Christmas TV guide 2014: Best dramas to watch from Doctor Who and Downton Abbey to Game of Thrones

Tune in for Doctor Who and Mapp and Lucia too this festive period

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The Independent Culture

Most of what is on TV this Christmas will be as unsurprising as someone yelling at someone else in the Queen Vic, but there is some original programming amid the glut of Christmas specials, and even a few things to stretch the over-indulged mind.

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Doctor Who (BBC1)

Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and Nick Frost star in the Doctor Who Christmas Special, Last Christmas

Jenna Coleman’s Clara returns to the bosom of the Tardis and Peter Capaldi’s tetchy Doctor, but is it just (as has been rumoured) for one last, climactic send-off? Of course we wouldn’t and couldn’t tell even if we knew. Suffice to say that it all takes place in the Arctic, Nick Frost plays Father Christmas and Michael Troughton, son of 1960s Time Lord Patrick Troughton, alsofeatures.

Downton Abbey (ITV)

Lady Mary decorates the Christmas tree with her son George

A Downton Christmas special that’s actually set at Christmas for a change, with snow and all that, but which once again sees the Crawley family on the move, this time spending the season with the newly-wed Rose and Atticus (the episode was filmed at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland – the setting for Hogwarts in several of the Harry Potter films). Matthew Goode guest stars, George Clooney won’t, and Tom Branson and Daisy might both leave.

Mapp and Lucia (BBC1)

Anna Chancellor and Miranda Richardson in Mapp And Lucia

Those with cherished memories of the sublime 1980s Channel 4 adaptation of EF Benson’s delicious comedy of interwar small-town snobbery may wish to avoid it, but Steve Pemberton’s new version is still pretty good – with Anna Chancellor and Miranda Richardson as the warring queen bees of Tilling. Pemberton and League of Gentlemen co-star Mark Gatiss also feature.

Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic)

Jon Snow, played by Kit Harington, trains for battle against the wildings at Castle Black

A bit behind with events in Westeros? Why not spend the entire Christmas fortnight there – as Sky Atlantic screens the entire back catalogue, starting on 20th December (they’re calling it the 12 slave of Christmas). Alternatively record it and avoid both being seen as anti-social, and the price of multiple box-sets.


Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death (Sky1)

Adapted from the books of MC Beaton – the Scottish writer also responsible for Hamish Macbeth. Ashley Jensen plays a high-flying London PR whizz who retires to the Cotswolds and becomes an amateur sleuth. An ensemble cast with Hermione Norris, Robert Bathurst  and Matthew Horne should make up for the  unpromising title.

Tubby and Enid (That We Sang) (BBC2)

That rarity, a television musical. Set in 1929, when 250 children travelled to Manchester to record “Nymphs and Shepherds” with the Hallé Orchestra, and in 1969, when a TV documentary reunited two of those children – now lonely, unfulfilled adults – Victoria Wood’s adaptation of her own big-hearted stage hit, That We Sang stars Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball.

Olive Kitteridge (Sky Atlantic)

Fancy something downbeat amidst all the enforced jollity? Frances McDormand gives a remarkably complex performance as the New England maths teacher in HBO’s four-hour adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer-winning collection of short stories.

Playhouse Presents: Marked (Sky Arts 1)

Kiefer Sutherland and Stephen Fry, who appeared together in 24: Live Another Day, reunite for a one-off drama. In the midst of a crisis, downtrodden James (Sutherland) agrees to carry out a hit for his neighbour in return for a large sum of money. And, yes, you can feel a seasonal moral coming on…