Christmas 2016: best TV on today, Christmas Day
Recover from a hefty Christmas dinner with the Call the Midwife Christmas special, Doctor Who and some Mrs Brown's Boys slapstick
Think Doctor Who meets Superman, or rather the Doctor creates a superman. Writer Steven Moffat tells RT: “It’s about a little boy who is accidentally conferred superpowers and happens to be a comics fan, so he decides he should be a superhero in his adult years.” Thus dorky Grant Gordon becomes a cloaked avenger, the Ghost, but in the fine tradition of all superheroes has to keep his identity a secret. Justin Chatwin (star of the US version of Shameless) plays Grant/Ghost, while Charity Wakefield is Lucy, the Lois Lane in his life, caught up in what Moffat calls “a love triangle for two”.
It’s set in modern New York (a backlot in Bulgaria and loads of CGI); there’s a Lex Luthor-style villain and, of course, monsters. “They’ve been around before,” teases Moffat. “Quite recently. And there’s a sinister plan afoot to conquer the Earth.” The Doctor’s travelling companion is Nardole (Matt Lucas), the nitwit who was decapitated and absorbed by a robot last Christmas. So perhaps not the most obvious character for a rematch, but he’ll be popping up next series, too.
As Charles Dickens almost said in A Christmas Carol, I’m sure we shall none of us forget The Great British Bake Off or this first parting that there was among us. Of course Bake Off as we’ve known it is gone, to return to C4 next year without its heartbeat. So these Christmas specials are all the more poignant knowing that this really, really is the end of the great team that is Mel, Sue, Mary and Paul. As is the way of these things, these festive specials, complete with Christmas jumpers, were shot during this past boiling summer, with four bakers from previous series returning to take part in three seasonal challenges. Part two is tomorrow.
This is the icing on the Christmas cake for Strictly fans, although there are no surprises as we’ve already seen what these celebs can do on the dancefloor. Melvin Odoom (out in week one) gets another chance to trip the light fantastic (or just trip), while former finalist Frankie Bridge will hopefully rock around the Christmas tree in real style, as the celebrities perform routines inspired by our favourite festive films. Don’t miss the professionals’ Christmas-themed show dance. And of course Len Goodman takes his final, final bow with a special all-dancing performance.
Snow is falling in Poplar as the gang at Nonnatus House sit down to Christmas lunch and the festive comforts of home, hearth and good companionship. But there’s an urgent message for Sister Julienne. The Hope Clinic, a tiny mission hospital in the scrubs of South Africa, is failing. Its one doctor (Sinead Cusack) is struggling and there’s an urgent need for a mass polio vaccination programme in the outlying villages. Never one to shirk a challenge, Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) rallies her little band of helpers and off they go. Writer Heidi Thomas, with her usual unerring eye for injustice, sees to it that the group comes face to face with the ugly tyranny of apartheid. But there are soft moments, too, as Trixie (Helen George), newly sober, bold and thoughtful, uses her pluck and ingenuity in the face of potential tragedy.
This show isn’t known for its subtlety; it’s loved for its slapstick, slapdash presentation and bawdiness. Huge baubles and a priest in tight shorts elicit hysterics from a studio audience primed to oooh and aaah at every emotional note. But the formula works, especially if you’re in a befuddled Christmas haze, and pulls in big ratings. The story, such as it is, involves a health scare for Grandad, and Mammy’s decision not to have a tree this year. But her boys have other ideas...
A family is massacred at a farm in the Picardie countryside and the killers leave just one survivor, a little girl who’s found by police hiding in a wardrobe. Meanwhile in Paris, a desperate man is being chased through the streets by a couple of thugs. Panting with fear, he calls police HQ and demands to speak to Maigret: “They are going to kill me!” He vanishes and is later found dead. Naturally Maigret (Rowan Atkinson) is quietly, deeply disturbed and takes the murder personally, despite his chief’s insistence that the Picardie slaughter must take priority. It’s a dark mystery (based on the Georges Simenon novel) that doesn’t go anywhere in a hurry. Atkinson, all traces of his comedy persona completely expunged, is just right as this most thoughtful of fictional detectives.
Top soap headlines: two big names make a Christmas return. Yes, Toyah Battersby is blasting back onto Corrie, with news that her marriage is over. And on EastEnders, the sound of heels being dragged across the ground can mean only one thing - Max Branning is back. No doubt with revenge at the top of his gift list for the Beales. On Emmerdale, it's a quieter Christmas, but a reunion for Zak and Lisa looks likely, while Ashley gets a surprise. No soapie will miss a tribute to Jean Alexander showing tomorrow on ITV.
The spirit of Pratchett and Rowling looms large over this sparkly, gently satirical family fantasy. Sky’s big Christmas Day box of delights takes the orphan heroine of Jasper Fforde’s books and pits her against a scaly fire-breather.
Topically for our pre-Brexit times, it’s set in the Ununited Kingdom, where magic has lost its power. But will kind and gentle Jennifer Strange (Ellise Chappell) live up to her preordained role as the last Dragonslayer?
Played largely for laughs, this colourful confection really takes flight when Jennifer confronts her nemesis (voiced by Richard E Grant), and adults will enjoy spotting the famous faces – including Matt Berry as a covetous king.