Best Christmas TV for 2021 – your guide to what to watch

The festive schedules are already starting to fill up.

A Boy Called Christmas

It’s December, which means the countdown to UK Christmas TV is on in earnest.

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The BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 have all confirmed their Christmas schedules, giving viewers a sneak-peek at some of the exciting titles coming up at the end of the year.

From Worzel Gummidge to Doctor Who, to Call The Midwife and The Larkins at Christmas, and Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Sky’s upcoming film Last Train to Christmas, featuring Michael Sheen and Nathalie Emmanuel, the Christmas season for UK TV looks set to be one to remember.

We have some exciting new box sets to look forward to too, with the BBC offering us A Very British Scandal starring Claire Foy and Paul Bettany, plus a dark psychological thriller based on a best-selling novel, The Girl Before.

Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days is also getting a new adaptation from the BBC this Christmas, starring former Doctor Who star David Tennant in the lead role of English gentleman-turned adventurer Phileas Fogg.

ITV also more than has us covered in the entertainment stakes with The Voice: Kids, Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs, and an all-star musical bonanza.

Of course, we also have the soaps to contend with too and they’re saving their best storylines for the end of the year.

Read on for everything we know so far about the Christmas TV line-up and which shows will be back for a festive treat this year.

Call the Midwife Christmas special – BBC

Call the Midwife Christmas 2021 special Helen George

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a trip to Nonnatus house.

Call the Midwife will soon be back on our screens for a 2021 Christmas episode and, judging by the BBC’s first look images, the nurses are ready to spread some festive cheer.

Helen George’s nurse Trixie Franklin and Leonie Elliott’s Lucille Anderson will be back for “their busiest Christmas Day ever”. Miriam Margolyes’s Mother Mildred will also be reprising her role for the special, following her absence from the 10th season.

Posting on the Instagram account for the show, the team behind the drama recently shared a photo of Reggie (played by Daniel Laurie) and Lucille (played by Leonie Elliott). “We have questions… “Reggie… are those pyjamas you’re wearing… in snow?? Does that snowman have pointy ears? How adorable is Lucille in green!!” the caption read.

“Of course, we’re not going to tell you what happens in this episode, except to say that our own lovely Lucille has a LOT to prepare for… We are all very proud of this year’s Christmas episode, and just can’t WAIT for you to see it!”

Call the Midwife airs on BBC One and BBC iPlayer from 8pm on Christmas Day.

The Larkins Christmas special – ITV

The Larkins
ITV

Following on from The Larkins’ series finale in mid-November, the entire family will be back on our screens over the festive season for a feature-length special. The story sees Mariette and Charley return to Kent for Christmas, the latter bringing his parents with him for a formal introduction.

However, things quickly go wrong when a power cut leaves the entire village without lighting or heating, which is particularly bad timing when residents have been suffering a recent spate of burglaries. The synopsis teases that “chaos descends on the Larkins’ farm”.

It’s not all bad news though, as people are eagerly anticipating the premiere of a local pantomime, while love is also in the air as Mariette and Charley prepare to “take their love to the next level”.

The Larkins at Christmas will air on ITV at 9pm on Christmas Day and is available from 7am on the same day on ITV Hub.

A Boy Called Christmas – Sky Cinema

Sky are giving us an original festive flick this holiday season with A Boy Called Christmas – the origin story of Santa Claus.

Featuring a stellar cast including Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Sally Hawkins, Toby Jones, Kristen Wiig and Stephen Merchant, the film follows a boy called Nikolas (Henry Lawfull) as he sets out on an extraordinary adventure into the snowy north to look for his missing father.

“Taking with him a headstrong reindeer called Blitzen and his loyal pet mouse, Nikolas soon meets his destiny in this magical, comic and endearing story that proves nothing is impossible,” Sky teases.

A Boy Called Christmas is available now on Sky Cinema on Sky TV, Sky Q and NOW.

Worzel Gummidge – BBC

Guy Forks (Paul Kaye) in Worzel Gummidge
BBC

Mackenzie Crook’s reinvention of the classic Worzel Gummidge stories will make a welcome return to our screens for two more episodes of family-friendly fantasy this Christmas.

Of course, Crook will be back in the title role as walking, talking scarecrow Gummidge. In addition, Strictly champ Bill Bailey and The A List’s Nneka Okoye will be joining the family as Mr Peregrine and Calliope Jane.

