Review

British Christmas TV episodes are getting U.S. airings

Mary McNamara
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times TV Critic
BBC America has a two-day gift for 'Doctor Who' fans, culminating in the latest Christmas special

Mince pies, Christmas crackers, all those "Keep Calm and Jingle On" T-shirts — and now television.

This year, Americans can celebrate a very British Christmas without leaving their homes, much less braving Heathrow at the holidays.

In the U.S., television traditionally surrenders to film during Christmas week; while all those big movies open at the cinema, most American series go on a hiatus to make room for the many Christmas classics one needs to watch at home — "It's a Wonderful Life," "A Christmas Carol," "A Christmas Story," "Love Actually."

In the U.K., however, the flat-screen rules. All manner of Christmas specials gather merrymakers in their paper crowns away from the plum pudding to the electronic hearth; this year, Americans can join in too.

Always gorgeous, inevitably clever and often a time of character transition, the "Doctor Who" Christmas special has long been a staple of the holiday for Whovians and Anglophiles. This year marks Peter Capaldi's first holiday as the Doctor, with Nick Frost joining him and Clara (Jenna Coleman) as Santa, who, if the sneak preview is to be believed, seems more action hero than jolly old elf.

Dec. 24 will be chock full of previous Christmas specials on BBC America, and Christmas Day will be devoted to Capaldi's Season 8, culminating in this year's special at 9 p.m. (To serve the needs of the growing U.S. audience for "Doctor Who," a slew of merchandise hit the stores in the fall; so, many fans, including me, may be watching beside a tree decorated with TARDIS ornaments and wearing Gallifrey Academy T-shirts.)

Not to be outdone, PBS is getting in the game too. No, drats and darn, we won't be basking in the "Downton Abbey" Christmas special with our British cousins — the new season doesn't premiere here until Jan. 4. And no, "Doctor Who" show runner Steven Moffat did not pull double duty to give us a yuletide "Sherlock." Instead, and just as wonderful, we get to share the lovely and lyrical "Call the Midwife Holiday Special," followed by a holiday episode of the astringent and hilarious "Vicious."

For Christmas spirit, it's tough to beat a show about a British midwifery run by nuns and nurses in London's East End during the 1950s — cue mince pies, Christmas pageants and lots and lots of babies. More important, Vanessa Redgrave, who has provided the show's voice-over since it debuted in 2012, appears in all her exquisite glory to bookend the episode.

"Vicious," which follows it, stars Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, which means three of the finest actors of our time are available to help you celebrate and/or get out of doing the dishes.

Paper crowns optional.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'Call the Midwife Holiday Special'

Where: KOCE

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

'Doctor Who'

Where: BBC America

When: 9 p.m. Thursday

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

'Vicious'

Where: KOCE

When: 9:20 p.m. Thursday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

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