Turkeys & crackers - your ultimate Christmas TV guide
As the networks present their festive fare, Ed Power helps you sort the thrillers from the duds in our ultimate holiday television guide
Christmas on telly can be a bit of a seasonal lucky dip. There's lots of heartwarming fare - but a great deal of tatty tinsel too. Here's our ultimate guide to help you sort the thrilling from the turgid.
Fairytale of New York
To some it is one of the greatest Irish songs ever (or at least quasi-Irish, the Pogues being a predominantly London concern). To others, Fairytale of New York is the equivalent of being trapped on the Nitelink next to a drunk who can't make up his mind whether to throw a punch or get sick in your lap.
Either way, there is no questioning the endurance of the tune, which was a hit in 1987 and has since been covered by Ronan Keating (a crime against God and Man) and Ed Sheeran (also a crime against God and Man).
Thirty years on since Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl first traded insults in a recording booth, Christy Moore, Imelda May, Bob Geldof and - actual pop star alert - Paul Simon convene to warble its praises.
M.R. James: Ghost Writer
Christmas Eve, BBC Four, 9pm
Because nothing says Christmas like being scared out of your wits, BBC's arts channel has devoted the entirety of Christmas Eve night to one of the masters of the ghost story. First is a new documentary about M.R. James, a chief architect of the modern ghost yarn, followed by Mark Gatiss's 2013 adaptation of the author's spook-tacular 1911 story The Tractate Middoth. Come midnight, you'll be praying those footsteps on the roof belong to Santa.
Maigret in Montmartre
Christmas Eve, ITV, 8.30pm
Rubber-featured comedian Rowan Atkinson will be forever synonymous with Blackadder and Mr Bean. But he's lately proved his chops as a straight man, playing iconic French detective Maigret in a succession of stand-alone specials. In his latest mystery, George Simenon's famous sleuth tries to prove the murders of a showgirl and a countess are related.
Slow moving, intellectually engaging and with gorgeous period detail, it's the perfect Christmas distraction.
RTÉ One, Christmas Eve, 9.35pm
Frank McCourt is best known for his fanciful tales of growing up in a cardboard box in Limerick. His only children's book, Angela's Christmas, was inspired by a story his mother would tell him as a child and is considerably less sobby and pandering than his adult output. Now it is brought to life by Dublin's Brown Bag Films - Doc McStuffins, Octonauts etc - with narration, appropriately, by Limerick actress Ruth Negga. But why is it airing post-watershed, when kids will be all tucked up for Santa?
Top Of The Pops Christmas Special
Christmas Day, BBC One, 12.20pm
Remember when Top of the Pops was essential viewing for music fans? Thankfully, this one-off revival of the venerable pop revue does more than peddle nostalgia, with thoroughly modern stars Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Clean Bandit, Rita Ora and Dublin's The Script among the performers. Fearne Cotton and Clara Amfo host.
The Highway Rat
Christmas Day, BBC One, 4.45pm
Another Christmas, another lavish adaptation of a book by Julia "I didn't just write The Gruffalo" Donaldson. David Tennant voices the eponymous rodent as he enjoys a life of banditry, with narration by Rob Brydon. A perfect post-Christmas dinner treat.
Doctor Who Christmas Special
Christmas Day, BBC One, 5.30pm
Tears before Tardis-time as fans say farewell to outgoing Time Lord Peter Capaldi. He meets the very first Doctor (here played by David Bradley) and is then introduced to the new manifestation of the character, Jodie Whittaker (hated by fanboys because she's a woman). Best Ever Doctor Who, Tom Baker, also pops up waggling a festive sonic screwdriver. These one-offs can be a bit hit and miss and Doctor Who tends to take your adoration of its quirky streak as given. At the same time, Capaldi and Whittaker are both solid performers and it will be fun seeing them juxtaposed here.
St Stephen's Day, BBC One, 6.30pm
The last time Kate Winslet had to share the screen with a block of ice it was while letting Leonard DiCaprio freeze to death at the end of Titanic (come on Kate, there was room up there for both of you). Here, Winslet musters her best David Attenborough impersonation to narrate a documentary chronicling a trek across the North Pole by a family over utterly cutesy (though obviously in real life vicious and deadly) polar bears. Prepare to have your heart melted.
Travel Man: 48 Hours in Hong Kong
St Stephen's Day, Channel 4, 8pm
Remember when Jon Hamm was all set to be the next George Clooney? Neither, it seems, does the former Mad Men star, who nowadays passes his days appearing in shows such as this: a rambling road-trip in which he pairs up with comedian Richard Ayoade, of IT Crowd quasi-fame, for a trek to the Far East.
St Stephen's Day, BBC One, 9pm
An adaptation of the cult Jessie Burton novel, with Anya Taylor-Joy as an 18-year-old marrying a mega-bucks merchant in 17th-century Netherlands. More fun than it sounds (it doesn't sound like much fun).
Alan Partridge: Why, When, Where, How and Whom?
December 27, BBC Two, 9pm
Alan Partridge returns to the BBC after a 15-year hiatus in 2018. Before that, this documentary traces the evolution of Steve Coogan's character, a send-up of British middle-class mores who feels even more relevant than ever in this era of Brexit.
and a few Turkeys To Avoid...
Bridget and Eamon Christmas Special
Christmas Eve, RTE Two, 9.45pm
Wooden spoon reference: tick. Box of USA Biscuits: tick. "Did you leave the immersion on?": tick. Continue until crumpled in a heap swaying from side to side.
The Great Christmas Bake Off
Christmas Day, Channel 4, 7.40pm
Do you like watching boring middle-class types fuss over fruity flambés? No, you don't - which is why you'll be avoiding this toweringly taste-free confection.
Christmas Day, ITV, 9pm
It's hard to say what is worse about ITV's chronicling of the formative years of the 19th-century monarch - Jenna Coleman's listless performance as the eponymous Queen, or the comedy German accent Tom Hughes musters as her beloved consort Albert (with ridiculous facial hair further undermining his performance).
Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas Special
Christmas Day & New Year's Day, RTE One, 10pm
We live in a cruel, godless world, where life has no meaning and only the void awaits. For proof, tune into Brendan O'Carroll's orgy of Chrimbo non-humour. If a benign entity is really looking over all creation, how could he allow such horrors to exist?