Crook said: “I’m thrilled to bring three new episodes of Worzel Gummidge to audiences this year and to announce the quite brilliant cast. We had a happy summer making these films and I hope some of that comes across on screen.”

Worzel Gummidge premieres on BBC One at 7.15pm on December 28, 2021.

Bradley and Barney Walsh: Breaking Dad at Christmas – ITV

breaking_dad_the_unseen_show

If you need more Bradley Walsh content in your life, ITV will also be premiering a special “bumper” episode of Bradley and Barney Walsh: Breaking Dad.

The new edition sees the Walsh boys take their famous RV to Iceland for an adventure across the remarkable country, taking in the breath-taking landscapes, including volcanoes and glaciers.

Barney said: “Our family loves Christmas, so, as a special present to dad this year, I’m giving him some challenges on a festive trip to Iceland. If he’s not keen on those he’s always got the RV. He loves driving that thing. It’s going to be great fun.”

“Barney knows I hate the cold but I love Christmas,” added Bradley. “So I had to say yes to a festive road trip around Iceland. I just hope I can find somewhere to roast my chestnuts.”

Bradley and Barney Walsh: Breaking Dad at Christmas airs on ITV and ITV Hub at 9pm on Christmas Eve. The instalment will be available from 7am on ITV Hub on the day of broadcast.

Death in Paradise – BBC

Death in Paradise season 11 first look

For the first time ever, Death in Paradise is getting the Christmas special treatment.

The 90-minute festive episode will see Danny John-Jules return as beloved officer Dwayne Myers alongside Ralf Little, who plays DI Neville Parker.

The festive special follows on from the series 10 cliffhanger and, with Florence taking off for Christmas, “the Commissioner decides to enlist the help of retired officer Dwayne Myers”.

“We’ve been talking about a Death in Paradise Christmas episode for years so we’re beyond excited to be finally making one and to be working with Danny again,” explained Tim Key, executive producer for Red Planet Pictures. “We can’t think of a better place to spend Christmas than in Saint Marie – it’s still part of our 10th anniversary year after all!”

“We’re so excited to be spending our first ever Christmas in Saint Marie. We are delighted that Death in Paradise will be bringing the sunshine to the festive schedule on BBC One,” added Tommy Bulfin, Commissioning Editor for BBC Drama.

Death in Paradise airs on BBC One and BBC iPlayer at 9pm on Boxing Day.

LIVE Joe Lycett: Mummy’s Big Christmas Do! – Channel 4

Joe Lycett Great British Sewing Bee

Comedian Joe Lycett will be bringing a “big queer Christmas house party” to Channel 4 over the festive season, with the 90-minute special being recorded live from his hometown of Birmingham.

The audience will be comprised of LGBTQ+ icons and allies to the community, as well as local heroes and others who will be subject to some “devilish” surprises from Joe himself.

The special seems to be part of Channel 4’s ongoing effort to be less London-centric and distribute focus more evenly across the entire country, promising to feature Birmingham “as you’ve never seen it before”.

Lycett said: “This show combines three of my favourite things – LGBTQ+ culture, Birmingham and chaotic live television.

“Queer creativity outside of London is the most exciting it has been in years and I can’t wait to introduce Channel 4 viewers to our colourful and anarchic world, with some silliness and a few laughs thrown in.”

LIVE Joe Lycett: Mummy’s Big Christmas Do airs on Channel 4 at 10pm on December 22, 2021.

Last Train to Christmas – Sky Cinema

Last Train to Christmas – Sky Cinema
SEAC

Good Omens star Michael Sheen and Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel are teaming up for Sky’s latest Christmas comedy Last Train to Christmas.

Set in 1985, the film follows nightclub manager Tony Towers (Michael Sheen), who grabs a train to Nottingham for a Christmas family reunion with his younger fiancee Sue (Emmanuel) and distant brother Roger (Cary Elwes) when discovers there’s something particularly strange about his journey.

As Tony moves up and down the train, he finds himself travelling forwards and backwards through his life, with his actions in some carriages affecting his life in the next.

“The question is, can Tony change his life – and the lives of the people he loves – for the better, or will he just make things worse?” Sky teases.

Last Train to Christmas will premiere on Sky Cinema and NOW from December 18, 2021.

