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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 December 2005, 10:54 GMT
Christmas TV reflects on its past
By William Gallagher

The Two Ronnies
The Two Ronnies show will bring sad reminders of Barker's recent death

This year's Christmas and New Year television is as packed with specials as usual.

Yet it is a reflective schedule that looks back at previous years.

Christmas and New Year is always as much about television as it is turkey.

The schedule is filled with tinsel and special episodes of hit programmes, and it is always a contest to see who will get the highest ratings.

Traditionally, it is a contest the BBC wins - almost invariably its main rival ITV holds back its best programmes to early January when advertisers look for large audiences again.

Retrospection

It will happen this year, perhaps more than ever because there is an overall feeling of retrospection as all the channels look back to the past.

The BBC has the strongest reminders of hits gone by.

David Tennant as Doctor Who
David Tennant's arrival as Doctor Who is key to the BBC's schedule

By far the greatest example, and the show that only soaps will exceed in the ratings, is Doctor Who, due to be screened on Christmas Day.

Four decades ago to the day, Doctor Who was in its heyday with everyone in every family watching what turned out to be a rather daft Christmas special with William Hartnell as the Doctor.

Now the show is back better than ever. The new Christmas special may have moments of daftness but it also has a new Doctor in David Tennant.

If it is not the best show of the season, many people will still watch just to see him.

Tribute

Neil Pearson in Booze Cruise
Neil Pearson returns for another Booze Cruise but without Martin Clunes
Later on Christmas Day, there is the chance to take one last look at the late Ronnie Barker in The Two Ronnies Christmas Sketchbook.

He and Ronnie Corbett introduce a collection of sketches from their previous Christmas shows. All are funny but have a twinge of sadness as we see them so soon after Barker's death.

ITV's main programme on Christmas Day evening, Booze Cruise, also harks back to a previous hit - just not as far.

Booze Cruise II takes up the story of its mildly drunken characters from 2003 with Neil Pearson heading the cast. Sadly Martin Clunes, who also starred in the original, is absent from this return show.

Still on Christmas night, the South Bank Show looks back to the start of hit comedy series Little Britain in a show that is serious but very funny.

Surreal

This year the Christmas sketch show crown may be handed over.

The Goodies
The Goodies return with highlights of their classic 70s comedy
The French and Saunders Celebrity Christmas Special on 27 December feels like a show from the old guard. In patches it is extremely funny but otherwise the series is tired.

The Catherine Tate Christmas Special, already aired on Wednesday, could become a regular highlight in future years if it tightens up its sometimes overlong sketches.

Comedies can vanish unexpectedly, as The Goodies found when it ended in 1981.

It failed to get the kind of incessant repeats many shows have.

But it still has its fans and they will celebrate The Return of The Goodies on 30 December.

The show is a slightly surreal, Goodie-like version of The Two Ronnies Sketchbook, with a set of repeated clips of their finest moments.

Catherine Tate Christmas Special
The Catherine Tate show, already screened, could take over the must-see sketch show slot
But it is also part-documentary about their success and features interviews with stars including Rolf Harris, Martin Freeman, Mark Gatiss and Jon Culshaw.

Unusually this year there are more old hits than current series. ITV's Rosemary and Thyme puts in an appearance on 23 December.

And on the BBC, the quiet and cosy yet deeply popular As Time Goes By comes back after a three-year absence.

Its stars Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer slip back into their comfortable roles and find new sides to one another's character as Jean's (Dench) requests for grandchildren lead to an admission from Lionel (Palmer).

But for many people the highlights of the festive period will be the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special on Christmas Eve and, on Boxing Day, the Coronation Street panto - the show that could turn out to be ITV's answer to the BBC ratings winner Doctor Who.



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