Christmas Specials are difficult to get right. The story needs to be able to stand alone and to further the plot lines of the program. The are a couple of ways of doing this, the story can either make a massive change to the series with a big event or it can touch base with beloved characters and not alter the overall season storylines too much. The three British TV programs that had Christmas Specials this year, that I watched, one did a big change and two touched base.
Doctor Who - The Time Of The Doctor
The Big Event - The Battle of Trenzalore, where the Doctor dies, but a 13th regeneration happens.
What This Means for the Storylines - this is a big change to the Doctor Who lore. The Doctor was only able to have 12 lives and then the show was to end. But this is the reign of Moffatt and if we have learnt anything under his tenure is that rules are there to be changed or broken.
The Result - This was not the best farewell for Matt Smith's Doctor. I am sure it made sense to someone, but I stopped following the plot and just waited to see how they were going to McGuffin the regeneration. There is one thing that made me feel something other than impatience and a little bit of boredom - the call-backs to River Song and the Amy Pond cameo. What it showed me was how little we have come to care for Cara, not because of the actress, who does a good job, but because we have not spent time with her as a character. She has only really been a symbol and not a fully fledged character. Here is hoping the next series does that for her.
Downtown Abbey - Season 4 Christmas Special
The Big Event - Cousin Rose's presentation at the Royal Court and her coming out Ball in London in 1923.
What This Means for the Storylines - There is a visit from Cora's mother, again, played by Shirley McLain and her brother Harold (Paul Giamatti), more of Mary's men, a big decision by Edith and a continuation of various plots from season four, involving Bates and Anna, Thomas and Baxter, and Mrs Crawley's new paramour.
The Result - unlike the shocking ending of the previous year's Christmas Special, this year, there is humour, a massive slice of Royalty, intrigue and lovely frocks. The episode was like putting on a comfortable pair of PJs and having a cup of tea. Nice and cosy and a nice way to spend 90 minutes.
Call The Midwife - Christmas Special 2013
The Big Event - An unexploded bomb from World War Two is found in the foundations of a building near Nonnatus House causes an evacuation of the convent and other houses on the street.
What This Means for the Storylines - A little bit more self contained than Downton Abbey, this Christmas Special had a call out to the National Health Service, a wedding, a birth, and the return of the Scout troop. Shelia (nee Sister Bernadette) came to terms with leaving the convent and deciding to marry Doctor Turner, we said farewell to Nonnatus House as it was declared unsafe to live in due to the bomb, and we learnt a little more about Trixie's past.
The Result - Definitely the most Christmas of the specials the quiet achiever that is Call The Midwife bathed us in well rounded characters, a little bit of social history and the importance of the NHS. It was a lovely way to spend an evening.