As is often the case these days, the biggest Christmas TV treats this year are all to be found on the BBC and, though we’re right to lament ITV giving up trying to compete, we need to spare some criticism for the BBC for putting on two of their best shows on the same night:
Christmas Day, BBC One 6pm
After a so-so fifth series which failed to excite, Steven Moffat serves up the now traditional festive adventure for the Doctor.
Matt Smith, the best thing to come out of Moffat’s tenure so far, has so successfully established himself as the Timelord it almost defies belief that this time last year BBC One was awash with David Tennant clips, trailers and channel idents.
Joining Smith and regulars Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are Michael Gambon and Katherine Jenkins.
Boxing Day, BBC One 9pm
Of the three shows highlighted here, this three-part revival of the classic Upstairs Downstairs is the indisputable crown jewel.
This opening episode takes place in January 1936 with Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard) and Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes) moving into their new home – the legendary 165 Eaton Place.
Since we last visited (30 year ago in real life, 6 years in the drama) the house has fall into disuse and now stands empty. Keen to return her new home to its former glory, Lady Agnes engages the services of an employment agency which just happens to be run by Rose Buck (Jean Marsh), the parlourmaid from the original series.
The only returning cast member or character from the classic show, Marsh is pitch-perfect in her portrayal of Rose and Eileen Atkins, who co-created the series with her, is delightful as Maud, Mother-in-Law to Lady Agnes.
There are a few lovely nods to the past – watch out for the keyring with Mr Hudson’s name on it and the Titanic-like scene with Rose exploring the house – but the drama rightly concentrates on telling the story of the new family and their servants.
As in the original, the show draws on historical events for its backstory, here the death of King George V and the new King’s friendship with Mrs Simpson and her own dubious friendships with certain foreign ‘gentleman’ play a big part in establishing the lives and connections of the Hollands.
Fans of the original should find the tone ‘just right’ and the story moves the house and its occupants into a new era.
TV drama is rarely this good.
When Harvey Met Bob
Boxing Day, BBC Two 9.15pm
Domhnall Gleeson and Ian Hart star as Bob Geldof and events promoter Harvey Goldsmith in this dramatisation of the story behind 1985’s Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia.
Touching throughout, the drama serves both as a testament to the pair’s efforts and the generosity of the British public in responding to Geldof’s call to ‘do something’ about those starving in Ethiopia.
Gleeson is stunningly good at capturing the essence of Geldof and the drama is a great example of the sort of one-off pieces Screen One and Screen Two used to produce before the BBC decided excellent drama as a default was simply too much effort and opted for rubbish like Bonekickers and Spooks Code 9 instead.
No Christmas goodwill for whoever took the decision to schedule this against Upstairs Downstairs – they should be ashamed of themselves. But then, if this was on BBC One where it belongs the scheduling clash could never have happened…
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