From 'Doctor Who' to 'Peep Show': 5 of the greatest Christmas television episodes
We tune into TV’s past to pick festive episodes to entertain your family this year
When the time comes to sit around the TV with your family on Wednesday, December 25, the odds are that, after many, many arguments, you’ll decide to watch a movie. That’s understandable. Not only are there several decades worth of cinematic Christmas shenanigans to pick from, but every year it seems as though at least half a dozen new festive films are added to the genre.
But if you’re looking for shorter TV entertainment, most of your favourite shows have Christmas episodes that rival the big-screen offerings. But which ones should you prioritise? There are plenty, but if you’re after a little inspiration to help you along the way, here’s our pick, handily divided into subgenres.
Festive sci-fi: ‘The Twilight Zone: The Night of the Meek’
While several recent sci-fi series have added a festive aspect to episodes for broadcast at this time of year, with superb results, when it comes to those that all the family can enjoy, especially grandparents, there really is only one winner: The Night of the Meek.
Originally shown on TV in 1960, the story centres on a department store Santa, played by Art Carney, who won an Oscar for his performance in 1974 film Harry and Tonto. In his appearance in The Twilight Zone, Carney’s character makes a wish on Christmas Eve for the meek to inherit the Earth. Soon afterwards, he finds a magical bag that mysteriously produces any gift that is asked for.
If you want to follow this up with more modern viewing, check out the Black Mirror episode White Christmas (2014), The League Of Gentlemen’s 2000 Christmas show Yule Never Leave! and 1998’s How The Ghost Stole Christmas, which is one of most underrated episodes of The X-Files.
Festive family-friendly: ‘Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol’
There’s no denying that Doctor Who could, and probably should, be included in the category above. However, since its relaunch in 2005, watching the famous show’s Christmas episodes have become such a tradition for families across the world that it feels right to mention it here instead. That is especially because the only real rivals for this crown are The Great British Bake-Off’s festive shows, The Vicar of Dibley, a relatively amusing British show starring Dawn French, or Morecambe and Wise’s numerous seasonal sketches from yesteryear, which are always good to fall asleep to.
With 13 previous Doctor Who Christmas shows to pick from, the major choice is not whether to watch one but which one to select. The show’s take on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is the best and most enthralling choice, especially because it also stars Michael Gambon in the Scrooge role, but other episodes such as Last Christmas, The Snowmen, The Runaway Bride, The Christmas Invasion and Voyage of the Damned are all incredibly watchable, too. Your best bet is probably to put them all on back-to-back and have them playing all day long.
Festive drama: ‘The West Wing: Noel’
When it comes to watching dramatic shows it obviously helps if you’re already a fan. That being said, it usually doesn’t take too long to get up to speed with what’s going on and who’s who. That means every member of your family should easily be able to enjoy The O C’s The Best Chrismukkah Ever, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Amends and Orange is the New Black’s Can’t Fix Crazy and be fine, although Lost’s The Constant is probably a bit of a stretch.
However, the clear winner in this category is Noel from the season two of The West Wing, which even though it ties into the end of the first, and opening episodes of the second, basically unfolds as a 43-minute play, giving you enough information to be enthralled regardless of whether you’ve seen the show before.
Festive comedy: ‘Peep Show: Seasonal Beatings’
Now, this is a category in which you have several options to pick from.
Any great comedy worth its salt has made a Christmas episode. Popular series such as 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Friends, Parks and Recreation, Seinfeld, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Black-ish, Fresh off the Boat, both the US and UK versions of The Office, as well as British shows Gavin and Stacey, Blackadder and Only Fools and Horses all have. The pivotal stories told by these shows during the festive season have even proven to be some of the most popular episodes of their entire runs.
But when it comes to genuinely depicting the anticipation and frustration that goes into the sometimes joyful but mostly exhausting ritual that is Christmas Day, the only choice is Peep Show episode Seasonal Beatings.
Peep Show, which stars David Mitchell as Mark and Robert Webb as Jeremy, kept fans waiting for seven seasons until it made a Christmas special, but watching Mark struggle to contend with hosting dinner for the first time, before unravelling to the point that he ruins his relationships with everyone in attendance, more than made it worthwhile.
Festive animation: ‘Father Christmas’
Animators love little more than creating a winter wonderland. For American readers, the most famous cartoon creation depicting the season is probably 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, although The Simpsons premiere, Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire, now runs close. They’ve been followed by two classic and rather twisted festive South Park shows, while BoJack Horseman and Futurama also made episodes that deserve your attention. The appeal of making an animated Christmas programme is so strong that even live-action sitcom Community dived into the subgenre in season two.
However, the quintessential Christmas animation remains the adaptation of Raymond Briggs’s 1973 book Father Christmas, which features the irreplaceable vocal talents of Mel Smith in the titular role and shows us what a grumpier than usual Santa gets up to during the rest of the year in a hilarious and undeniably crowd-pleasing manner.
Updated: December 22, 2019 07:30 PM