would be enough to get me visited by three spirits in the night – even if the execution leaves a lot to be desired.


This festive chapter kicks off with the sudden arrival of a homeless man named Nicholas (Justin Edwards) to the grounds of Button House, mistakenly wandering into the garden under the impression it was a public park. In the spirit of the season, Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) is keen to let him move on in his own time, while Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) is less comfortable with hosting the stranger so close to home. It's fairly easy to predict how all this will shake out, but I suspect that will be less of a problem for some viewers than it was for me.

Personally, this episode felt like it was simply going through the motions on a very basic Christmas fable that has been told on countless previous occasions. While undoubtedly wholesome and well-intentioned, it felt a tad deflating that the BAFTA-nominated team behind Ghosts couldn't come up with something a bit more original for only their second festive special. However, I do accept that many viewers will be content with having their hearts warmed, regardless of whether the story is profoundly unchallenging.

A much-anticipated guest appearance from Jennifer Saunders as the overbearing mother of Lady Button (Martha Howe-Douglas) also ends up falling flat, with their flashback scenes revealing a story of unrelenting bleakness. That's not necessarily a problem in itself given that several of the other ghosts have had tragic origins of their own, some of which have proven to be quite moving. Rather, the issue stems from how Saunders over-eggs her performance so much that it feels utterly out of place with what's going on around her, thus greatly diminishing the emotional impact.

Jennifer Saunders and Martha Howe-Douglas in Ghosts
Jennifer Saunders and Martha Howe-Douglas in Ghosts BBC

By comparison, Howe-Douglas gives a far stronger turn, wisely stripping back her usual act to better suit the time period and narrative context; treating her character's story with respect, rather than hamming it up like a Downton Abbey parody. For the rest of the Ghosts cast, it's business as usual, slipping back into their broad yet loveable archetypes effortlessly. While the gags aren't as sharp, the little interactions between these clashing personalities remain entertaining as ever.

More like this

Overall though, this stands out as one of the weaker episodes of Ghosts to date, with a story that sticks rigidly to the tropes of a typical Christmas special rather than providing the imaginative era-spanning tales we've come to expect from this team. But hey, it's a nice story about nice people doing nice things and sometimes that's all you're looking for at this time of year. Once freed from the narrative restraints of the season, no doubt normal service will be resumed (or perhaps I just need a good Dickensian haunting, after all).

Ghosts Christmas Special 2021 is broadcast on BBC One at 8:30pm on Thursday 23rd December. Check out more of our Comedy coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.


This year's Radio Times Christmas double issue is on sale now, featuring two weeks of TV, film and radio listings, reviews, features and interviews with the stars.