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The best Christmas TV in 2019, from the Gavin and Stacey special to Derry Girls on Great British Bake Off

The i logo The i 03/12/2019
Joanna Page, Mathew Horne, James Corden, Ruth Jones, Alison Steadman, Rob Brydon, Larry Lamb sitting at a table © Provided by The i

Christmas means two things in my house: an endless supply of pigs in blankets and the TV is constantly on. Often the schedules are chock-a-block with reruns of old specials and films you’ve seen a hundred times already, but if you look hard enough there are some real gems to be found.

2019 will be no different, with the BBC, ITV, Netflix, Channel 4 and Channel 5 all broadcasting brand new dramas, comedy specials, documentaries, family programmes and culture must-sees.

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Here’s what not to miss on TV this Christmas and New Year.

Drama

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Danish actor Claes Bang plays Dracula alongside John Heffernan and Joanna Scanlan (Photo: BBC)

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Dracula, BBC One

Sherlock creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat delve into Bram Stoker’s classic vampiric novel with their latest limited series. Danish actor Claes Bang plays the eponymous vampire as he plans to destroy Victorian England and suck the life out of its inhabitants. Promising to be scary and a little gory, Dracula isn’t the most obvious choice of story for the most wonderful time of the year but with two television geniuses at the helm we can be sure it’ll live up to expectations.

Martin’s Close, BBC Four

Peter Capaldi’s first TV role since Doctor Who sees him take on a spooky ghost story based on one of M.R. James’ tales from his 1911 collection More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. Directed by Sherlock creator Mark Gatiss, the half-hour standalone episode follows the murder trial of a man accused of killing a young girl with whom he had ‘an affair’. Questions arise over the case when sightings of the girl are reported - after she had been apparently murdered.

The Small Hand, Channel 5

Another spooky offering comes from a two hour long Susan Hill adaption, the first since Woman In Black was turned into a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe in 2012. Featuring another creepy young child, The Small Hand is a classic haunting tale focusing on an antique book dealer whose childhood secrets encourage a series of increasingly sinister series of ghostly visits.

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Line Of Duty's Stephen Graham stars as Scrooge's old business partner Jacob Marley in the BBC's A Christmas Carol (Photo: BBC)

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A Christmas Carol, BBC One

Christmas TV would be amiss without a Charles Dickens adaptation and this year the BBC have taken on the most revered of festive tales. Created by Peaky Blinders mastermind Steven Knight alongside Tom Hardy, A Christmas Carol promises to be a darker, grittier take on Scrooge and his neuroses, with Guy Pearce taking the lead role. He’s joined by a stellar cast of British talent, including Andy Serkis and Stephen Graham as the paranormal spirits who come knocking on Christmas Eve.

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Sticks and Stones, ITV

Mike Bartlett (writer of Doctor Foster) turns his attention to the workplace in his latest drama, telling a story of office bullying and the “competitive world of middle management”. If this sounds like your life, you won’t want to miss this paranoia-inducing thriller which hangs our increasingly competitive work culture out to dry.

The Trial of Christine Keeler, BBC One

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The BBC flips the Profumo Affair on its head, placing 19-year-old Christine Keeler - the woman Secretary of State John Profumo has an extra-marital relationship with - at the heart of the story. Keeler is played by Sophie Cookson, best known from the Kingsman franchise, who portrays the ‘misunderstood’ young woman as ‘complex and vivid’. Ben Miles (The Crown) takes on the role of the disgraced Profumo.

Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh standing next to a man in a suit and tie © Provided by The i

Superman actor Henry Cavill plays monster hunter Geralt in The Witcher (Photo: Netflix)

The Witcher, Netflix

Don’t let the fact that this is a show based on a video game put you off, because The Witcher is so much more than combat and quests. Henry Cavill (best known as Superman in Man of Steel) plays solitary monster hunter Geralt whose destiny thrusts him on a path across the Continent alongside a powerful sorceress and a young princess with a dangerous secret. Get ready for this to become ‘the new Game of Thrones’.