Strictly The Real Full Monty – ITV

Ten more celebrities will be baring all to a live audience in another edition of The Real Full Monty, which will again be raising awareness of the importance of life-saving cancer checks.

Ashley Banjo will again lead the proceedings, aiming to bring glitz and glamour to an “all-new supersized strip” with a “completely new twist” that is still to be announced.

New dance mentors will be collaborating with Ashley’s team in what promises to be “the most ambitious Full Monty yet”.

Strictly The Real Full Monty will air on on ITV and ITV Hub at 9pm on December 13 and December 14, 2021.

A League of Their Own Christmas Party – Sky Max

A League of Their Own Christmas Party
Sky

Romesh Ranganathan, Freddie Flintoff and Jamie Redknapp are back for another League of Their Own festive special – and this time, Romesh is in charge of organising the 2021 Christmas activities.

Taking on a variety of physical challenges, the boys will be joined by a range of celebrity and sporting guests as well as Romesh’s mum, who’s serving up a traditional Sri Lankan Christmas in a Wiltshire woodland treehouse – and of course, fans can expect the trio to lend their vocals to another Christmas hit.

A League of Their Own Christmas Party will air on Sky Max and NOW at 9pm on December 18, 2021.

All Star Musicals at Christmas – ITV

John Barrowman hosts All Star Musicals on ITV (ITV)

All Star Musicals will return for a two-part special on ITV, with John Barrowman guiding six celebrities per episode through the ultimate musical theatre masterclass.

The participants in the first episode will be Professor T actor Ben Miller, Corrie’s Catherine Tyldesley, broadcaster Gyles Brandreth, sport reporter Radzi Chinyanganya, as well as presenters Anita Rani and Fern Britton.

Another six will take to the stage in early 2022, but this second line-up is still to be confirmed by ITV – watch this space for more information.

Elaine Page, Samantha Barks and Trevor Dion Nicholas return to the All Star Musicals panel, which will offer feedback and decide who deserves to be crowned champion of each episode.

All Star Musicals airs on ITV and ITV Hub from 8pm on Boxing Day. The instalment will be available from 7am on ITV Hub on the day of broadcast.

The Jonathan Ross Show Christmas Special – ITV

Jonathan Ross returns with his long-running chat show, with this one-off Christmas special promising “big-name guests” and “hilarious holiday-inspired games”.

Guests will be confirmed nearer the time.

The Jonathan Ross Show airs on ITV and ITV Hub on December 18, 2021.

Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs at Christmas – ITV

Paul O'Grady
ITV

Paul O’Grady’s heartwarming series following the life of animals at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home has become a firm favourite for many families, so it’s great to see it back on the schedules this year.

He’ll be attempting to bring some festive cheer to the animal rescue centre by helping more dogs find their forever home, including a Patterdale puppy in need of major surgery and a boisterous Cockapoo named Boo.

O’Grady said: “This Christmas special is a real cracker. There’s little Pudding who had me on the edge of my seat whilst he was in surgery and then there’s the Cockapoo who needs some table manners in time for his Christmas feast – as usual I can’t resist a challenge and decide I’ll give it a go!

“All the staff are working hard at Battersea so I hope to bring them a bit of help and Christmas cheer!”

Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs at Christmas airs on ITV and ITV Hub at 5.30pm on Christmas Day. The instalment will be available from 7am on ITV Hub on the day of broadcast.

A Very British Scandal – BBC

Paul Bettany and Claire Foy in A Very British Scandal
BBC

Period drama fans will be thrilled to hear that A Very British Scandal, starring Claire Foy (Wolf Hall), is coming to our screens this Christmas.

Written by Sarah Phelps (The Pale Horse, Dublin Murders), the new three-part BBC series will focus on the acrimonious divorce of the Duke (Paul Bettany) and Duchess of Argyll (Foy) and the media frenzy that surrounded it.

Foy has said she is excited to “explore through this story, how often shame, judgement and controversy surrounds a woman’s sexuality”.

WandaVision’s Paul Bettany said in a statement: “I’m delighted to be working with the remarkable Claire Foy to tell the fascinating and scandalous story of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll and their very complicated lives.

“I’m also extremely happy to get the chance to once again be working with the wonderful teams at the BBC and Amazon Studios,” he added.

