Christmas time is here – albeit in strange circumstances – and while many aspects of the festive season are different this year, one thing we can bank on is the usual wealth of festive TV offerings.
Despite a difficult year for TV production, this year’s schedules are packed with delights including Christmas specials for several of the nation’s most beloved shows.
There’s also some brand new animated treats to enjoy with the whole family, the return of an iconic ’80s game show, and a couple of brand new prestige dramas – not to mention the expansive list of best films to watch on TV this Christmas.
We’ve picked out some of the major highlights below, including the Doctor Who Christmas special, a Worzel Gummidge 2020 special and, of course, the usual Christmas Day dose of Call The Midwife – read on for the best of the bunch.
- The 2020 Radio Times Christmas double issue is on sale now! To find out more about what’s inside the special festive edition of the magazine, how to get a copy, and to see our illustrated cover come to life, click here.
Call the Midwife Christmas Special – BBC One
Airs: Christmas Day, 7:40pm
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a festive episode of Heidi Thomas’s beloved period drama Call the Midwife, and this year’s special looks to be another real treat for fans of the show.
The episode is set in December 1965, with everyone at Nonnatus House looking forward to traditional celebrations with all the trimmings – but things go a bit awry. Sister Monica Joan is rushed to hospital, Trixie is incensed to receive a subscription to a Marriage Bureau as a Christmas gift and a surprise reunion for Shelagh involves her in a deeply moving birth. And there’s also a guest appearance by Peter Davison as the ringmaster of a circus which arrives in Poplar!
Thomas has spoken of the importance of getting the episode finished in time for Christmas, to add a bit of normality to a turbulent time, and it’s sure to be a highlight for many telly fans.
Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks – BBC One
Airs: New Year’s Day, 6:45pm
Christmas is always better when there’s a Doctor Who special to look forward to, and luckily for Whovians Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor and co. are returning for a festive episode.
The hotly-anticipated Revolution of the Daleks begins with the Doctor locked away in a high-security alien prison after the events of series 12, while Yaz, Ryan and Graham have to pick up their lives without her.
They soon get reeled back in to adventures in time and space however, when they discover a disturbing plan forming which involves a Dalek…
Strictly: The Christmas Countdown – BBC One
Airs: Christmas Day, 4:45pm
Unfortunately there won’t be a normal Strictly Christmas special this year as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic – but fans will still be able to get a dose of the ballroom extravaganza over the festive period with this special.
Strictly: The Christmas Countdown will reveal the 25 most memorable dances of all time voted for by the viewers, from the perfect 40’s, the trophy-winning routines, dances that have made us laugh, and perhaps some that are remembered for other reasons…
EastEnders Christmas Special – BBC One
Airs: Christmas Day, 9:10pm
Christmas is always an especially dramatic time in Walford and it looks like that will be no different in 2020, with a few details already hinted at by the soap’s stars and creative team – our EastEnders Christmas spoilers page is pretty full, indeed!
According to executive producer Kate Oates, there will be a “huge” festive story that sees the return of a well-known character – although the identity of that character remains under wraps for now.
Britain’s Got Talent Christmas Spectacular – ITV
Airs: Christmas Day, 8pm
This special Christmas edition of popular talent contest, Britain’s Got Talent, will see Ant and Dec welcome back some of the most memorable acts from the show’s 14 year history, with a judging panel comprised of Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon, David Walliams and Ashley Banjo.
Dancing on Thin Ice with Torvill and Dean – ITV
Airs: New Year’s Day, 9pm
Until now, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean have never skated in the great outdoors – but in this 90-minute special they put that right by travelling to Alaska.
In the process, they discover firsthand the dramatic effects of climate change as they are forced to travel into the remote wilderness to hunt for wild ice, skating wherever they can, as they seek to find the perfect place to dance a special Bolero.
Billy Connolly: It’s Been a Pleasure – ITV
Airs: Monday 28th December, 9:30pm
Iconic stand-up comedian Billy Connolly announced his retirement earlier this year, and this documentary special looks back on the many highlights of his astonishing career.
Built around brand new filming with Billy at his home in the Florida Keys, the tribute takes a look back at his illustrious comedy career, featuring his greatest stand-up moments, unseen performance footage and exclusive chats with some of Billy’s biggest famous fans.