Bancroft, ITV

December sees Sarah Parish return as the eponymous Elizabeth Bancroft, the murderous detective with shady connections to a cold case. In the last episode we saw her shoot her suspicious colleague DS Stevens, but much to Bancroft’s dismay, she survived. Now the repercussions of her questionable actions are coming back to haunt her and entertain us.

You, Netflix

Last Boxing Day saw the first series of You drop on Netflix without much fanfare but became a hit nonetheless thanks to lead actor Penn Badgeley’s creepy stalker antics as Joe Goldberg. This year the series returns not to New York, but to LA where serial killer Joe moves to seek out new victims. Binge the first 10 episodes now in time for the 26th.

Comedy

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Nessa and Bryn serenade the Shipmans and Wests in the much anticipated return of Gavin and Stacey (Photo: BBC)

Gavin and Stacey Christmas special, BBC One

Fans of Ruth Wilson and James Corden’s much-loved sitcom have been waiting for its return since it left screens our screens in 2010 and this Christmas Day Nessa and Smithy are finally back. The hour-long special sees the Shipmans travel to Barry for the festivities, where Bryn has taken it upon himself to cook dinner for the whole gang. As you can imagine, it doesn’t exactly go to plan.

Miranda: My Such Fun Celebration, BBC One

Another long-gone sitcom returns for a one-off special this Christmas as comedian Miranda Hart brings back her semi-autobiographical alter-ego back to the BBC. Rather than a scripted episode, this is a celebration of all things Miranda filmed in the iconic London Palladium.

The Christmas Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan, BBC Two

Romesh Ranganathan’s second Christmas special of his comedic travel show takes him to the Sahara desert after making the BBC promise they wouldn’t make him go anywhere cold (last year’s edition saw him freeze in the Arctic). Guided by a local berber, Bobo, Ranganathan travels across the vast and beautiful landscape - in blistering 50 degree heat.

Joe Sugg et al. wearing costumes © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd

Dame Edna rocks out with funk legend Nile Rogers as she emerges from retirement in Dame Edna Rules The Waves (Photo: BBC)

Dame Edna Rules The Waves, BBC One

In the world of entertainment, a farewell tour never really means goodbye. With that in mind, we welcome Dame Edna back from retirement which she’s been spending aboard a luxury yacht. Filmed in front of a live studio audience, Mrs Everage has invited celebrity pals Sharon Osborne, Nile Rogers and last year’s Strictly contestant Joe Sugg on deck for a raucous night of entertainment.

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The Goes Wrong Show, BBC One

From the company that brought the The Play That Goes Wrong to the West End comes this six-part series with each episode acting as a self-contained play. Staged by the fictional and entirely hopeless Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, each production ends in disaster thanks to unbridled egos, dodgy props and a whole lot of over-acting.

Paul Hollywood, Sandi Toksvig, Prue Leith, Noel Fielding posing for the camera © Provided by The i

Frankie Boyle's New World Order 2019, BBC Two

Frankie Boyle’s prosaic comedy takes stock of the year gone by with the help of a line-up of equally funny guests. There’ll be the usual sarcasm, quick wit and a lot of swearing as Boyle runs through 2019’s highlights and lowlights - expect a lot of Brexit content.

Jack Whitehall attempts to get his father into the festive spirit (Photo: Netflix)

Jack Whitehall: Christmas With My Father, Netflix

There are two things Jack Whitehall is known for: being posh and having a dad. This festive special is a spin-off to the comedian’s rather successful Netflix series Travels With My Father, which sees the pair travel around the world annoying each other. Unlike their regular show, however, this Christmas edition is much more static, having been filmed at the London Palladium.

Not Going Out Christmas Special, BBC One

Lee Mack’s sitcom has been running for an impressive 13 years and has been commissioned for another three series, so it’s no surprise that it's become a regular on the Christmas TV schedules. This year’s shenanigans sees Lee and Lucy (Sally Bretton) on an unplanned trip out to the country featuring a giant inflatable Santa, an aggressive bull in a field and a terrifying truck driver.

In The Long Run: Christmas Special, Sky One

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Idris Elba and Bill Bailey return to their Sky sitcom for a Christmas special following the second instalment of In The Long Run earlier this year. Unsurprisingly, Walter (Elba) is obsessed with the festive period and takes it upon himself to host a party for his family. In classic sitcom style, it doesn’t go quite to plan as the extended Easmon turn up - and Bagpipes (Bailey) of course.

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In The Long Run's Christmas special sees Walter throw a festive party to disastrous ends (Photo: Sky)

Would I Lie To You at Christmas, BBC One

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Liz Bonnin and Stephen Merchant join David Mitchell’s team while Lee Mack is teamed up with Sharon Osbourne and Dr Ranj Singh in this game of lying. Each tall tale or truth has a Christmassy theme of course, and a supposedly “stellar” line-up of celebs are expected to pop up and have a go at telling their own fibs.

Mrs Brown’s Boys, BBC One

There are not one but two Christmas specials of Mrs Brown’s Boys to look forward to this year. In the first, titled A Wonderful Mammy, an angel visits Agnes to grant her every wish which she decides will be a good opportunity to find out what her family’s life would be like if she was never born. There’s also Orange is the New Mammy (a play on Netflix’s prison drama Orange is the New Black), which sees a potentially dangerous criminal returning to Finglas.

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Family

Giles Coren, Heston Blumenthal are posing for a picture © Provided by The i

The Doctor and her gang return for series 12 after a year-long break (Photo: BBC)

Doctor Who, BBC One

The Doctor and her companions last graced our screens all the way back on New Years Day, and fans have been waiting for a full series ever since. Now the BBC have promised Jodie Whittaker will return to her legendary role for series 12 on 1 January alongside her regular co-stars Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole. It’s going to be a starry affair too, with Stephen Fry and Sir Lenny Henry set to make guest appearances and the promise of some iconic Doctor Who monsters.

Worzel Gummidge, BBC One

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Mackenzie Crook becomes the iconic scarecrow for a new two-parter on the BBC, which he also wrote. His root vegetable-based take on Worzel looks miles away from John Pertwee’s 70s ITV character, but will hopefully retain some of the strange appeal of the original. Aimed at a younger audience (and their nostalgic parents) the episodes have a subtle environmentalist message as Worzel and his friends attempt to reinstate the four seasons.

The Tiger Who Came To Tea, Channel 4

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Beloved children’s author Judith Kerr passed away in 2019, and what better way to commemorate her work than with an animated version of her best known story. The voice cast is a star-studded affair, with Benedict Cumberbatch, David Oyelowo and Tamsin Greig all included alongside David Walliams and Paul Whitehouse. As for the main (human) character Sophie, she’ll be voiced by newcomer Clara Ross who is just seven-years-old - not a bad first gig.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea boasts a starry cast including David Oyelowo, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tamsin Greig (Photo: Channel 4)

The Snail and the Whale, BBC One

Rob Brydon might be reprising his role as Bryn West in the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special, but that’s not the only time you’ll hear his Welsh lilt over the festive period. He plays Whale in this adaption of children’s storybook The Snail and The Whale by the creators of The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. With Oscar-nominee Sally Hawkins taking on the voice of Snail, this animation of friendship and the wonders of the planet promises to be an instant classic.

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Cinderella: After Ever After, Sky One

What happened to Cinderella after she slotted her foot into that glass slipper and married her Prince Charming? Well this Christmas we’ll find out thanks to Sian Gibson and David Walliams who star as the fairytale couple in this pantomime-esque family comedy. The show promises twists galore, but we do know that it will see Cinders attempt to rescue her father (Sir Tom Courtenay) from the clutches of her evil stepmother (Celia Imrie).

Mimi and the Mountain Dragon, BBC One

Another classic children’s book adaption comes from Micheal Morpurgo’s Mimi and the Mountain Dragon. Introduced by the author himself and accompanied by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra led by Oscar-winning composer Rachel Portman, this gorgeously animated film follows a little girl who is determined to return a baby dragon to its mother, battling through a winter blizzard. If it’s a touching family friendly movie you’re after this Christmas, then this is the one for you.

