Christmas Television: Doctor Who, Fri BBC1
Catherine Tate: Nan's Christmas Carol, Fri BBC1
victoria wood's Midlife Christmas, Thur BBC1
The Story of Slapstick, Sat BBC2

Time Lord's a-leaping

The first episode of the Christmas Doctor Who ended – rather pleasingly – with the Master cloning himself globally, using some intergalactic doohickey to turn everyone on the planet (barring those useful to the plot) into another version of himself. Even Obama turned into the Master, addressing a White House press conference entirely composed of Masters – John Simm's manically cackling features beaming back at us from every corner of the screen. The BBC, meanwhile, was engaged in a plot to do something similar with the actor David Tennant. He was playing the Doctor, naturally – working himself towards a long predicted regeneration on New Year's Day – but he also pitched up as a camp Scottish Ghost of Christmas Present in Catherine Tate's special and as the Prince of Denmark in the television version of the RSC Hamlet on Boxing Day. For some odd reason, he hadn't been offered a cameo role in the Christmas EastEnders or allowed to do a demonstration tango on Strictly Come Dancing Christmas, but I expect these rather elementary errors can be corrected by next year.

This Doctor Who two-parter has been awaited in some quarters with the same anticipatory reverence the Magi brought to that stable in Bethlehem. I am not a believer – as I may have revealed here before – but there some nice jokes in the early section here, including the fact that the Tardis now appears to have a central locking key fob. Unfortunately, whenever they start explaining the plot to each other, often drawing on a comprehensive knowledge of earlier episodes, my mind begins to glaze over. "We see so much but understand so little," said a fretful Ood at one point, worried about the bad dreams he and his fellow Oods. I'm with you there, pal, I thought. And – horribly blasphemous though I know this thought is – I still can't stop myself getting the giggles whenever David Tennant runs anywhere, his lips peeled back as if he's bracing himself for an onslaught by a dental hygienist.

I haven't always been a fan of Catherine Tate's Nan either, admiring the character work but finding the essential joke a little repetitive. But Catherine Tate: Nan's Christmas Carol managed to refresh two overworked franchises simultaneously: Tate's horrible old lady gag and Charles Dickens' snow-dusted morality tale. Nan makes a perfect Scrooge, hideously unseasonal when Uncle Bob Cratchit turned up on a visit from Yorkshire with his queasily cheerful children. She wasn't exactly pleased with the gift they'd given her – a charity donation to the Mobile Library of Sudan. "It's a picture of an Arab man standing next to a donkey with half-a-dozen copies of The Da Vinci Code strapped to its back," she said witheringly on opening the envelope. It's an alternative present, her great-niece explained. "What... alternative to something I wanted?" she snapped back. She demanded ID from the Ghost of Christmas Past and told the Ghost of Christmas Future that his introductory video was rubbish. Offered the chance to change the future after her admonitory vision of a loveless old age and lonely funeral, the first thing she asked was, "Could they bring back Lovejoy... I do love it."

Victoria Wood, God bless her, had a crack at Lark Rise to Candleford in her Christmas Eve special, Victoria Wood's Midlife Christmas, packaged and presented as a kindly gift to middle-aged couch potatoes. The target was a whale in a barrel, frankly, but there were still some fine jokes, including the scene in which Cranchesterford's teenagers exchanged embroidery text messages, stitching like fury and then handing the frame over to a nearby urchin to deliver. There were also some terrible jokes, though knowingly and lovingly handcrafted to be terrible, so that it didn't matter. Given its content, the line "I could have been a corn tender", uttered by the family paterfamilias when he wistfully recalled his unfulfilled ambition to go into the seed trade, was surely an unbeatable candidate for corniest gag of the Christmas break. Julie Walters was on good form too as Bo Beaumont, fruitlessly struggling to build public presence after years of playing Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques. She walked out of Strictly Come Dancing because she couldn't master the three-step warm-up Anton du Beke tried to teach her, was passed over for a new Delia series because her signature dish – crackermole, a sardine on a Tuc cracker – didn't appeal, and pulled out of Who Do You Think You Are? when it becomes clear that she was going to have to reveal her true name and date of birth.

The Story of Slapstick began by being mildly diverting (good clips of Chaplin and Buster Keaton) but got more and more infuriating as it proceeded, undone by feeble apercus from its contributors ("Tears and laughter are very close" – Nicholas Parsons) and transparently wrong-headed cultural generalisations in the script ("We can't get enough of silent comedy these days." Eh?) By the end, I wanted to smack it in the face with a giant frying pan.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk