Written by Julia Raeside

Arts

Julia Raeside’s Digital Watch – the festive edition

TV’s about to unleash its Christmas treats and small-screen addict Julia Raeside’s here to help narrow down your choices.

Julia Davis's excellent Hunderby returns to Sky Atlantic.

Julia Davis’s excellent Hunderby returns to Sky Atlantic.

My mouth is full of mince pie and Im sat right next to the Christmas tree like Im actually plugged into and charging myself up from a direct source of Yule. This being the case, I feel ready to share my Christmas TV recommendations with you.

So sit down and pay attention because this is important. The Bishop of Leeds (for real) said last week that gathering around your TV with loved ones is a great way to bond with friends and family. As long as you put down your phones. This list of festive treats is only for those who promise to cast aside their smart phones and give themselves completely over to the audiovisual holly, because if you dont, the Bishop of Leeds will come down your chimney and tut at you.

Peter Capaldis Doctor finally gets to grips with River Song (Alex Kingston). The mere idea of these two cavorting through time and space together is making me bounce on my chair.

First up is the return of one of my favourite historical comedies of all time. It might actually be my favourite. Julia Davis and Barunka OShaughnessys Hunderby (Sky Atlantic) is back for two dementedly festive episodes and we rejoin the characters shortly after the end of the first series. Doctor Fogarty (Rufus Jones) is to wed his sweet Helene (Alexandra Roach) while the unfortunate Hester (Rosie Cavaliero), now proven to be his sister rather than his wife, follows them about like a gooseberry in a bath chair. Meanwhile, Dorothy, revealed last series to be Hester and the doctors mother, sees her place at Hunderby threatened and will stop at nothing to bugger things up for the rest of them. The overwhelming sense of fun in this show is totally infectious. Everyone is having such a whale of a time, hamming it up and playing with the words, that you cannot help but enjoy it.

Youll notice most of my festive choices are from a bygone era. I want pure escapism at Christmas, not gritty reality. So I will mostly be living in the past and pretending the internet hasnt been invented from about December 23 onwards. The first episode of Hunderby was on last night, so watch it on catch up. The concluding part is on next Thursday (Dec 17). Dont miss it.

Photo courtesy of the BBC.

Dickensian: a new/old 20-part serial. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

The BBCs big Christmassy treat this year fits in nicely with my old-fashioned requirements. Dickensian (BBC1) is a new 20-part serial, stripped across a fortnight (with two episodes a day) featuring characters from Charles Dickens novels. Theyre tasty half-hour chunks of Victorian domestic saga and cross the streams with abandon as Fagin from Oliver Twist pimps out Nancy to Jacob Marley and Miss Havisham from Great Expectations wanders past The Old Curiosity Shop. It is the most mulled, comforting and beautifully executed festive thing Ive seen in a long while and absolutely what youd want to watch by the light of the tree with a port in your hand. The first two episodes are on Boxing Day on BBC One and continue every week day after that.

Peep Show on Channel 4. Photo by Mark Johnson.

Peep Show on Channel 4. Photo by Mark Johnson.

Although it isnt really a Christmas thing and not at all historical, the last ever episode of Peep Show (C4) cant go by without a mention. We first met Mark and Jez in their Croydon grief palace 12 years ago (12!) and now it really is time to close the door on their hapless man-baby shenanigans. This series has an upping of games all round, from the writing to the performances of David Mitchell and Robert Webb, not to mention Matt King as Super Hans who has featured heavily, perhaps because the writers know he is such a favourite with the fans. Weve had the chance to enjoy a hammered Olivia Colman buried alive in a ball pool and the flaring of Johnsons delicious nostrils one last time. But end it must. Ill be raising a glass to them all on Wednesday 16 December at 10pm and you should do the same. Paper hats at half mast.

Returning to my historical theme, my inner history geek is excited about The Great History Quiz: The Tudors (BBC2), which is timed perfectly to wrap presents to on Christmas Eve at 9pm. Theres nothing we love better than a quiz in our house and team captains Lucy Worsley and Dan Snow are sure to make this one a hoot. Along with two teams of experts, including Horrible HistoriesGreg Jenner, and Dr Jonathan Foyle, the architectural historian who is forever dangling off high buildings in a hard hat, enthusing about their design, this is designed specifically to make me happy. With these ingredients, it makes sense to make The Great History Quiz a regular thing doesnt it? Make it so, BBC2.

downton-abbey-2--a

Christmas at Downtown: loose-end tying and pretty frocks abound (ITV).

Finally, lets have a canter through your likely stopping off points on Christmas Day itself. The one that most people seem excited about is the last ever episode of Downton Abbey (ITV) which goes on for approximately eight hours and features nearly every single characters individual story coming to a neat and satisfactory end simultaneously. You cant say Julian Fellowes doesnt know how to please a mass audience. Without giving anything away, the family has its traditional festive gathering, there is a big sparkly tree and all the ladies wear nice dresses. The end.

I take great hope that the scheduling of Christmas Day Doctor Who (BBC1) at 5.15pm means the whole family can enjoy it. Unlike previous years in which things have usually gotten a bit too scary and weve had to turn it off and accompany crying/terrified children back downstairs to ply them with tree chocolates and cuddles. Most exciting of all is the chance to see Peter Capaldis Doctor finally getting to grips with River Song (Alex Kingston). I havent seen it yet, but even the idea of these two cavorting through time and space together is making me bounce on my chair.

Photo courtesy of the BBC.

And Then There Were None. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

On Boxing Day evening I shall be mostly back in 1939, attending an elegant house party that descends quickly into a blood bath as the guests start getting murdered. Agatha Christies And Then There Were None (BBC1) is on at 9pm and perfectly placed for me to get out my cocktail shaker because the characters are all guaranteed to be drinking martinis since they live in the 1930s. Poldarks Aidan Turner stars as the enigmatic Phillip Lombard, a man with a past and the cast also includes Anna Maxwell-Martin as the downtrodden servant who must tend to the guestsevery need. But who are their mysterious hosts and why are they being systematically bumped off? The second and third episodes are on the next two nights so you wont have to wait long to find out.

Modern Sherlock goes back to its Victorian roots. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

Modern Sherlock goes back to its Victorian roots. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

Finally, on New Years Day, Sherlock (BBC1) returns in full Victorian get-up (I told you, no escaping the past this Christmas) as Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman play Holmes and Watson as originally intended, back in 1895. From Freemans impressive moustache and mutton chops to Cumberbatchs silken topper, writers Moffat and Gatiss go for broke if the pictures are anything to go by. This particular festive one-off has been kept in a locked room and closely guarded from prior peaking. So it really will be like opening the last present under the tree. Exciting! The episode is called The Abominable Bride and sees the detective duo in pursuit of an apparent apparition, as a man tells them his recently dead wife has returned to haunt him, wearing her wedding dress. Its snowy, spooky and guaranteed to be as clever as a library.

See you in 2016. x

@JNRaeside

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Written by Julia Raeside

Julia loves TV and writes about it for the Guardian and other people. She also enjoys talking on the radio which she mostly does for the BBC.