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
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