The Independent's Christmas television guide

iWallace & Gromit, Shooting Stars and The Krypton Factor: some old friends are back on the box, discovers a delighted Rob Sharp

The star of Christmas television this year isn't an overweight man crammed into red pyjamas, though he is as well loved by the British public, and his garb is equally eye-opening.

He sports a pea-green woollen tank top, a red tie, and what appear to be brown slacks topped with an elasticated waist. He is often to be seen with a doe-eyed, beige beagle in tow.

Sound familiar? It should, for this year's Yuletide television schedules are headed up by claymation's favourite character, Wallace, paired up with long-time canine sidekick Gromit. The national treasures make a welcome return to the small screen in A Matter of Loaf and Death on Christmas Day (BBC1, 8.30pm).

This offering sums up the programmers' attitudes to seasonal broadcasting: stick to eel-good sentimentality combined with cockle-warming humour; wheel out the big guns; and sit back and enjoy the results, mince pie in hand.

It's the first Wallace and Gromit project since Aardman's acclaimed 2005 feature film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (also showing on BBC1 on Christmas Day, at 4.30pm), and the pair's first short since A Close Shave in 1995. Wallace (Peter Sallis) and Gromit now run a bakery business. It is called Top Bun, though the characters still land up in a doughy mess. Gromit learns that bakers have been mysteriously disappearing and tries to sniff out the cause before Wallace ends up a victim.

Typical roller-coaster action ensues in the half-hour episode, as Wallace is held prisoner and meets a new love interest, Piella Bakewell, a bread enthusiast, voiced by the former Coronation Street actress Sally Lindsay. The project, one year in production, would have been a hot Oscar tip had it not missed the deadline. Expect typically witty results, not least in Wallace's Heath Robinson-style inventions and screenwriting parodies of the Batman and Aliens blockbuster films .

The same day, also on BBC1, is this year's Doctor Who special. The Next Doctor (BBC1, 6pm), plots how the dimension-bending adventurer (David Tennant) time-travels his way into the path of fellow Time Lord David Morrissey. Like that electronic book you're hankering after for Christmas, details of the plot are under wraps, though the Cybermen are expected to clunk their way back into town. Trivia spot: the episode is the metallic monsters' first appearance in two-and-a-half years. When they faced the show's first doctor, William Hartnell, they came out of the snow. According to Russell T Davies, writing in the Radio Times, this new episode will feature a homage to that original 1963 appearance. It was Davies, of course, who spearheaded Doctor Who's reinvention in 2005.

From one load of celebrity shufflers to another: stay with the terrestrial broadcaster for Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1, 7pm), for three of the series' celebrity successes – Kelly Brook, Alesha Dixon and Jill Halfpenny – pitting their salsas, rumbas and tangos against another three pairs of dancers. Expect jokes from long-time host Bruce Forsyth about Tess Daly's similarities to a "Christmas cracker".

Strictly joins a cornucopia of BBC silliness in the form of a QI Christmas Special (22 December, BBC1, 9pm), with know-it-all talents Rob Brydon, Clive Anderson and Dom Joly appearing alongside host Stephen Fry. On the other side, the mind-body-spirit-crushing game show The Krypton Factor returns to screens for the first time since being axed in 1995 (New Year's Day, ITV1, 7.30pm). Celebrity Big Brother, love it or hate it, will be back early in the new year (2 January, Channel 4, 9pm).

Comedy is a big winner this year. On Christmas Day, both Alan Carr (10.35pm) and Lee Evans (11.40pm) will be shown doing stand-up on Channel 4. The most-recent series of Peep Show is screened in its entirety (E4, 27 December, from 10pm). Also make efforts to join in with All New Shooting Stars (30 December, BBC2, 10pm, for fans of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer's surreal student-beloved brand of humour), as well as the Morecambe and Wise 1975 Christmas Special (Boxing Day, BBC2, 9.30pm), The Royle Family (Christmas Day, BBC1, 9.30pm) and, most importantly, Harry Hill's TV Burp Review of the Year (Boxing Day, ITV1, 7pm). Gavin and Stacey, the critics' favourite comedy show (Christmas Eve, BBC1, 10pm) floats the idea that Gavin (Mathew Horne) might be taking a job back in Cardiff, where Stacey (Joanna Page) comes from.

On the serious drama front, there's the new BBC version of The 39 Steps (28 December, BBC1, 8pm), with Rupert Penry-Jones (Spooks), as the hero Richard Hannay. Many of the features of Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1935 film have been cast aside (for example, his film based on John Buchan's 1915 novel was set between the world wars, whereas this is in the run-up to the First World War, as Buchan had it). Screenwriter Lizzie Mickery, who co-wrote the 2006 TV thriller The State Within, says she's refused to be influenced by earlier versions. "I didn't let myself think about it. I was immediately caught up in the story and I just set off," she said in an interview. "I have added fun and romance, I hope, and a bit of oomph." And the best films? Slim pickings for viewers over 10, but you could do worse than Pan's Labyrinth (22 December, Film 4, 9pm), Con Air (23 December, BBC1, 10.35pm), and The Bridge on the River Kwai (Boxing Day, More4, 6.45pm).

One gripe about the 2008 Christmas schedules: over the BBC's two main channels, there will be 270 hours of re-runs over the two-week season. "While there will be no repeats in peak time on BBC1 on Christmas Day, we are happy to be able to offer viewers the chance to see some of the BBC's best programmes again, and our research shows they really appreciate this," said a BBC spokesperson. Something for everybody, almost. As long as you don't mind that you've probably seen it before.

PRESENTING OUR FESTIVE TELEVISION HIGHLIGHTS...

Five best sitcoms
Gavin and Stacey (Christmas Eve, BBC1, 10pm)
The Royle Family (Christmas Day, BBC1, 9.30pm)
Blackadder Rides Again (Christmas Day, BBC1, 10.30pm)
The IT Crowd (Boxing Day, Channel 4, 9.50pm)
Peep Show (27 December, E4, from 10pm)

Five Best Films
Pan's Labyrinth (22 December, Film4, 9pm)
Con Air (23 December, BBC1, 10.35pm)
The Day after Tomorrow (Boxing Day, Film4, 6.40pm)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (Boxing Day, More4, 6.45pm)
Lions for Lambs (27 December, Sky Movies Premiere, 10.30pm)

Five best specials
Top of the Pops (Christmas Day, BBC1, 2pm)
Doctor Who (Christmas Day, BBC1, 6pm)
Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death (Christmas Day, BBC1, 8.30pm)
Jools's Annual Hootenanny (31 December, BBC2, 10.55pm)
Celebrity Big Brother: Live Launch (2 January, Channel 4, 9pm)

Five best dramas
Coronation Street (Boxing Day, ITV1, 7.30pm & 8.30pm)
The 39 Steps (28 December, BBC1, 8pm)
The Curse of Steptoe (28 December, BBC4, 10.30pm)
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking (29 December, BBC2, 9pm)
Jonathan Creek (New Year's Day, BBC1, 9pm)

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week