Entertainment

Strictly's Christmas special will see last year's contestant Joe Sugg return to the floor with partner Diane Buswell (Photo: BBC)

Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special, BBC One

There’s only one week left of Strictly 2019, but at least there’s still the annual Christmas do to look forward to and it’s shaping up to be a couple’s special. Last year’s breakout star Joe Sugg will take to the floor with his professional dancer girlfriend Diane Buswell, while 2017’s lovebirds actor Gemma Atkinson and Strictly pro Gorka Marquez will also dance together. Other returning contestants include Debbie McGee, Mark Wright, Richard Arnold and Chizzy Akudolu.

​Dancing on Ice at Christmas, ITV

Ahead of the official start of the twelfth series of Dancing On Ice, past contestants are set to grace the ice for this one off festive skate. Towie star Gemma Collins who competed in 2019 will return alongside former winners The X Factor’s Ray Quinn and Jake Quickenden.

A Berry Royal Christmas, BBC One

Mary Berry invites none other than Prince William and Kate Middleton to visit the UK’s charities, where hardworking volunteers will be busy all Christmas. Along with the Royals, Mary will bake some mouth wateringly delicious treats and lay on a feast for those who deserve them most.

The Duchess of Cambridge joins ex-GBBO judge Mary Berry to help feed hundreds of volunteers this Christmas (Photo: BBC One)

Kylie’s Secret Night, Channel 4

TV commissioners have gone music-mad this Christmas but Channel 4 may well have won the unofficial contest with their evening with Kylie Minogue. Presented by Alan Carr, Kylie’s Secret Night is more variety show than concert, with undercover skits, undercover surprises, gifts galore and a revealing chat with the pop princess herself.

Take Off With Bradley and Holly, BBC One

Bradley Walsh and Holly Willoughby are in the business of making dreams come true this Christmas, offering a pair of lucky audience members the trip of a lifetime to Lapland. With these two cheeky presenters at the helm, Take Off promises to be chock full of surprises, off-the-wall games and endless festive cheer.

The Great Christmas Bake Off, Channel 4

Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith summon past bakers back to the tent to challenge them to a series of festive bakes. It’s a 2017 vs 2018 affair with Tom and Yan taking on Briony and Terry but in the end only one of them will take home the coveted title of Christmas Star Baker. Later in the month there’ll be another Bake Off special, with the cast of Derry Girls trying their hand at New Year bakes.

Paul, Prue, Sandi and Noel will front two festive Bake Off specials (Photo: Love Production/Channel 4)

The X Factor: The Band, ITV

Shocked into action by the announcement of Little Mix’s upcoming musical talent show, Simon Cowell brought transmission of this X Factor spin-off forward so as not to be outdone by his former proteges. With the original series creating bands as successful as One Direction and, er, Jedward, this reincarnation will see individuals audition to be thrust into a group to become the world’s Next Big Thing.

Richard Osman’s World Cup of the Decade, Channel 4

If anyone is qualified to determine which TV show, film, song and celebrity is the best of the last ten years, it’s brainiac Richard Osman. Osman will use a World Cup-esque strategy to determine the culture-defining moments of the decade on Twitter before he is joined by the obligatory conveyor belt of celebrity guests in this 90-minute special to determine the ultimate winners.

It’s Not The Robbie Williams Christmas Show, ITV

Despite whatever Robbie wants us to think, this is a Christmas show, especially since essentially it’s a promotional vehicle for his festive album ‘The Christmas Present’. Filmed in London’s Alexandra Palace Theatre, this apparently ‘dazzling’ evening of music and entertainment will get you in a merry mood - as long as you’re a fan of Christmas songs and the ex-Take That crooner, of course.

Robbie Williams hosts a Christmas extravaganza on ITV (Photo: ITV)

The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show, Amazon Prime Video

Country popstar Kacey Musgraves is another music star with a Christmas offering in 2019, with her special already available to stream on Amazon. There’s the usual combination of new and old singalongs but Musgraves also gets by with a little help from her famous friends too - namely Camila Cabello, James Corden, Lana Del Rey, ‘Kacey’s actual nana’ and most confusingly, Kendall Jenner.

