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
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all