When I’m not writing about life as a dad, I also contribute TV blog posts for the website of the Metro newspaper. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been busy previewing some of the TV treats we have in store over the Christmas period.
Christmas TV isn’t the draw it used to be. As recently as the mid-1990s the Only Fools and Horses specials would regularly draw in audiences of over 20 million as entire families gathered around their TVs. Last year Mrs Brown’s Boys topped the Christmas Day ratings with fewer than ten million viewers.
Nonetheless, there are some great TV treats this year. Here are my top five picks of programmes the entire family can sit down and watch on Christmas Day, a selection dominated by the BBC. (Let’s face it, with the exception of Downton Abbey, ITV conceded defeat on Christmas Day years ago.)
Following in the footsteps of The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo’s Child and Room on the Broom, this latest animated adaptation of a Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler children’s classic will delight kids of all ages.
Stick Man is an epic tale of a father’s journey to return home in time for Christmas. It’s about abduction, loss, determination and helping a fat man in a red suit gain illegal entry to homes all over the world. As you do.
The half-hour story features a star-studded vocal cast that includes Martin Freeman in the title role, Rob Brydon, Sally Hawkins, Jennifer Saunders, Russell Tovey and Hugh Bonneville as Santa. Freeman in particular is perfectly cast, his performance anything but wooden as he brings Stick Man’s determination and weary despair to life.
If you enjoyed the previous adaptations, you will love this. (And, if you’re as familiar with the book as I am, you’ll know it by heart too!) It’s a gentle, lovingly made Christmas fable and it might just bring a tear to your eye. It did to mine.
Danger Mouse: The Snowman Cometh
The revival of this 1980s classic continues to appeal as much to grown-ups as it does to children. (It’s a firm favourite with all three of our kids, not to mention their father.) The new series faithfully retains the anarchy and self-awareness of the original, with Alexander Armstrong, Kevin Eldon and Stephen Fry successfully recreating the characters of Danger Mouse, Penfold and Colonel K.
This double-length episode sees Danger Mouse tasked with protecting Santa Claus (voiced with booming magnificence by Brian Blessed). But when the snivellingly inept Snowman (The IT Crowd‘s Richard Ayoade) steals Santa’s magic hat and threatens to cancel Christmas, it’s up to Danger Mouse, Penfold and an army of elves to rescue the day.
Watch out for a cameo appearance by Count Duckula, who appeared in the original series before being spun out into his own show.
The most recent series of Doctor Who contained some particularly dark themes but this year’s Christmas special is low on scares and heavy on comedy, as it features The Inbetweeners‘ Greg Davies as the decapitated head of a giant cyborg tyrant and Little Britain‘s Matt Lucas. Kids will love the cartoonish, slapstick elements, while adults will enjoy what amounts to a bittersweet rom-com.
It also features the return of Alex Kingston as River Song, and her interplay with Peter Capaldi is a joy to behold in an episode that is constructed around the pair of them. The story ties together the history of their two characters and, while it works fine for casual viewers of the show, there are several moments that will reward the fans – not least one scene where the Doctor finally gets to do something that his companions have been doing for years.
CBeebies Alice in Wonderland
CBeebies, 12:15pm & 4:10pm
All your children’s favourite CBeebies stars are gathered together in this one-off performance. If you’ve seen previous years’ efforts such as A Christmas Carol or Strictly Cinderella, you’ll know exactly what to expect – a show filled with songs and laughter that will delight young viewers as they wait for Christmas lunch, or to keep them occupied while the grown-ups sleep off theirs.
Top of the Pops Christmas
TOTP was a fixture of Thursday or Friday nights for many of us growing up, so its annual appearance on the TV schedules is a trip down memory lane for adults and an opportunity for younger viewers to enjoy some of their current favourites.
Hosted by Fearne Cotton and Reggie Yates, this year’s edition includes performances by Coldplay, Ellie Goulding, Rita Ora, Jess Glynne and X Factor‘s Fleur East, not to mention Nick Jonas, James Bay, Jamie Lawson and Hozier. It will also include the unveiling of this year’s Christmas number one single.
TOTP is a household favourite for us. We record it and watch it after it gets dark, turning off the lights, breaking out the glow-sticks and allowing the kids to have a dance party while I grumble about pop music not being what it used to be. Well, someone has to, don’t they?
So those are my five picks for Christmas Day. But what will you and your kids be watching?