The Pilot TV Christmas 2018 Viewing Guide

ABC Murders

by Paul Simper |
Published on

If Christmas TV in your household usually consists of fighting over the remote control and attacking the Radio Times with a highlighter pen, fret no longer. Allow Pilot TV to wield that Sharpie for you, with our pick of this year's festive treats, starting tonight with some rabbits...

Watership Down

Watership Down

BBC1 & Netflix, Sat Dec 22, 7pm, Sun Dec 23, 7.20pm

Already the subject of much debate on the Pilot TV podcast – is the animation deliberately retro? Have the graphic images of foaming mouthed, bloodied rabbits been dialled down from the no holds barred 1978 animated movie to reflect more sensitive times? There’s no more Art Garfunkel singing of "following the river of death downstream", just Sam Smith and his plaintive "Fire On Fire". This is still though a tale of rabbits in deadly peril from Man and his machines and the brutal unblinking forces of Nature. The cast is beyond stellar but Olivia Colman as Strawberry, now a doe with a Wiltshire burr, and John Boyega as man-trap prone Bigwig stand out.

The Dead Room

Christmas 2018

BBC4, Christmas Eve, 10pm

A love letter wrapped in a ghost story as writer/director Mark Gatiss salutes the condemned home of BBC sound recordings since 1946, BBC Maida Vale Studios, whilst once again valiantly manning his post as keeper of the flame (Crooked House, The Tractate Middoth) when it comes to scaring the pants off us at Christmas on the Beeb. Shot at Maida Vale, Simon Callow plays esteemed but pompous ac-tor Aubrey Judd whose own reading of a new festive chiller, "Ready Player Death", is overtaken by long buried secrets from his past. Anjli Mohindra, last seen as arch manipulator Nadia in Bodyguard, is Aubrey’s under-awed producer and Susan Penhaligon - Lucy Westenra from Gatiss’ favourite 1977 Count Dracula adaptation, at least until his and Steven Moffat’s own mini-series appears in 2019 – is the foley artist.


Christmas 2018

BBC1, Christmas Day, 4.50pm

An accident-prone junior dragon and an empowered princess confound genre expectations in this 5th collaboration between Magic Light Pictures, the BBC and children’s author Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo, Stick Man, Revolting Rhymes, The Highway Rat). Kit Harington takes time off from his Jon Snow inner brooding to voice Sir Gadabout, a knight who would have lasted approximately five seconds in the Battle of the Bastards. Hugh Skinner brings the haplessness with a heart of his W1A intern Will Humphries to the title role and Sir Lenny Henry rubber stamps the narration as a real knight of the realm.

Upstart Crow: A Christmas Carol

Christmas 2018

BBC2, Christmas Day, 8.35pm

Last year the Upstart Christmas star signing was Dame Emma Thompson as Elizabeth I. This year she’s passed the baton to first husband and more than occasional acting partner in movies (Dead Again, Much Ado About Nothing) and telly (Fortunes Of War, Look Back In Anger) Sir Kenneth Branagh. The head thesp sensibly underplays plays his part of a mysterious stranger who possesses a thorough knowledge of Dickens’ (or is it?) A Christmas Carol leaving others to cavort around him. Lily Cole also pops up, taking time off from ruffling feathers with her Channel 4 presentation of The Secret Life of Emily Bronte, to play Ephie, looking uncannily like a young Miranda Richardson in her reign as BlackAdder II’s Queenie. There remains a nagging feeling that for all the wit and wordplay Crow still can’t match that classic Ben Elton show but then what can?

The Midnight Gang

Christmas 2018

BBC1, Boxing Day, 7.30pm

As inevitable as the latest David Walliams bestseller (25 million worldwide and counting) ending up in some family member’s present stack is the TV adaptation. The Midnight Gang, a story of kids in a hospital ward overcoming adversity with make-believe, only flew off the shelves two Christmases ago but already here it is. Guest starring Alan Davies as a philanthropic porter and Haydn Gwynne, building on her Camilla from C4’s The Windsors to create the nightmarish, child adverse, shoe obsessed matron. Leading the children is Oliver Zetterstrom (Mrs Wilson, The Romanoffs) as Tom, a late arrival to the gang. If the humour is broad the sentiment, particularly in the magical final scene, brought to life by illustrator and former Roald Dahl collaborator Tony Ross, is genuinely moving.

The ABC Murders

BBC1, Boxing Day, Thurs Dec 27, Fri Dec 28, 9pm

If Agatha Christie is the literary queen of period whodunnits then writer Sarah Phelps is contemporary telly’s peerless forensic pathologist of her work, unflinchingly dissecting the corpses then reassembling them for a modern day audience who are ready, for the most part, for a bit more flesh on the bones. This, her 4th BBC Christie adaptation, has raised a few eyebrows as John Malkovich delivers his ageing Hercule Poirot without the trademark waxed moustache. Although the loss of his Belgian accent is actually a key plot point as in 1933 Britain he is no longer the celebrated great detective but a distrusted refugee. The ABC Murders in question are alphabetical with the killer making good use of the British Railway system. Chief suspect is Eamon Farren - last seen running down small children in Twin Peaks 2017 - as the furious typist of threatening letters, but almost as antagonistic is Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint as the dismissive young Inspector Crome.


Christmas 2018

Netflix, Boxing Day

Penn Badgley already has previous stalker experience as Dan Humphrey aka Gossip Girl after that show’s bizarre twist revealed him to be the titular blogger. Now he’s back on social media as Joe Goldberg, a bookstore worker, hunting down female prey who have unwittingly left their accounts set to public. Customer Guinevere Beck, played by Elizabeth Lail (Dead Of Summer, Once Upon A Time) is his victim and it’s not long before his obsessive jealousy comes with a body count. From the Executive Producers of Riverdale this is not the show to fill you with optimism for man’s humanity if you’re looking for a new partner in 2019 but as a cyber-stalking role reversal update on movies like Fatal Attraction and Play Misty For Me it’s suitably 21st-Century twisted.

Black Lake

Christmas 2018

BBC4, Sat Dec 29, 9pm & 9.45pm

The second series of this unlikely but very more-ish Scandi horror, with strong echoes of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, sees another group of strangers trapped in an isolated spot – last time a ski lodge, this time an island. Run by a bossy, bearded evangelical type called Uno (Andre Eriksen) it’s a place for "insight and reconciliation". But dark mutterings from Gillan, a housekeeper who would give Mrs Danvers from Hitchcock’s Rebecca a run for her money, and a 1944 flashback to a little girl witnessing a murder in the same spot flag up big trouble. Filip Berg as Johan, the entitled, rule-breaking, coke snorting, Chardonnay ordering son of a wealthy Stockholm businessman, returns from series one.

Les Miserables

Christmas 2018

BBC1, Sun 30 Dec, 9pm

No singing or dancing is required in this Andrew Davies (War & Peace, House Of Cards) adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic tale of redemption, life’s cruelty and the still pertinent injustice of society’s haves and have nots. Dominic West has the Hugh Jackman role of Jean Valjean, the ex-convict unexpectedly presented with a second chance, and David Oyelowo is a smart change of direction in casting from Russel Crowe as relentless adversary, police chief Javert. Further reflecting the multi-cultural history of France as far back as the Napoleonic era Adeel Akhtar (Unforgotten, The Night Manager) plays the scavenging Thenardier. The stunning opening tableau of the dead laid out across the battlefield the day after Waterloo is testament to the production’s scale and ambition. Though John Murphy’s score develops a sweet tooth on the introduction of Parisian seamstress Fantine (Lily Collins) and her feckless first love (Johnny Flynn) it only serves to heighten her subsequent tragic free fall into the gutter.

Raymond Briggs: Snowmen, Bogeymen and Milkmen

BBC2 New Year’s Eve, 9pm

It’s 40 years since author, illustrator Raymond Briggs created his book, The Snowman, a character so much a part of Christmas that stores are even selling it as loo roll. This documentary, narrated by Brenda Blethyn (who voiced Briggs’ mother in his beautiful and affecting 2016 animated feature Ethel & Ernest) interviews the 84 year-old, still living near the Sussex Downs, and those both close to him and influenced by his work. Nick Park reveals the debt he owes to Briggs’ irascible Father Christmas in the grumpy but mild-mannered characterisation of Gromit. Whilst author, illustrator Posy Simmonds reflects on the power of The Snowman being text-free: "It doesn’t need dialogue. It’s as quiet as when it snows."

Doctor Who

Doctor Who - Series 11

BBC1, New Year’s Day, 7pm

The move to Sunday evenings proved a canny one for the Jodie Whittaker/Chris Chibnall era and this shift from Christmas Day to Jan 1 could also work, freeing the show from the production constraints of snow, Santa et al and offering something substantial to Whovians who will then have to to wait till 2020 for season 12. Titled "Resolution", this feels both like a proper conclusion to season 11 and a statement of intent for what comes next. A terrifying foe from Earth’s history (anyone say, Dalek?) has had its cage rattled and Team TARDIS are homeward bound to investigate with the help of Nikesh Patel, Daniel Adegboyega and Charlotte Ritchie last seen expiring as Nurse Barbara Hereward on the cusp of Call The Midwife’s 2017 special.

Escape At Dannemora

Christmas 2018

Sky Atlantic, New Year’s Day, 9pm

All episodes available the same day.

Patricia Arquette is already nominated for a Golden Globe, SAG and US Critics Choice Award for Best Actress in a Limited Series, for her portrayal of Clinton Correctional Facility shop supervisor Joyce "Tilly" Mitchell which illustrates how much more this is than just another prison break drama. Benicio del Toro and Paul Dano are inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat who hit the headlines when they bust out of the maximum security prison near the Canadian border in 2015 but it’s their manipulation of and collusion with Tilly which adds layer upon layer of psychological drama as Ray Donovan writers Brett Johnson and Michael Tolkin, director Ben Stiller and the cast examine human beings dealing with complicated feelings of love, self-deception and loneliness. That it was filmed on location at the actual facility makes it all the more extraordinary.

The Inbetweeners: Fwends Reunited

Christmas 2018

C4, New Year’s Day, 9pm

Can it really only be ten years since Will, Simon, Neil and Jay first over-shared their Rudge Park Comp growing pains? James Buckley and Joe Thomas have since time travelled back to the even less PC mid-80s with White Gold. Blake Harrison recently tried to kill Ben Whishaw but ended up shooting his dog (RIP Rinka) in A Very English Scandal. Simon Bird has quietly come up trumps with Friday Night Dinner, Greg Davies (Mr Gilbert) is surreally playing opposite Hollywood and Four Weddings star Andie MacDowell in Cuckoo and Emily Atack (Charlotte) was just voted 2nd in I’m A Celeb. All of which may or may not be discussed in this just recorded reunion which will be followed by the four boys’ personal favourites, "Will’s Birthday", "Fashion Show", "Camping Trip" and, for a bit of variety, "Field Trip".

A Series of Unfortunate Events

A Series of Unfortunate Events - Season 2

Netflix, New Year’s Day

The best of times and worst of times for Baudelaire fans as Violet, Klaus and Sunny enter the final phase of their TV trilogy with seven episodes that will cover off the last four Lemony Snicket books, The Slippery Slope, The Grim Grotto, The Penultimate Peril and, of course, The End. With Patrick Warburton moving from narrator to front of camera as Lemony and sister Kit (Alison Williams) another handy ally there is one final mystery to be solved. Although for a series that has always been generously stocked with Easter Eggs (not so seasonal) there promises to be plenty more for the surviving VFD to unravel than just that.



BBC1 New Year’s Day, Tues Jan 2, Thurs Jan 3, Fri Jan 4

Eyeballs in a jar, creepy masked murderers on the no.15 bus and a study of extreme, fetishistic sexual behaviour. "Is this normal?" asks fast-tracked new side-kick DS Catherine Halliday, played by BAFTA winner Wunmi Mosaku (Damilola, Our Loved Boy), of John Luther. In the darkly, gruesome world of writer/creator Neil Cross, as he and Idris Elba reunite for the first time in three years, the answer is still yes. Both are teeing this fifth season up as the most ambitious and far-reaching yet. The return of Ruth Wilson as Luther’s serial-killing bestie/chief tormentor, Alice, has, surprisingly, already been revealed. New to all this is Hermione Norris, relishing the opportunity to go considerably darker than Cold Feet.

Waco: Madman or Messiah?

Christmas 2018

BBC4, Weds Jan 2, 9pm

Making A Murderer uncovered a previously untapped appetite for American true crime documentaries whilst the viewing nation works its way through the 720g tin of Quality Street. This BBC 90 min two-parter is closer to Netflix’s Wild Wild Country but again feels refreshingly counter-intuitive to the usual feelgood fare. The madman or messiah – self-proclaimed – was David Koresh, charismatic (aren’t they always) cult leader of the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas, who expanded his remit to marrying multiple 14 year-old child brides, with the consent of their brainwashed parents, before the longest siege in US history in 1993 left four government agents, 82 cult members and 23 children dead. Most chilling is the testament of nine survivors, 247 hours of previously unreleased FBI recordings of the siege and Koresh’s godawful rock guitar playing.

Marvel's Runaways


SYFY, Weds Jan 2, 9pm

With the tagline: "Every kid turns into their parents", there’s plenty for the newly assembled runaways to ponder as they get the hang of their super-powers and work out how best to use them on their supervillain mums and dads. Good news is that Marvel fan boy Julian McMahon (Fantastic Four) is back as Jonah, once again ready with fellow Pride members to sacrifice the youth to keep him defy the ageing process, which is essentially an update on the sort of procedures he did day in/day out a decade ago as Dr Christian Troy in Nip/Tuck. All 13 episodes are already available on Hulu, so spoilers like whether the original comic books’ fate for Gert (Ariela Barer) makes it into Season Two are already out there.

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