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Enjoy the telly's festive feast
Twinkletoes, Time Lords, luvvies and Jane Austen characters will make the season bright. Tim Hughes finds out more
There are true blockbusters heading our way this Christmas. Here is our pick of the ones you won’t want to miss.
Saturday, December 21
Strictly Come Dancing (BBC One, 6.30pm) Trying to guess the winner of this year’s series hasn’t been easy – we’ve been changing our minds every week. Now it’s an all girls final.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor emerged as an early favourite following a show-stopping Charleston, only to struggle with the jive and, according to the judges, the rumba. Natalie Gumede appeared more consistent, when she wasn’t being dogged by illness and injury, and most viewers predicted she would be the recipient of the show’s first 40, until Abbey Clancy took the honours with a Saturday Night Fever-inspired salsa.
Meanwhile BBC Breakfast presenter Susanna Reid has also had a turn on top of the leader board with a dramatic paso doble.
But very soon we will learn who will lift the coveted mirror ball trophy. Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly are our hosts as the four remaining celebs take to the floor, hoping to impress judges Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli, Craig Revel Horwood and Darcey Bussell.
But it’s the public who ultimately decide who gets to follow last year’s champion Louis Smith.
Sunday, December 22
The Whale (BBC One, 9pm) Martin Sheen plays Old Thomas Nickerson, a maritime veteran who recalls being a cabin boy aboard the Essex, an ill-fated whaling ship.
Charles Furness stars as young Tom, and we see him dealing with everything Mother Nature can throw at him, from destructive sea storms to whales. What’s more, he has to carry out dark deeds to survive after being shipwrecked.
Monday, December 23
Gary Barlow: Journey to Afghanistan (ITV, 9pm) As the title hints, the singer heads out to join service personnel at Camp Bastion, and experience life on the frontline. But while he might be there to boost morale and perform a few songs while he’s at it, it’s not an easy experience.
Gary joins the air traffic control team, drives a heavy equipment transporter, and goes on a 6am run with the troops.
He also pays an emotional visit to the vigil site which pays tribute to the British troops who have lost their lives out there.
But Gary raises a few smiles as he unveils a pop-up concert and, joined by the Royal Artillery Band, belts out some of his hits, as well as Michael Buble’s Home and the Hollies’ He Ain't Heavy, He’s My Brother.
Senior Aircraftman Marenghi and Lance Corporal Shaun Fowler join Gary on stage for special performances.
Midsomer Murders (ITV, 9pm) It’s Christmas in Midsomer, and Santa has brought DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) a present – a new sidekick, DS Charlie Nelson (Gwilym Lee). If the newcomer hasn’t yet realised that he’s living in the murder capital of the UK, he’s about to find out, as even during the season of goodwill, the villagers can’t stop bumping each other off.
Latest victim is furniture-maker Conor Bridgeman (Jonah Russell), who is stabbed with an antique sword during a ghost-hunting party at a supposedly haunted manor house. Local historian Brendan Pierce (Les Dennis) believes the killing could be the work of Rose Wilton, a blacksmith’s daughter who’s been dead for 127 years. A ghostly recording of a girl’s voice made on the night of the murder seems to back up his theory, but it seems there may be a few living locals with a motive as well.
The coppers discover that Conor was a serial philanderer involved in fractious negotiations with the owner of the haunted house, Simon Fergus-Johnson (Mark Heap).
Doctor Who (BBC One, 7.30pm) A month on from the 50th anniversary comes Matt Smith’s final outing as the Time Lord.
Showrunner Steven Moffat has promised viewers a fittingly dramatic farewell to Smith, who’s made the role his own since his debut at the end of Tennant’s final episode in 2009.
It seems as if Moffat is living up to his pledge too – the universe’s deadliest species have gathered at a far-off planet, summoned by a message that reaches the Doctor at Christmas.
He whips Clara away from her festive meal to investigate – but what they discover alters the gallivanting Gallifreyan’s destiny forever.
Death Comes to Pemberley (BBC One, 8.15pm) It is a universal truth that people just can't stop tinkering with Pride and Prejudice.
Whether it’s adding a scene of Mr Darcy in a wet shirt for a TV version, updating the plot for Bridget Jones’s Diary, or rewriting the entire book with zombies, Jane Austen’s classic has been reworked many times.
However, there’s one homage that has impressed the most hardcore Austen purists – PD James’ sequel Death Comes to Pemberley.
The crime writer’s acclaimed novel takes some of the book’s much-loved characters and puts them in a detective story. And now to mark the 200th anniversary of the original novel, it comes to the screen in this three-part adaptation.
The action picks up six years after Darcy (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Anna Maxwell Martin) overcame their pride and prejudices and happily married.
They prepare for the annual ball at their country pile, Pemberley, but Elizabeth’s wayward sister Lydia (Jenna Coleman) crashes the party, screaming that her husband Wickham (Matthew Goode) has been murdered. Darcy sets out to search the woods but finds a different body...
Friday, December 27
Vicious (ITV, 9pm) Gary Janetti and Mark Ravenhill’s catty sitcom about luvvy partners Freddie and Stuart.
While some sit coms need time to bed in, this was a hoot from start, partly thanks to showbiz veterans Derek Jacobi and Frances de la Tour.
In this festive special, the duo’s turkey dinner hits a few snags, what with Ash’s cooking, Violet’s (de la Tour) new lover and Freddie’s pending acting gig. As if that’s not enough to cause indigestion, Penelope’s (Marcia Warren) truth-or-dare secret could split the group.
Best of the rest
Downton Abbey (ITV, 8.30pm) Here’s a strange one – the Downton Abbey Christmas special but it's set during the summer and the action doesn't take place at the Abbey.
Instead, the Crawley family have decamped to the capital to open the doors to Grantham House. The show’s creator and chief writer, Julian Fellowes, has opted to tell a summer story so the action can take place around Rose’s ‘coming out’ as a debutante at Buckingham Palace during the traditional London season. Rose looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, but the last time we saw her, she was angry with Mary for interfering in her romance with a black jazz singer. Has Rose got over this?
Also set to feature are Shirley MacLaine and Paul Giamatti; the former will reprise her role as Cora’s battleaxe mother Martha, while the latter will play her disgraced son Harold.
Call the Midwife: Christmas Special (BBC One, 6.15pm) This stunning drama became an instant hit when it debuted last year, so little wonder Jenny Lee and co are back for another helping.
During the latest visit to Poplar, it's Christmas 1958, and Jenny's relationship with Alec is blossoming, while Shelagh prepares to quietly wed Dr Turner.
There's trouble afoot when the police turn up on the doorstep of Nonnatus House - an unexploded bomb has been discovered and the district must be evacuated.
With no electricity and morale low, everyone tries to ensure Christmas isn’t reduced to ashes, and the house staff reach out by rekindling the spirit of the Blitz.
The cast includes Jessica Raine (last seen in Doctor Who drama An Adventure in Time and Space), Jenny Agutter and Leo Staar.
We can expect a third series next year – good.