‘Tis the season to snuggle up and enjoy some festive TV courtesy of Dr Who, Call the Midwife and The Repair Shop.
Anne – Sunday, STV, 9pm
Maxine Peake stars as the late Hillsborough activist Anne Williams in this devastating drama. Anne’s teenage son Kevin was among the 97 people killed during the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. Her tireless campaign for justice was instrumental in exposing the gross negligence and misconduct of the police, as well as the disgusting lies spread by tabloid rags such as The Sun. Episode one, while sensitively handled, is difficult to watch at times. How could it be anything else? It captures the rising panic and raw anguish of those who lost their loved ones that day. Compassionate, angry and respectful, Anne is an important piece of television; a lingering document of a terrible tragedy and national disgrace.
Doctor Who – New Year’s Day, BBC One, 7pm
The most recent series of Chris Chibnall’s Doctor Who made no sense whatsoever, but it was a sporadically enjoyable mess. An ambitious folly of sorts. This festive special, however, will hopefully achieve its basic crowd-pleasing requirements: telling a competently-executed standalone story within the space of an hour. Is that too much to ask, even from a journeyman such as Chibnall? I’m nothing if not an eternal optimist. Details at the time of writing were very thin on the ground, but what we do know is this: the Daleks turn up on a contemporary New Year’s Earth Eve and Aisling Bea guest stars as the owner of a storage unit trapped in a time-loop.
Call the Midwife – Sunday, BBC One, 8pm
The latest series of this Sunday stalwart begins at Easter 1967, which hopefully means we’re going to get a hippie-strewn summer of love special at some point soon. And that could be quite something. This episode involves the discovery of some infant human remains, an elderly patient with dementia, the potentially fatal dangers of smoking and Sandie Shaw’s bid for Eurovision Song Contest glory. There is nothing else quite like Call the Midwife on television. Its weekly blend of earned sentimentality and unrelenting bleakness is truly unique. That may sound like a backhanded compliment, but I mean it most sincerely folks. It cleaves to a proven formula with such deft assurance, I always fall at its feet.
Toast of Tinseltown – Tuesday, BBC Two, 10pm
Major changes are afoot for pompous ham actor Steven Toast. Not only has he left his old Soho haunts behind for a new career in Hollywood, he’s made a bold Atlantic crossing from Channel 4 to BBC Two. Has he finally hit the big time? A co-write between Matt Berry and Father Ted creator Arthur Mathews, this cult sitcom is the perfect vehicle for Berry’s limited yet often very funny shtick; deadpan bombast, absurd enunciations and pure silliness abound. The latest series begins with him trying to solve his anger issues. Watch out for cameos from Berry’s What We Do in the Shadows co-star Kayvan Novak and – strange but true – the great Larry David.
The Repair Shop – Wednesday, BBC One, 8pm
This expertly-carved throne o’ comfort is a hit for obvious reasons. When all is said and done, the great British public love nothing more than watching friendly artisans restoring precious family heirlooms. Throw some heart-warming stories into the mix, and well, hell, all bets are off. You’ve got yourself a ratings winner. We all know that television is a cynical business, and The Repair Shop knows exactly what it’s doing, but it never comes across as egregiously contrived or disingenuous. It’s genuinely touching at times. This week, Jay Blades and his magical barn friends rescue an ancient banjo and a rag doll. I won’t reveal the stories contained herein, that would spoil the effect.
Andy Warhol’s America – Thursday, BBC Two, 9pm
Broadly speaking, this new series posits the theory that Andy Warhol was a subversive personification of the American Dream. The scion of first generation working class immigrants, Warhol was a shy outsider, a remote observer, who was simultaneously awestruck and horrified by American mass culture. He turned consumerism into art and vice versa. We already know this about him, but the series retraces some familiar territory in an entertaining way. It features contributions from various friends and family members, all of whom maintain that there was a real human being behind that self-styled enigma. Because of course there was. Warhol would doubtless be amused by some of the endearingly pretentious claims made on his behalf.
Would I Lie To You? – Friday, BBC One, 8:30pm
The key to being a great guest on TV’s most agreeable comedy panel show is an ability to spin ridiculous yarns which nevertheless sound weirdly plausible. Bob Mortimer is obviously the undisputed champ in that regard, but he may now have a rival in the insectoid shape of punk poet John Cooper Clarke, who steals the show here. Did Clarke really once share a flat with a monkey? That’s not a drug euphemism. “Sometimes there are things in life that are a disappointment,” he drawls in his imitable style, “but living with a monkey isn’t one of them.” Another highlight is team captain David Mitchell uttering this most unlikely line: “At least I can dance and drive.”