The Story of SM:TV Live – ITV
Airs: Boxing Day, 9:25am
For viewers of a certain age, SM:TV Live was a huge part of childhood – and many telly fans first encounter with Ant and Dec, who co-hosted the series alongside Cat Deeley.
This SM:TV Live special takes a look back at the first three years of the show from 1999 to 2001, with brand new interviews with Ant & Dec and Cat in a recreation of the SM:TV set and a look through archival footage – including Challenge Ant, Wonky Donkey, the Postbag dance, Pokemon Rap, Dec’s crush on Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Friends parody, Chums.
Birds of a Feather Christmas Special – ITV
Airs: Christmas Eve, 9:15pm
Classic sitcom Birds of a Feather returns for a one-off special, joining the characters three years after we last saw them. in the interim they’ve gone through a few changes – Tracey and Dorien have been getting right on each others’ thruppennies, while Sharon has escaped to the other side of the world and is stuck on a COVID-cruise.
Linda Robson and Lesley Joseph will reprise their roles as Tracey Stubbs and Dorien Green for the episode, but usual star Pauline Quirke will not be involved as she’s stepping back from acting to focus on her 200 nationwide performing arts academies.
Blankety Blank – BBC One
Airs: Christmas Day, 7pm
Bradley Walsh hosts a special episode of the classic game show, as six celebrities compete to fill in the Blanks and try to win some top prizes for lucky contestants. The BBC has promised that the legendary Blankety Blank Cheque Book and Pen will be making a return for this one-off special.
Zog and the Flying Doctors – BBC One
Airs: Christmas Day, 2:35pm
It wouldn’t be Christmas without charming animation to keep the whole family entertained, and this year the BBC has once again turned to the magical creations of The Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson. The programme follows flying doctor trio Zog, Pearl and Gadabout and the events after a forced landing at a palace sees Pearl locked up by her uncle – with Zog and Gadabout tasked with rescuing her.
And if the plot description doesn’t sound captivating enough, wait until you hear the Zog and the Flying Doctors cast: Lenny Henry (Broadchurch), Rob Brydon (Gavin and Stacey), Patsy Ferran (Black Narcissus), Hugh Skinner (Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again), Daniel Ings (Lovesick), Mark Bonnar (Quiz), Lucian Msamati (Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads) and Alexandra Roach (Killing Eve) all lend their voices to the production.
Roald & Beatrix: The Tail of the Curious Mouse – Sky One
Airs: Christmas Eve, 8:15pm
This original 90-minute television film tells the story of a meeting between two of the country’s most beloved children’s authors, Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter when the former was just six-years-old.
The dramatised story of Roald and Beatrix tells of how the meeting would go on to inspire Dahl in his own writing and includes a stellar cast led by Dawn French as Potter, with supporting turns from Rob Brydon, Nina Sosanya and Jessica Hynes.
Quentin Blake’s Clown – Channel 4
Airs: Christmas Day, 7:45pm
Channel 4 also has a charming festive animation debuting on Christmas Day – an adaptation of Quentin Blake’s beloved children’s book. Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, the half-hour programme tells the story of a toy clown who embarks on a quest to find a new loving home after being thrown away with a load of old discarded toys.
A Baby Reindeer’s First Christmas – Channel 4
Airs: Christmas Eve, 6:40pm
This documentary takes us to the stunning Scottish Highlands and follows a group of young reindeer preparing for their first-ever Christmas – when they are often called upon to feature at all sorts of festive events and celebrations.
Despite the effect of Covid-19 and the subsequent concern that many festive will be cancelled, the Cairngorms team goes to great lengths to ensure the unique process of nurturing and training the herd isn’t disturbed.
Worzel Gummidge: Saucing Nancy – BBC One
Airs: Christmas Eve, 5:55pm
After two successful specials last year, Mackenzie Crook returns as the iconic sentient scarecrow for another fun-filled adventure. This time round, he visits a scrapyard with Susan and John and overhears the grumbling of a foul-mouthed old friend – the carved ship’s figurehead, Saucy Nancy. Nancy would like nothing more than to return to the sea, and it falls to our heroic trio to get there, meaning a rare foray out of Scatterbrook for Worzel Gummidge.