Ball & Boe: A Very Merry Christmas, ITV

If you haven’t seen the adverts for Michael Ball and Alfie Boe’s new album of duets, you don’t watch as much TV as the rest of the nation. In yet another musical special, the pair bring a dose of classical festive cheer to the schedules and perform with some genuine legends including Dame Shirley Bassey and Gregory Porter.

Documentaries

Stephen Fry makes an appearance on the BBC's documentary dedicated to Paddington creator Michael Bond (Photo: BBC)

A Bear Called Paddington and a Man Called Michael, BBC Two

Paddington might be the famous one, especially after the success of the two recent animated movies starring the bear, but he’d be nothing without his creator Michael Bond. In this seemingly overdue documentary, we’ll learn how Paddington was born out of the strife of WWII as well as how he wasn’t the only creation Bond produced.

The Last Igloo, BBC Four

As climate change (read: humans) continues to melt the Earth’s polar ice caps, igloos - and the indigenous cultures that build them - are becoming more and more elusive. This documentary not only charts the plight of the ice structures, but also gives an insight into how Inuit tribes survive as cameras follow a hunter for the day, showing him fishing, dog sledding and, of course, building an igloo.

Gareth Malone’s Christmas Concert, BBC Two

If you don’t mind shedding a few tears over Christmas, then make sure you catch TV’s premier choirmaster Gareth Malone’s new project. This year he’s set his sights on Watford General Hospital, where NHS staff will spend the festive period working away from their families. Over the course of a couple of weeks, Gareth enlists their colleagues, patients and relatives to create a heartwarming performance to bring some festive cheer to a busy working day.

Gareth Malone is on a mission to entertain the NHS staff who will be working across Christmas (Photo: BBC)

Coronation Street at Christmas, ITV

Whether it’s a new baby, a wedding, a heartbreaking break-up or an obligatorily dramatic death, Weatherfield’s cobbles have never been short of drama during what is supposed to be a time for peace and love. Former cast member Sue Johnston (she played Gloria Price from 2012 to 2014) narrates a retrospective at Corrie’s most memorable Christmases in it’s 60 year history.

Snow Cats & Me, BBC Two

Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan arguably has the best job in the world, and it gets even better when he travels to Russia to rescue and rehabilitate a group of beautiful lynx from the far too active fur trade. Along with cat expert Dr Victor Lukarevsky, he is tasked with repairing the psychological and physical wounds of rescued lynx so they can be released back into the wild, as well as train domesticated cats that were kept as pets how to survive on their own.

Hugh Grant: A Life On Screen, BBC Two

It was 1994 when British actor Hugh Grant played Charles in Four Weddings and a Funeral and launched his career into the stratosphere. In this special retrospective the man himself looks back at his most iconic roles, from the dastardly Daniel Cleaver in the Bridget Jones films to his surprise turn as bad guy Phoenix Buchanan in the widely acclaimed Paddington 2. Look out for input from his Hollywood pals Andie MacDowell, Richard Curtis, Sandra Bullock, Colin Firth and Nicholas Hoult.

Superstar actor Hugh Grant looks back on his career for a new documentary (Photo: BBC)

Three Identical Strangers, Channel 4

When Robert Shafran, Edward Galland and David Kellman were 19 they discovered they were identical triplets separated at birth completely by chance. This Bafta-nominated feature length documentary makes another appearance on Channel 4 in time for Christmas, but thanks to the disturbing secret the triplets’ investigations uncover, it’s not exactly the most festive of watches.

Dragon’s Den: Pitches to Riches, BBC Two

Presenter Angela Scanlon revisits some of Dragon’s Den’s most impressive success stories to find out how the investments launched them into the world of business. The dragons themselves are also along for the ride as they rewatch their most cringeworthy moments and reveal whether they regret any of their decisions not to part with their cash.

