The best thing about a British Christmas is, for me, the Christmas specials. Networks in the UK go the extra mile to bring in fans of all sorts, from the popular current hits to the classic shows to beloved performers showing up on either of the first two or in their own one-time show.
And it’s more than just stunt casting or the American concept of “sweeps” – it’s tradition. More people have been found in polls to watch the EastEnders Christmas episode each year than the Queen’s speech, and statistically a higher percentage do so than Americans watch the Super Bowl.
Not all of the networks have released summaries of what they have coming up for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and, well, a few days around those. But the BBC has released a hefty lineup that’s sure to please some hefty fandoms.
Doctor Who: This is the Christmas special that’s becoming such a huge annual tradition that BBC America is actually showing it with almost no transmission delay. In the UK, “A Christmas Carol” will air at 6 p.m. on BBC One We posted this the night it aired during the Children In Need special, but in case you missed it, here’s the official preview trailer. Two words are really all that’s necessary – Michael Gambon.
Come Fly With Me: Little Britain’s Matt Lucas announced today via his Twitter feed that the new sketch comedy show featuring characters by him and David Walliams based in the world of air travel will air on Christmas night on BBC One at 10 pm. Lucas and Walliams will once again play every character, from check-in staff to pilots and paparazzi.
Top Gear: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are mirroring the legendary path of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem, crossing Iraq, Jordan and Israelin a range of top sports cars wholly unsuited to the terrain. In the interest of continued world peace and good will to all, I really hope that the three of them don’t decide to reenact their trek across Alabama, Arab-style. This is due to air on Boxing Day on BBC Two.
Strictly Come Dancing: Strictly has been having a fantastic series (I’m still watching it!) with Ann Widdecombe, so the Christmas special is attempting to replicate that with Lib-Dem MP and current Business Secretary Vince Cable, who is advertised as never having danced before, ever. But really, for most of us the reason to watch will be John Barrowman. If there was a performer made for this show it’s probably Barrowman, who has never met a spangled outfit he doesn’t love, and it’s probably the last of him we’ll see until Torchwood: The New World debuts next summer. Also starring Ronni Ancona, Fern Britton and June Brown and airing on BBC One.
EastEnders: Can I just say it’s a crying shame this isn’t airing on BBC America along with the Doctor Who special on Christmas? There are Americans who have never watched a regular episode who go out of their way to find the Christmas special each year, because it’s always spectacular and shocking on a level American soaps haven’t reached in years. This year marks the show’s debut on HD, and longtime character Stacey Slater will be departing Albert Square in some sort of dramatic fashion. It’s also probably fair to guess that Kat Moon (who took over the Queen Vic after Peggy Mitchell departed this summer) will have her baby then, since the next huge storyline for New Year’s Day involves them. This airs on BBC One at 8 p.m.
The Royle Family: Another classic that was right behind EastEnders in the ratings last Christmas. In this year’s reunion of the classic cast, Ricky Tomlinson’s Jim Royle set to spend another holiday on his favourite armchair after injuring himself in “an unfortunate incident” leaving Sue Johnston’s Barbara (Sue Johnston) to deal with the big day. It’s set to air right after EastEnders at 9 p.m. on BBC One.
The One Ronnie: A big one for most classic British comedy fans, as legendary Ronnie Corbett (of The Two Ronnies) celebrates his 80th birthday in an all-star sketch show featuring performers Rob Brydon, Miranda Hart, James Corden and singer Charlotte Church. He’ll also perform one of his trademark monologues written by Ben Elton.
Upstairs Downstairs: A revival of the classic show starring Dame Eileen Atkins, Jean Marsh and Keeley Hawes, on BBC One.
Eric And Ernie: A drama about the early years of Morecambe and Wise, possibly the most famous British comedy double act of all time. Starring Victoria Wood and Vic Reeves on BBC Two.
When Harvey Met Bob: Another BBC Two drama about the history behind the creation of Live Aid by Bob Geldorf and Harvey Goldsmith.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: Stephen Mangan takes on the role of the titular eccentric detective from the Douglas Adams novel.
Nigel Slater’s Toast: Helena Bonham-Carter stars in “a young boy’s childhood journey through everything edible during the Sixties” on BBC One.
Whistle And I’ll Come To You: An adaptation of MR James’s Edwardian ghost story starring John Hurt on BBC Two.
And, literally, I am ending this here but there are still so many shows that will be doing specials for Christmas. Everything to specials of My Family to the Top Of The Pops Christmas No. 1 special to special editions of Mock The Week and Never Mind The Buzzcocks. If I continue listing things, I’ll literally be writing until Christmas.
My plan in upcoming weeks is to compile a viewing guide for each of the nights, especially as the other networks unveil their own plans. Needless to say that there will be so much television to watch this year, and a ton to write about. Let it snow!