Amid the cosy repeats, big movies and inescapable cranberry-stuffed cookery shows on TV this month are a few original gems. Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s Inside No. 9 festive special The Devil Of Christmas (Tuesday the 27th of December, 10pm, BBC Two) is top of our must-watch list. Hot on its heels is Yonderland’s family friendly Yonder Yuletide (Saturday the 24th of December, 6.30pm, Sky One). Another for families on Sky is the Christmas Day Jasper Fforde adaptation The Last Dragonslayer, while Channel 4 has the non-festive-but-essential-for-fans-of smart-sci-fi Humans series two finale (Sunday the 18th of December, 9pm).
Not to forget, of course, the Doctor Who Christmas Special, a brand-new series of Sherlock, Charlie Brooker’s 2016 Wipe, a Christmas Robot Wars special (celebrities, apparently), the return of Time Commanders, and more. See the list below and do please share your own recommendations in the comments.
(And while we’re on the subject, if any of you fine people are yet to see 2014’s brilliant Pride – a film we, er, may have mentioned once or twice before now – BBC Two has it at 10.30pm on Boxing Day.)
Time Commanders episode 1 – Monday the 12th of December, 9pm, BBC Four
No, there’s nothing particularly festive about this military history strategy gameshow, save for the nostalgia factor (BBC Four has has revived it from the early noughties), but it’s geeky and on in December, so on this list it goes.
Greg Wallace of MasterChef takes over from original presenters Eddie Mair and Richard Hammond, leading teams in a re-enactment of historical battles using a real-time strategy games engine. Week one is the Romans vs the Carthaginians.
Stardust – Saturday the 17th of December, 2.30pm, BBC Radio 4
The latest of BBC Radio 4’s impressive Neil Gaiman dramatisations is Stardust, adapted from his 1999 fantasy novel. Dirk Maggs and Heather Larmour have reunited after Neverwhere and Good Omens to produce this two-part retelling of Gaiman’s romantic fairy tale story about a fallen star and an heroic quest. Part two of Stardust, which will be available on BBC iPlayer Radio for 30 days following broadcast, airs on Sunday the 18th of December at 3pm.
Saturday Night At The Movies: Spielberg At 70 – Saturday the 17th of December, 5pm, Classic FM
What better musical accompaniment to wrapping Christmas presents or making mince pies than Spielberg film scores? Stick on this Andrew Collins radio repeat (also available on Classic FM’s Listen Again service) to salute the director’s 70th birthday and prepare to feel triumphant. Then sad. Then triumphant again. Then a bit sad. Then… you get the idea.
Humans series two finale – Sunday the 18th of December, 9pm, Channel 4
Series two of this Channel 4/AMC co-production has expanded the world of Humans (inspired by Swedish original Real Humans) into global thriller territory without losing its focus on character or philosophy. Set in a parallel present in which androids known as ‘Synths’ are commonplace in the home and workplace, Humans asks serious questions about consciousness and ethics when it comes to AI. This episode concludes series two with a revelation that will have you drumming your fingers for a third series renewal. Humans series two comes to AMC in the US in February 2017.
Trollhunters, Friday the 23rd of December, 00:01am, Netflix
One for kids (and big kids) here. Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus’ Trollhunters, previewed at 2016’s New York Comic Con, lands on Netflix just before Christmas. It’s the story of a teenager armed with a magical amulet that endows him with the role of Trollhunter, defender of the creatures living underneath the human town of Arcadia. The voice cast features Ron Perlman, Kelsey Grammer and very sadly, Anton Yelchin’s final performance.
Friday Night Is Music Night: Merry Christmas! Friday the 23rd of December, 8pm, BBC Radio 2
Fair dos, BBC Radio 2 and Ken Bruce don’t necessarily have a tonne of geeky crossover potential but here’s our pitch: Mark Gatiss as Ebenezer Scrooge! Listen to Gatiss and pals including the BBC Concert Orchestra do A Christmas Carol and all sorts of festive songs as part of this special radio concert. Well, what else are you going to listen to as you soak the festive ham in Dr Pepper or whatever it is we’re all supposed to be doing on the day before the day before Christmas?