Eat The Years, BBC Two

Giles Coren presents this documentary made for (recent) history buffs and food lovers alike, as he challenges celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal to take his restaurant The Fat Duck back to 2001. It was apparently a pivotal time for the Michelen starred bistro and this programme will see him revisit it complete with celebrity guests of yore and a menu fit for the millenium.

Heston Blumenthal takes his Michelin starred restaurant back to 2001 in Eat The Years (Photo: BBC)

A Merry Tudor Christmas with Lucy Worsley, BBC Two

Another trip back in time sees Lucy Worsley celebrate Christmas like the Tudors, complete with a feast cooked in the kitchens of Hampton Court Palace and a grand total of 12 days of merriment. If you’re queasy about watching someone cook up and then eat the head of a boar, maybe give this one a miss.

Charles I: Death of a King, BBC Four

Picking up where Charles I: Downfall of a King left off, this new three-part documentary series takes a look at the monarch’s final days before he was executed in January 1649. At the heart of the story is one question: was it a cataclysmic mistake to execute the king, or was it the only way to deal with a tyrant?

Culture

Mark Gatiss traces the history of Dracula and attempts to understand why pop culture keeps returning to the vampire (Photo: BBC)

In Search Of Dracula, BBC Two

As a companion piece to BBC One’s dramatic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, executive producer and writer of the series Mark Gatiss fronts this documentary following the world’s most famous vampire from page to screen. Starting at the Slovakian Orava Castle made famous by 1922 movie Nosferatu, Gatiss finds himself travelling to the British Library and Philadelphia as well as meeting actors who have played the Count in an effort to understand why the character is so popular.

Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words, BBC Two

The BBC and The Royal Ballet have teamed up to create this spectacular take on Shakespeare’s well-known tragedy combining ballet, theatre, film and music. A young cast of dancers perform Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s original choreography on location accompanied by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House’s rendition of Prokofiev’s enchanting score.

Les Miserables 25th Anniversary, Sky Arts

In 2010 an all-star cast performed Les Miserables to a sold-out crowd at London’s O2 Arena. This Christmas, Sky Arts are giving you the chance to relive the magic of the special anniversary shows starring Nick Jonas, Matt Lucas, Lea Salonga, and Alfie Boe - a treat for those who are more familiar with the Hollywood film version released two years later.

Sky Arts celebrates the 25th anniversary of Les Miserables in 2010 (Photo: Sky)

Liam Gallagher: As It Was, BBC Two

The younger Gallagher brother is the central subject of this feature-length film released earlier this year. From the dizzy heights of Oasis’ success to the plummeting lows of drinking and endless legal battles, As It Was is a forgiving look at one of rock and roll’s most outspoken characters as he plans his comeback as a solo artist.

The Magic Flute, BBC Four

Recorded at this year’s Glyndebourne Festival, opera fans shouldn’t miss this staging of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Barbe & Doucet are on directing and designing duty, while the score is provided by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment led by conductor Ryan Wigglesworth.

Celebrity Portrait Artist of the Year 2019, Sky Arts

Mark Gatiss has been a busy man in the lead up to Christmas - as well as creating Dracula and fronting a documentary about the vampire, he’s also one of the celebrities taking part in this year’s celebrity painting competition. He’s joined by comedian Jenny Eclair, actor James Fleet, Strictly dropout Anneka Rice and star of Judy Fenella Woolga.

Mark Gatiss appears again this Christmas, this time on Celebrity Portrait Artist of the Year (Photo: Sky)

Dolly Parton: Here I Am, BBC Two

Country superstar Dolly Parton is more candid and authentic than ever before in this feature-length documentary from Bafta-winning Francis Whately. She opens up about feminism, her most personal lyrics and her 50-year career, making this a must-watch for anyone who calls themselves not only a fan of Dolly, but music in general.

The Decade the Music Died, Sky Arts

The 2010s have been a boom time for music, but we’ve also lost some of the greatest stars the world has ever produced. This documentary remembers those no longer around to recall their masterpieces themselves including Amy Winehouse, David Bowie, Prince, Whitney Houston and George Michael. Quite a list, indeed.

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