A Very British Scandal premieres on BBC One at 9pm on Boxing Day and airs on consecutive nights at the same time. A box set of all episodes will be available on BBC iPlayer after the first episode.

The Voice Kids – ITV

ITV will launch a brand new series of The Voice Kids during the Christmas season, with former Spice Girl Melanie C joining the judging panel alongside Danny Jones, will.i.am and Pixie Lott.

A variety of distinct singers aged 7 to 14 will be participating in this year’s series, hoping to turn those big red chairs with their impressive vocals.

Melanie C said: “I’ve always been a huge fan of The Voice so I am super excited to be a coach on The Voice Kids this year. I can’t wait to get in one of those big red chairs and Spice things up!”

The Voice Kids airs all week from December 27, 2021, at 7.30pm on ITV and ITV Hub.

Never Mind the Buzzcocks Christmas special – Sky Max

Never Mind the Buzzcocks Christmas
Sky

After a successful first series, Sky’s Never Mind the Buzzcocks reboot will be back for a Christmas special this December as Greg Davies hosts a festive, musical spectacular.

Noel Fielding, Daisy May Cooper and Jamali Maddix will be returning as panellists for this holiday episode and welcoming the likes of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Holly Johnson, broadcaster Lauren Laverne and People Just Do Nothing’s Asim Chaudhry to their teams for the Christmas edition of this much-loved melodic quiz.

Sky’s Never Mind the Buzzcocks Xmas will air on Sky Max and NOW at 9pm on December 19, 2021.

Doctor Who New Year special – BBC

Jodie Whittaker for the Doctor Who New Year's Day Special 2022
Jodie Whittaker for the Doctor Who New Year’s Day Special 2022
BBC

It wouldn’t be the Christmas season without a Doctor Who special, would it?

The hotly-anticipated episode will see the return of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor alongside a long list of special guests including Aisling Bea (Home Sweet Home Alone), Adjani Salmon (Dreaming Whilst Black) and Pauline McLynn (Father Ted).

Doctor Who will air on New Year’s Day on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

The Royal Variety Performance 2021 – ITV

The Royal Variety Performance is back for a particularly special show marking the Royal Albert Hall’s 150th anniversary, which will be held in the presence of senior Royals as usual.

It is expected that this year’s edition will feature a live audience, after the 2020 show was forced to opt for a virtual crowd due to lockdown restrictions enforced at the time.

The confirmed line-up so far includes music from Ed Sheeran, Sir Rod Stewart, Anne-Marie, Years and Years, James Blunt and Elvis Costello, as well as performances from Cirque du Soleil and the cast of Matilda the Musical.

Comedy fans can look forward to sets from Judi Love, Bill Bailey, Chris McCausland and Josh Widdicombe, while Alan Carr will be taking on presenting duties.

The Royal Variety Performance airs on ITV and ITV Hub at 7.20pm on December 19, 2021.

The Girl Before – BBC

the girl before
Jessica Plummer and David Oyelowo in The Girl Before

If a twisted psychological thriller is more your cup of tea, you’ll be pleased to hear that The Girl Before will be airing over Christmas as part of the BBC’s festive schedule.

The thriller is based on the story of Jane (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who certainly gets more than she bargained for when she moves into an enigmatic architect’s luxurious house.

The official synopsis reads: “Jane starts to feel the house changing her in unexpected ways, but when she makes the shocking discovery that her predecessor Emma died in the house, she’s forced to confront unnerving similarities.

“As the two women’s timelines interweave, Jane begins to question if her fate will be the same as the girl before…”

The Girl Before premieres on BBC One and BBC iPlayer at 9pm on December 19, 2021. All episodes will be available in a box set after the first episode airs.

Spitting Image Christmas Special – ITV

Spitting Image series 2
ITV

BritBox’s Spitting Image will make a temporary move to terrestrial television for its 2021 Christmas special, which will target a number of prolific figures from the world of sport, entertainment and politics.

Puppets confirmed to feature in the episode’s sketches include: Boris Johnson, Tom Cruise, Gary Lineker, Raheem Sterling, Cristiano Ronaldo, Prince Andrew, Vladimir Putin, Harry & Meghan, Ed Sheeran, Emma Raducanu, Jürgen Klopp, and Adele.

Spitting Image Christmas Special will air on ITV and ITV Hub at 10pm on Christmas Eve.

