Christmas films are fine, but why enjoy something for two hours when you could have it for six, ten or fifty? These are the five best shows for watching at Christmas, either in their entirety or as standalone episodes because they don’t have an overarching plot. No Christmas specials were included so no complaints about Dr.Who!
Terry Pratchett’s TV adaptations are far from perfect; the dialogue loses a lot of its spark in translation, the pacing is sometimes strange, and David Jason is in them far too much. But there’s a lot of good in Hogfather and its follow-up Making Money. Split into two 1.5 hour blocks, Hogfather’s good for taking up a boring drizzly evening. Aside from Jason getting double his deserved screen time, the casting is solid. The sets are pretty, the jokes are normally well delivered, and it’s simple good fun. Making Money is far better, but not as Christmassy, so if you have time, watch them both. If you do watch it, try to have a Discworld fan handy to explain what’s going on; these films compact a lot of plot!
4. Thriller/Hammer House of Horror
In the 1970s and 80s there was a huge expansion in what you were allowed to show on TV, enjoying this in Britain were these exploitative hour long, episodic mini-movies. There are loads of them – far too many to watch over one holiday – but great if you need something that’s so good it’s bad and won’t ruin the Christmas light-heartedness. The Thriller and Hammer House of Horror short films go together because they have a lot in common. Basically, if you like stupid stuff with people killing each other, watch the Thrillers, if you like stupid stuff with monsters killing people, watch the Horrors. Be warned though – for every 20 that wash over you leaving nothing but laughter, there’s one that might stick. For example, the Horror episode The Two Faces of Evil, where a mother and son are hunted down by a demonic replica of their husband/father. It’s all strange silly fun till the mother, after searching for the kid, finds him alive in a barn, hugs him, and then sees her own child’s body over his shoulder.
3. Our Mutual Friend
A Christmas Carol isn’t here because it’s straightforward enough for film rather than television, but Our Mutual Friend has more than enough Dickensian-ness to get you through Christmas. This drama is excellent. There’s class struggling, romance and murder all wrapped around the mysterious death of young high society heir John Harmon. Deep, crowded, moody and dark, it still manages to be heart-warming and even hopeful and stays engrossing from the first episode. While it’s not completely set at Christmas there is a fight to the death on the side of a frozen canal. Maybe not as fun as the rest of this list, Our Mutual Friend is as good as A Christmas Carol, with the bonus of perhaps having an ending you don’t know.
2. M.R. James Adaptations/ Ghost Story for Christmas
The Hammer’s and Thrillers were the silly, crude side of scary Christmas; MR James is the part that’s actually scary. Who doesn’t like to be frightened on long winter nights? Between 1952 and 2010, several ghost stories, mainly by Victorian author M.R. James, with one by Dickens and a couple by more modern writers, have been televised into creepy, hour-long, atmospheric masterpieces. And it is about the atmosphere; 80% of them have the same plot- an isolated academic meddles with something he shouldn’t and pays dearly, but they’re so well made that you don’t even notice. The most famous- 1968’s Whistle and I’ll Come to You, is still considered one of the scariest things ever shown on television, though if I had to I’d recommend The Treasure of Abbot Thomas. Watch them and rewatch them, they are brilliant.
1. Box of Delights
This show defines Christmas. Kay Parker returns home from school to a snow covered South of England, where he quickly discovers that all is not as it seems; dark forces are searching for the Punch and Judy man owner of the mysterious box of delights. Saying any more wouldn’t just spoil the show, it would get confusing. From pagan gods to time travelling philosophers, demons, kidnapped choir boys and car-o-plane-air-o-planes, its unexplainability is matched only by its wonderfulness. A serious, ridiculous, and dangerous quest story, there is just nothing about it not to like. With six hour long episodes, it’s perfect for watching on the week running up to Christmas, especially if you have younger kids or open minded adults around, not because of quality, but because you have to be able to get it.