The BBC wins the Christmas TV war

It's Christmas, the time of year when tradition dictates we give gifts, eat way too much and ignore all the other TV channels and watch the BBC.

Thursday, 5th January 2017, 10:09 pm
Updated Monday, 9th January 2017, 1:01 pm
The best return of Christmas Outnumbered

ITV, Channel 4 and all the others seem to give up at this time of year, letting the BBC steal Christmas with major new dramas, Christmas specials of old favourites and big movies.

This year was no exception, beginning with Alan Bennett’s Diaries (Christmas Eve, BBC2, 8pm). One of the few national treasures left alive after a year of celebrity attrition, Bennett was a soothing presence ahead of the gift-wrapped, turkey-fuelled headache of Christmas Day. He was revealed, in his own words, to be a “grumpy old sod”, but was a pleasure to spend an hour with.

Another grumpy old man returned this Christmas in the shape of Doctor Who (Christmas Day, 5.45pm, BBC1), a slightly underwhelming superhero adventure, but the best return of the festive period was Outnumbered (Boxing Day, BBC1, 10pm).

The Brockman kids may have grown up – mop-haired Ben is halfway to turning into Marvel’s craggy orange Thing – but the sniping, exasperation and sheer family-ness of the whole thing is still intact. A plot involving grandad’s ashes, a messy break-up and weekend Nazis had some real belly laughs, but it was Ramona Marquez, as classroom lawyer Karen, who stole the show.

A slightly less functional family featured in Inside No.9: The Devil of Christmas (December 27, BBC2, 10pm). A ‘festive’ edition of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s chilling tales, it gave you the impression of being one thing, then pulled the rug out from underneath you in the last 20 seconds. Clever, but not totally captivating.

There was another festive ghost story in a new edition of Jonathan Creek (December 28, BBC1, 9pm), in which shaggy-haired sorceror Jonathan (Alan Davies) had to solve another mystery. Set in a creaky old country house, it ticked a lot of satisfying boxes – English countryside, vicars, rural pastimes – but the central puzzle was as contrived as anything on 3-2-1, and presented us with nothing new.

After a year as odd as this one, we could have done with a laugh, but Charlie Brooker’s 2016 Wipe (December 29, BBC2, 9pm) merely reminded us of everything we had to be depressed about – from Brexit to Trump to the litany of huge stars who left us.

Which brings us to the highlight of Christmas – The Great Christmas Bake-Off (Christmas Day, BBC1, 4.45pm and Boxing Day, BBC1, 7pm). Bake-Off is also leaving us, in its present form anyway, but will leave us with a feeling that nothing can go wrong if you’ve got cake. A lot like Christmas, in fact.