Yonderland: Yonder Yuletide, Saturday the 24th of December, 6.30pm, Sky 1
It was the night before Thanktival… Right now, you simply can’t do better than Yonderland for proper family fun. The crew top off a stellar third series with this Christmas special, Yonder Yuletide, written by Simon Farnaby and Laurence Rickard, in which both sides of the portal look ahead to the festive season.
Doctor Who: The Return Of Doctor Mysterio, Sunday the 25th of December, 5.45pm, BBC One
Matt Lucas joins Peter Capaldi in the TARDIS for 2016’s Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Return Of Doctor Mysterio. Written by Steven Moffat and directed by Ed Bazalgette, it’s an hour-long superhero adventure set in modern-day Manhattan which sees the Doctor fighting “brain-swapping aliens”.
The Last Dragonslayer, Sunday the 25th of December, 5.45pm, Sky One
Scheduled against Doctor Who over on Sky is a brand-spanking new adaptation of Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer novels. Based on the first in Fforde’s series, this special follows Jennifer Strange (no relation to Stephen or Jonathan) a young orphan who discovers her destiny is to become the titular last killer of scaly mystical beasts… Fingers crossed for family fantasy fun.
The Entire Universe, Monday the 26th of December, 9.30pm BBC Two
Speaking of fun, what do you get when you cross Professor Brian Cox, Eric Idle and the creators of Spamalot? The Entire Universe is the answer, an “extraordinary explosion of comedy, music and dance depicting the birth of the entire universe – in just one hour”. Ambitious, we’ll give it that.
Royal Institution Christmas Lectures: Supercharged, Monday the 26th to Wednesday the 28th of December, BBC Four
A wonderful, nerdy festive tradition, this, and one that began all the way back in 1825. The BBC’s flagship science series returns this year with Professor Saiful Islam’s mini-series on energy. Perfect for tempering all that festive indulgence with a little education (or as much as you can take in before passing out in front of the TV due to a Terry’s Chocolate Orange-induced coma…).
The Infinite Monkey Cage, Tuesday the 27th of December, BBC Radio Four
If his ‘Scrooge’ (see above) wasn’t enough to sate your appetite for Mark Gatiss this Christmas, then allow us to suggest this festive episode of Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox’s The Infinite Monkey Cage featuring the Sherlock co-creator. Just one episode of a brilliant, under-sung radio series that has, over its time, featured more geeky guests than you can shake a stick at.
Revolting Rhymes, Tuesday the 27th of December, 6.30pm, BBC One
This looks ace. Following on from last year’s Stick Man animation, the BBC has engaged the services of Magic Light to animate Roald Dahl’s marvellously fun fairy tale parody poems, originally published in 1982. Two films tell the revisionist stories of Snow White and Red Riding Hood, and of Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella. Expect to hear the voices of Dominic West, David Walliams, Rob Brydon, Tamsin Greig, Bertie Carvel, Rose Leslie, Gemma Chan and Isaac Hemstead Wright.
Inside No 9: the Devil Of Christmas, Tuesday the 27th of December, 10pm, BBC Two
Whetting our appetites for the third run of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s superb horror-drama anthology series Inside No. 9, which is due to arrive on the BBC in the New Year, is this treat of a seasonal special. Set in an Austrian Alpine chalet in December 1977 and starring Jessica Raine and Rula Lenska alongside the creators, it may sound cosily festive, but rest assured that The Devil Of Christmas will be anything but…
Ethel & Ernest, Wednesday the 28th of December, 7.30pm, BBC One
Two decades after Raymond Briggs invented Christmas by creating The Snowman, he wrote and illustrated a moving family memoir about his parents (as recommended by one of our writers here, in our list of underappreciated graphic novels). Poignant and emotional, Ethel & Ernest was adapted into an animated feature and released in selected cinemas earlier this year, ahead of this BBC debut.