It promises to be another delightful Christmas treat with lessons on friendship and belonging, and boats a wonderful supporting cast – Shirley Henderson, Vannessa Redgrave and Brian Blessed all have roles in the special.
After Ever After: Jack & The Beanstalk – BBC One
Airs: Wednesday 23rd December, 8pm
After the success of last year’s Cinderella, David Walliams returns with another hour-long comedy about what happens in a fairytale after the end of the story. The focus this time round is Jack and the Beanstalk, with Walliams himself starring as the giant and a supporting cast that includes Sheridan Smith and Blake Harrison.
In this version, rather than dieing after he falls from the beanstalk, the giant escapes with just a concussion, finding himself stuck in a human village with no obvious way of returning to his castle in the sky.
Black Narcissus – BBC One
Airs: Sunday 27th December – Monday 29th December, 9pm
This year’s big prestige drama from the BBC comes in the shape of Black Narcissus, an adaptation of Rumer Godden’s 1939 novel about growing tensions within a small convent of Anglican nuns.
The creative team have their work cut out if they are to top the previous screen version of this story – the 1947 Powell and Pressburger film of the same name is widely considered one of the best films of all time. But this new version can certainly rely on a talented cast – with the stars including Gemma Arterton, Alessandro Nivola, Aisling Franciosi, Jim Broadbent, Rosie Cavaliero and the late Diana Rigg.
The Serpent – BBC One
Airs: New Year’s Day, 9pm
Jenna Coleman and The Eddy’s Tahar Rahim star in this new serial killer drama which begins on New Year’s Day and will continue in weekly instalments into 2021. The Serpent, which is based on a true story, series documents the crimes of Charles Sobhraj, a man who was the chief suspect in the unsolved murders of up at least 12 Western travellers across India, Thailand and Nepal through 1975 and 1976.
Ghosts Christmas Special – BBC One
Airs: Wednesday 23rd December, 8:30pm
In its first two series, this fantastic sitcom from the Horrible Histories team has won a legion of fans, and they’re rewarded with their very own Christmas special this year.
The episode sees Alison and Mike prepare to host Mike’s family for Christmas at Button House, as they attempt to make it as relaxing as possible while also keeping the many ghosts happy – but it turns out Christmas just isn’t that much fun when you’re deceased. There’s also the small matter of new arrival in the house, who forces Julian to confront past wrongs in his life, in a neat twist on The Christmas Carol story.
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical! – Sky One
Airs: Sunday 2oth December, 3:30pm
A filmed version of the stage show based on the classic Dr. Seuss Christmas tale, with Matthew Morrison in the lead role. The hit songs You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch and “Welcome Christmas are included, as The Grinch discovers there’s more to Christmas than he bargained for.
Mrs. Brown’s Boys Christmas Special – BBC One
Airs: Christmas Day, 10pm and New Year’s Day, 10pm
There’s been a Christmas episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys every year for a decade, and that’s one thing that is not changing for 2020 – with Agnes and the family back for two more festive specials.
The first, titled Mammy Of The People sees the Brown clan attempt to come to terms with the new normal, while Agnes and Winnie wait to find out if they have won a Radio Times competition to perform an alternative Queen’s speech. The second episode, which has the working title Mammy’s memories, sees the family try to cope with life after lockdown.
The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown – BBC One
Airs: Monday 21st December, 8:50pm
Last year saw the return of Gavin & Stacey for a hugely popular festive special, and this Christmas another iconic BBC sitcom is back on our screens, as Dawn French returns as Geraldine Grainger. There will be three new 10-minute Vicar of Dibley episodes, each set at different times in this bizarre year: one during lockdown, one after lockdown, and one before the second lockdown.
They will focus on Geraldine writing and delivering sermons to her parishioners via Zoom, including such topics as how it’s never a good idea to let Owen Newitt cut your hair or make home-made wine, how the very dearly departed Alice Tinker is still an important presence in a village, and how some residents are still looking for lost buttons and the arrival of decimalisation.
Big Fat Quiz of the Year 2020 – Channel 4
Airs: Boxing Day, 9:05pm
The annual quiz hosted by Jimmy Carr is back, with six comedians answering questions about what’s been, let’s face it, a rather eventful year. As ever, some superstars will be hand to ask questions, including Mitchell Brook Primary School, Charles Dance and Jon Snow. The comedians taking part this year are James Acaster, Stacey Solomon, David Mitchell, Maya Jama, Richard Ayoade & Joe Lycett.
