Rhiannon Harries: Christmas TV is best when it's out with the new and in with the old

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The Independent Online

As traditional Christmas stories go, it's not quite up there with the Nativity, but when the BBC announces its schedules each December, you can rely on a nearly identical sequence of events. This month, the tale has panned out predictably once more, with lots of griping over the number of repeats – a whopping-sounding 600 hours of them. It's almost as familiar as Del Boy falling through the bar in Only Fools and Horses, which we'll no doubt be seeing for the nth time at some point over the coming weeks.

I'm with the Beeb on this one, though. If anything, there's been too much new stuff on TV this year. I could make do with some vintage Doctor Who (never got the David Tennant thing, sorry). And since the various instalments of the Pirates of the Caribbean films (Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, below) are more or less indistinguishable, they could have definitely got away with repeating whichever one was on last year to save a few more quid.

Christmas has a strange power to make reactionaries of us all, and novelty during the festive period should be reserved for battery-operated hamsters and their ilk. Elsewhere, mindless repetition is a tradition to be observed at all cost. (Why else would so many people who never ordinarily set foot inside a church, and even atheists like me, be celebrating at all?)

Family estrangements have nearly taken place over people making crazy, dangerous changes to the familiar routine – swapping real trees for fake, binning tattered decorations, giving roast lamb a whirl instead of turkey. My sister cried when she arrived home one year to find I had given our Christmas lunch a Mediterranean make-over.

The same rules apply to television. A Christmas special of an established fave is about as maverick as things should get. Besides, in my experience, the combined effects of food, alcohol and too many bodies crammed on to the three-piece suite will ensure you snooze through at least 50 per cent of your viewing, so any portion of the licence fee spent on high-quality original drama ought to be saved for a time of year when people stand a chance of actually seeing it. The Guns of Navarone – now that's a film to sleep through. Way to go, BBC2!

Rituals are few and far between for most of us. Thanks to global warming, even the seasons no longer provide reliable annual events in the natural world, so it's understandable that we should be so attached to certain constants in our lives – even if they do come in the unlikely forms of Captain Mainwaring and Casablanca.