Robot Wars: Battle Of The Stars, Wednesday the 28th of December, 8pm, BBC Two
I don’t know about you, but I’ve long wondered to myself ‘If TV sportsball pundit and erstwhile Strictly Come Dancing heartthrob Robbie Savage were to design a killer robot, what kind of killer robot would he design?’ Ponder no more, because BBC Two is giving us the chance to see exactly what kind of Battle-Bot Savage would dream up in this two-part Robot Wars celebrity special. The celebs, also including Scott Mills, Suzi Perry and The Brownlee Brothers (no, us neither) will be assisted by seasoned roboteers in their quest to reign supreme in the arena.
Jonathan Creek, Wednesday the 28th of December, 9pm, BBC One
David Renwick’s mystery-solving magician Jonathan Creek (Alan Davies) is back solving mysteries alongside his wife Polly (Sarah Alexander) in this one-off Christmas special entitled Daemon’s Roost and co-starring Warwick Davies. This one’s the story of a horror film director and a legend about a nineteenth century sorcerer who summoned the powers of hell. Not your typical Christmas fare then.
Charlie Brooker’s 2016 Wipe, Thursday the 29th of December, 9pm, BBC Two
We can’t imagine Charlie Brooker will find much to talk about in this compulsive-viewing satirical round-up of the year’s events. 2016’s been a bit of a quiet one, no?
Cunk On Christmas, Thursday the 29th of December, 10pm, BBC Two
Following on neatly from Brooker’s yearly round-up is this special episode featuring Diane Morgan back in the role of peerless cultural commentator Philomena Cunk. This time, the Cunk is taking on Christmas, a prospect that promises to be one of this festive season’s really-don’t-miss-it half-hours.
Sherlock series 4: The Six Thatchers, Sunday the 1st of January, 8.30pm, BBC One
Episode one of the new Sherlock series has been written by Mark Gatiss and is the first of three new feature-length stories, concluding with The Final Problem.
The synopsis reads as follows:
One mysterious case in particular baffles Scotland Yard – but Sherlock is more interested in a seemingly-trivial detail. Why is someone destroying images of the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher? Is there a madman on the loose? Or is there a much darker purpose at work? Something with its roots deep in Mary Watson’s past…
Also worth a look:
The Man In The High Castle season 2, Friday the 16th of December, Amazon Prime
Season two of the Philip K Dick-inspired dystopian future series.
Count Arthur Strong‘s Radio Show!, Sunday the 18th of December, 7.15pm, BBC Radio 4
The yearly Christmas special from Steve Delaney’s comedy Count.
Victoria Wood night, Sunday the 18th of December, BBC Two
A tribute to a seminal comedian we sadly lost this year.
Sir Lenny Henry: A Life On Screen, Monday the 19th of December, 9pm BBC 2
A tribute to the continuing screen career of Sir Lenny Henry.
Would I Lie To You At Christmas?, Monday the 19th of December, 8.30pm BBC 2
A festive episode of the fun David Mitchell, Lee Mack and Rob Brydon panel show.
Quarry, Wednesday the 21st of December, 9pm, Sky Atlantic
The story of a marine returning home from the Vietnam war based on the novels of Max Allan Collins. Peter Mullan stars.
QI Christmas Special, Thursday the 22nd of December, 10pm, BBC Two
Sandi Toksvig hosts this quite interesting quiz’s 2016 Christmas episode.
We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, Saturday the 24th of December, 7.30pm C4
Channel 4’s big family Christmas animation, based on the kids’ book by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury.
The Witness For The Prosecution, Monday the 26thof December, 9pm, BBC One
This year’s BBC Agatha Christie adaptation, by And Then There Were None’s Sarah Phelps.
Outnumbered Christmas Special, Monday the 26th of December, 10pm BBC1
The Brockmans are back, older but not necessarily wiser.
To Walk Invisible, Thursday the 29th of December, 9pm, BBC One
From Happy Valley creator Sally Wainwright, a biopic TV movie about the Bronte sisters.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Saturday the 31st of December, 6.20pm, BBC One
Hi-jinks and family fun in this filmed version of the popular stage show.