Hansel & Gretel: After Ever After – Sky Max

Hansel and Gretel: After Ever After
Sky

David Walliams is taking another fairy tale and putting his darkly comic spin on it with Hansel & Gretel: After Ever After.

Following his previous specials, which picked up where stories like Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella left off, Walliams’ third stand-alone episode will explore what happened once Hansel and Gretel defeated the witch and headed back home to their father (Mark Addy) and stepmother (Sophie Thompson).

When the siblings discover that they didn’t actually manage to kill the witch (Sheridan Smith) and that she’s now hungry for revenge, they return to her house for a final showdown – and meet a troll along the way.

Hansel & Gretel: After Ever After airs on Sky Max and NOW at 8pm on December 23, 2021.

Around the World in 80 Days – BBC

If you want more David Tennant content in your life, the BBC will also be premiering an adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days this Christmas.

Tennant stars as adventurer Phileas Fogg, who is attempting to travel around the world in 80 days in an attempt to win a lucrative wager he entered into.

The actor recently described the series as a “romp”. “I hope a bit of joy. I think it’s very apt that it’s set for a Christmas transmission. It’s that kind of a show, it’s got that kind of scale and that kind of ambition and that kind of warmth,” he told RadioTimes.com and other press.

“It’s a romp, but it’s got real heart to it, as well. It feels like a genuine – this phrase is overused – but it feels like a genuine piece of family entertainment, something that you can all, you know, grab a mince pie and enjoy together,” he continued.

Legendary composer Hans Zimmer, who is known for The Lion King and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise among other projects, and Christan Lundberg scored the soundtrack.

Around the World in 80 Days airs on BBC One and BBC iPlayer at 5.50pm from Boxing Day.

EastEnders – BBC One

eastenders gray atkins wk 41 2021
Evil Gray Atkins could face a downfall…

As always, a dramatic Christmas is lined up for Albert Square and there is even a double wedding on the cards!

The official teaser states: “The Trueman-Foxes are celebrating love with Denise, Jack, Chelsea and Gray heading towards wedded bliss but with Whitney following her gut instinct and Kim anxious to expose Phil’s crimes, the journey towards winter wedding joy is set to be icy. 

“Rocky is spending his Christmas with Kathy and Sonia, he’s grown fond of his ‘daughter’ but keeping up appearances is taking its toll and an unwanted guest threatens to spoil more than just the dinner.”

Aside from these big storylines, we also have Janine Butcher trying to give daughter Scarlett the Christmas she deserves, but her attention is also focused elsewhere.

Finally, Phil Mitchell aggravates girlfriend Kat Moon as he continues to lean on his ex-wife Sharon Watts for support. We smell a love triangle!

EastEnders airs on Christmas Day at 9pm and on Boxing Day at 10pm on BBC One, as well as airing in its usual slots over the festive period.

Emmerdale – ITV

It wouldn’t be Christmas without some soapy drama, with Emmerdale taking on an unconventional flashback narrative for this year’s festive special.

The villagers will wake up on Christmas morning to find a thin dusting of what is first assumed to be snow, but it soon becomes clear that things are not as they seem.

ITV’s synopsis promises that the episode will leave “some things changed forever”, with several residents finding themselves in danger from a threat within the village.

Will serial killer Meena Jutla strike again at Christmas?

There will also be a Christmas proposal, but there’s no word yet on who exactly will be popping the question.

Emmerdale airs on ITV on its usual days and also Christmas Day and Boxing Day with episodes available from 7am on the day of transmission.

Coronation Street – ITV

The residents of Weatherfield will be hoping for a quiet Christmas after a tumultuous few months, but things rarely go that smoothly in soapland.

The fallout from Seb’s death continues to leave people shaken, with Abi turning her hatred onto Kelly, while Nina finds herself overwhelmed with grief.

Meanwhile, Emma will discover that her dream man Curtis is not what he seems, putting their carefully planned wedding at risk.

Some of Corrie’s most iconic characters will come to the forefront, as Tyrone attempts to rekindle romance between himself and Fiz, while the Platts and Barlows come together for a daring Christmas dinner – after all, no Christmas is complete without a family row!

Coronation Street airs on ITV on its usual days and also Christmas Day and Boxing Day with episodes available from 7am on the day of transmission.

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Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.