Christmas is nearly upon us. That means Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, Sherlock, the final Harry Potter films and all the other must-see events of the festive season. But look a little deeper and there are plenty of hidden gems which are worth seeking out. Here are my top ten.
1. Diva central
Shown as a Thanksgiving special in the US, The Muppets and Lady Gaga at Christmas may be little more than a thinly veiled promotional video, but it does team the planet’s wackiest pop star with its wackiest puppets and special guests including the biggest diva of them all, Elton John. What more could you possibly ask for? (Sunday 22nd, 5.)
2. Rockin’ around the Christmas tree
As a nostalgic alternative, how about the TOTP2 Christmas Special, with its familiar playlist of Wham, Cliff Richard and The Pogues? All together now: ‘And the boys of the NYPD choir, still singing Galway Bay …’ (Sunday 22nd, BBC1.)
3, 4 & 5. Boxset marathons
Christmas is a time for gorging on classic films, and they don’t come much better than this trilogy of trilogies.
Let’s start with Toy Story, three slices of animated perfection with genuine heart that will appeal to kids aged 5-85. (Monday 23rd, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, BBC1.)
Boxing Day sees the Lord of the Rings trilogy back-to-back-to-back on Sky Movies Greats – all nine-plus hours of it!
And if that hasn’t finished you off, revel in the adventures of Doc Brown and Marty McFly in the Back to the Future films. (Friday 27th, Sky Movies Greats.)
6. Exercising the grey matter
It’s the series final of the fiendishly tough quiz Only Connect, which is regularly the most viewed programme on BBC4. See what all the fuss is about before it ups sticks to BBC2.
Here’s the 2013 Comic Relief special featuring host Victoria Coren’s husband David Mitchell.
7. & 8. Getting ready for Sherlock
Ahead of series three of Sherlock, from Christmas Eve Sky Living are showing series one of Elementary, the modern US take on Holmes and Watson. This quirky version stars the very British Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and the neither British nor male Lucy Liu as Dr Joan Watson. Against all expectations, it’s really rather good.
And if you want to watch the ‘real’ Sherlock in action, series one is being shown by Alibi on three consecutive nights from Boxing Day, culminating in the first nail-biting confrontation between Sherlock and Moriarty.
9. The alternative Christmas movie
Much though I love a soppy, schmaltzy Christmas movie, I can only take so much. Die Hard 2 is the perfect antidote. What more could you ask for? Snow, explosions, gunfights and Bruce Willis cracking one-liners galore. Yippee-ki-yay! (Christmas Eve, E4.)
10. The Doctor Who prequel (sort of)
This classic Vicar of Dibley from 1996 is not only one of the better Christmas specials but also features appearances by both Orla Brady, who features as Tasha Lem in the Christmas Day Doctor Who, and new Doctor Peter Capaldi (from 5:45 in the clip below). (Christmas Day, BBC1.)