A League of Their Own: Christmas Party – Sky One
Airs: Thursday 17th December, 9pm
The League of Their Own Christmas party is one of the few that will be going ahead this year, as Jamie Redknapp, Freddie Flintoff and Romesh Ranganathan return for this year’s festive special of the comedy sports quiz, joined by a range of celebrity guests.
The Great Christmas Bake Off – Channel 4
Airs: Christmas Eve, 7:40pm
Four previous Great British Bake Off contestants are invited back into the white tent for a festive edition of the beloved baking contest, with those competing including Jamie and Rosie from 2019, Ruby from 2018 and James from 2017. Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith and Matt Lucas are joined by Bake Off: The Professionals host Tom Allen, who fills in for the unavailable Noel Fielding.
Pandemonium – BBC One
Airs: Wednesday 30th November, 9:45pm
This brand new sitcom boasts a stellar cast including Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd), Jim Howick (Ghosts), Alison Steadman (Gavin & Stacey), Tom Basen (After Life) and Tori Allen-Martin (Pure) and follows the Jessop family, who have just experienced an absolutely nightmare year.
The Jessops decide they need a “summer holiday” at any cost, and so travel to Margate in December in a last ditch attempt at spending some much needed family time together.
The Goes Wrong Show: The Nativity – BBC One
Airs: Tuesday 22nd December, 7pm
The team behind The Play That Goes Wrong return for another festive special, with the Cornley Dramatic Society this time providing their take on the most famous Christmas tale of all: The Nativity.
Of course, things soon take a turn for the disastrous, with the pop-up book set proving a physical danger to both cast and crew, the Angel Gabriel developing a firework obsession, and the actors inside a donkey having a terrible falling out resulting in unnecessary nudity. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that the baby Jesus is eaten by a sheep…
Victoria Wood: The Secret List – BBC Two
Airs: Christmas Day, 9:10pm
This tribute to the late comedy legend counts down a hand-picked list of Victoria’s favourite career moments, which was discovered in a notebook after she passed away in 2016.
Across two hour-long episodes, the programme features more than 20 sketches from her vast array of work in addition to some previously unseen insights into Victoria’s life, including clips from her own personal archive. There are also contributions from a number of well-known faces.
Upstart Crow Christmas Special – BBC Two
Airs: Monday 21st December, 9pm
Earlier this year, we were often reminded of how Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in lockdown, and this special episode of hit sitcom Upstart Crow focuses on the struggles the Bard faced as he tried to pen a classic during plague-enforced quarantine.
The thing is, Shakespeare is really struggling for inspiration, while he’s also got to ensure that he and Kate are able to enjoy a Merry Christmas without seeing their loved one. David Mitchell and Gemma Whelan star in this two-hander.
Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Christmas Fishing – BBC Two
Airs: Wednesday 23rd December, 6:30pm
Over three series, this gently profound series has become one of the very best shows on television, and Bob and Paul are back for a festive special as they fish for Grayling in the River Esk and Tees in Bob’s hometown Middlesborough.
At the same time Bob aims to bring some Christmas job to Paul – who has grown cynical about the commercialisation of the festival – by hosting an office party for two, cooking a memorable Christmas dinner and getting together with local lad Chris Rea, who provided one of the most enduring festive pop songs of all time.
Chitty Flies Again with David Walliams – Channel 4
Airs: New Year’s Day, 7:30pm
A one-off film which sees David Walliams celebrate the 50th anniversary of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by attempting a “fantasmagorical engineering feat like no other” – he hopes to bring the magic of the timeless classic to life by building a real life Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car that will actually fly!
Taskmaster festive special – Channel 4
Airs: New Year’s Day, 9pm
For the first time ever, the Task Cottage doors will be flung open to welcome five brand new faces for a Taskmaster festive special – with the stars being set tasks by Greg Davies and Little Alex Horne including The Mummy’s John Hannah, Channel 4 presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Derry Girls’ Nicola Coughlan. Making up the line-up are presenter Rylan Clark-Neal and Strictly Come Dancing judge Shirley Ballas.
Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide.