Box in days

Don’t believe the Mail – there is life beyond repeats, urges Rachel Cooke

You know Christmas isn't far away when the Daily Mail starts bleating about repeats. This year, provoked by an evening on BBC2 devoted to Ronnie Corbett - naturally, it's the BBC that the Mail is most anxious to nail for this crime - it has gone into overdrive. "If you want to know what's on television over Christmas, last year's guide could provide some clues," boomed a recent news page. "In what readers will recognise as a familiar story, the four main terrestrial channels are expected to present more than 360 hours of repeats between them.

"Its writers had thoroughly researched this scoop. They hadn't just examined the schedules for Christmas Day, they had cast their net far wider, and thus were able to give us the shock news that, on Wednesday 22 December, at 3.05pm, the BBC is to screen a repeat of Murder, She Wrote starring Angela Lansbury. Quite how the Mail's outrage at this brazen cheapskatery fits with its cherished belief that all Britons should be in gainful employment on weekday afternoons, I can't say. Like the Lib Dems or one's mother, the Mail does not claim to be consistent. That is all part of its, er, charm.

Does the paper have a point? No, it doesn't. There is tonnes of good stuff on telly this Christmas and most of these treats will be provided by those lefty good-for-nothings at the BBC. While ITV1 has Marple and Poirot and Channel 4 has - erm - River Cottage Christmas, Jamie's Best Ever Christmas and Christmas With Gordon Ramsay (if there are any original non-food-related shows on Channel 4 this Christmas, then I'm Kirstie Allsopp and I claim my antique roll-top bath), it is in front of the BBC's embarrassment of riches you will seek refuge from your stir-crazy relatives this Yuletide.

If you want comedy, it has Miranda (20 December, 8.30pm, BBC2, now with added carol singers) and Come Fly With Me (Christmas Day, 10pm, BBC1, in which Matt Lucas and David Walliams play check-in girls and other airport grotesques). If you want drama, it has Whistle and I'll Come to You (Christmas Eve, 9pm, BBC2: an adaptation of an M R James ghost story, starring John Hurt) and Toast (30 December, 9pm, BBC1: the Nigel Slater story, starring Helena Bonham Carter and a lemon meringue pie). If you want serious, there are The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures ("Does Size Matter?", given by the materials scientist Mark Miodownik, 28-30 December, 8pm, BBC4) and Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice (29 December, 8pm, BBC1, in which polar bears in Norway struggle to survive on geese eggs and kelp). And, yes, fear not: Doctor Who is on at 6pm on Christmas Day (BBC1). It's a reimagining of A Christmas Carol, in which Michael Gambon plays Kazran Sar­dick, the meanest man in Sardicktown (not to sound too Scrooge-like myself, but Dickens can probably rest easy.)

I like the sound of all these, but the programmes for which I will wrestle anyone for the remote are: Just William (begins 28 December, 12.30pm, BBC1), because I love Richmal Crompton and this adaptation stars Daniel Roche from Outnumbered as our catapult-wielding hero, which is possibly the best casting ever in the history of television; the revived Upstairs Downstairs (begins Boxing Day, 9pm, BBC1), because I'm a child of the Seventies, I will love the frocks and I live in hope that it will be better than the egregious Downton Abbey; and the return of the Swedish version of Wallander (continues 26 December, 9pm, BBC4), because all that emotional minimalism doesn't half suit one's mood at this time of year.

Also in the diary is The Private Life of a Christmas Masterpiece (Christmas Day, 5.10pm, BBC2), which meditates on Fra Filippo Lippi's Adoration of the Child, an altarpiece painted in the 1460s by a womanising monk for a conscience-stricken banker. Lovelier by far to gaze on Filippo Lippi's numinous colours than on the garish shades inside a tin of Quality Street. You may need it as a restorative tonic should anyone insist on watching the Top Gear Christmas special (Boxing Day, 8pm, BBC2), in which Clarkson and those two other chumps will drive blithely in to Bethlehem in second-hand convertibles. So far as I'm concerned, this is a vision of hell - precisely where Filippo Lippi's patron feared he was heading.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 20 December 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special