It’s funny; after pitching this article, I ended up having a conversation with my colleges at work about Christmas movies and those they like to watch over the festive period. The usual ones came up, of course: The Grinch, Elf, Love Actually, and Miracle on 34th Street. But I had to confess the only ‘pure’ Christmas film that I’d seen and watched a few times in my childhood was Santa Claus 2. I seem to remember Tim Allen’s Santa deciding to live as a human, sending his son to school and meeting the woman who would go on to become Mrs. Clause.
It must have been riveting viewing as a child because I’ve got very vivid memories of that old VHS tape. But I’ve never been a traditional Christmas movie fan. Instead, I said that I would rather rewatch some old horror classics, like Black Christmas, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Jack Frost, The Conjuring 2 – I even threw a curveball in there with Shazam!
This only made me think even more of the Christmas television episodes – those I always go back to and watch at this time of year. So this is my Christmas list; not strictly a ranking, but nonetheless, here are some of the best Christmas episodes of TV…
18. Smallville: Season 5, Episode 9 – Lexmas
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been used as a template for festive episodes ever since television Christmas episodes made their way into our homes; it’s not the only time it inspires episodes on this list but Smallville‘s, Lexmas has to be one of the more imaginative uses of the source material.
As the title suggests, this episode focuses on Lex Luthor, played by Michael Rosenbaum – still the best onscreen version of Lex in my opinion. Having been shot, he experiences what life might have in store for him if he turns to the side of the angels. Guided by the spirit of his departed mother, Lex wakes up in bed in a nice house with his son calling his name and Lana Lang by his side. Things seem to be great – he even attends a party held at the Kent Farm and is friends with Clark once again, but things take a darker turn when Lana gives birth to their second child and dies shortly afterwards. The script makes it clear that this is Lex trying to wake up from a coma the hospital put him in to save his life. And it was also fun to see, in the real world, Clark trying to talk a suicidal and drunk Father Christmas down from the roof of a building!
Despite the dark turn, this episode really feels like Christmas; the hope that what comes next will be even better than what came before and knowing what happens to some of the characters later down the line, it’s a final chance for some of the actors to have a real blast. And seeing the Kent Farm lit up with Christmas lights is really pretty.
17. Only Fools and Horses – Christmas Crackers
What sort of Christmas would it be without our favourite Trotter family? As one of the earliest episodes of Only Fools, some fans might be surprised that Uncle Albert is nowhere in sight. Instead, the episode focuses around Grandad attempting to cook Christmas dinner. ‘Attempting’ is probably the best word to describe it though as the Turkey is tough, and he’s forgotten to take out the giblets…
The scene around the dinner table is absolutely hilarious as horror sets in on Rodney and Del Boy’s faces as the bush-tucker trial is brought out for them to ‘enjoy’. And things get worse when Grandad unveils the Christmas pudding – little more than ash on a plate. Poor Grandad; he tried his best!
16. The Vicar of Dibley – The Christmas Lunch Incident
Some people wish it were Christmas everyday. But for Geraldine Granger, four Christmases happen in one day. Being the nice person she is, she agrees to have lunch with all of the residents of Dibley. Firstly, with Jim and Frank, she is gifted a massive feast, then challenges David Horton to a Brussel sprout eating contest. She’s guilt tripped into going to Alice’s home for another meal before being called out by Owen who has set out a table of food at his home, the centrepiece of which is a large bowl of tripe.
It’s priceless to see Geraldine trying to get out of eating, breaking chairs when she sits down, and crawling from David’s house to Alice’s. For me, the best bit is when she calls a taxi to take her home from Alice’s, even though she lives directly opposite. We’ve all overeaten at Christmas, but I don’t think anyone has done it quite like this. And then in the evening everyone pops round to Geraldine’s to have a party, though she can only enjoy it from behind the toilet door!
15. Are You Being Served? – The Father Christmas Affair
It’s Christmastime and the staff at Grace Brothers are trying to create new ways of bringing people into the department store over the festive period. Young Mr. Grace has had an idea: automated Father Christmases will greet people at the main entrance and every floor…
When the Santas invariably go wrong and injure a boy and his mother, the staff of the lady and gents department have to dress up as Father Christmas to see which one will greet people on the floor, each with varying degrees of success. But what steals the episode is the automated Father Christmas flashing a blushing Mr. Humphries.
14. Only Fools and Horses – Fatal Extraction
When Del Boy has to go to the dreaded dentist to get a rotting tooth removed and Raquel leaves him because of his gambling, it seems it’s going to be a cold December in the Trotter household. Things look up when he meets Beverly, a dentist receptionist who he quickly arranges a date with. But when things get better with Raquel, Del believes that Beverly has begun to stalk him.
It’s fun to see a more vulnerable side to Del as he begins to fear for his safety and his loved ones, especially when Boycie tells him that he’d seen Beverly at a psychiatric hospital. The highlight, however, is when a drunk Del, elated at getting back with Raquel, decides to sing ‘One Voice’ outside Nelson Mandela House, causing a full scale intercity riot! And the riot parting for Del to drive through makes for one of the funniest moments in the show’s history. It’s not hard to see why Only Fools and Horses is such a beloved institution.
13. Supernatural – A Very Supernatural Christmas
With so many myths and legends surrounding Christmastime, it seemed only a matter of time before Supernatural tackled a Christmas monster. In the third series, they did just that as the Winchester Brothers came up against the Krampus. What makes it such a beloved episode is the Krampuses are a couple of elderly people who like to bake their neighbours’ gifts – before they eat them.
When Sam and Dean work out who is behind the killings, they break in but get more than what they bargained for. The couple are waiting for them and tie them to chairs, preparing to eat them, Hansel and Gretel style.
“Do you know what I say when I want to swear? Fudge!”
12. The Avengers – Too Many Christmas Trees
Broadcast on Christmas Day, Too Many Christmas Trees includes many shades of Dickens when Steed and Emma Peel are invited to a remote house. The show at this time has taken a slightly more quirky stance and they find themselves involved in a plot to kill Steed.
I was going to say that this episode isn’t very Christmasy, but there are plenty of Father Christmases, trees, snow, and tinsel to enjoy. And I think of it as one of the best Avengers episodes to boot.
11. The Green Green Grass – One Flew Over the Cuckoo Clock
This Only Fools and Horses spin-off isn’t one I hear much about which is a shame because it’s a great series. Following the further adventures of Boycie and Marlene after they flee from the Driscoll Brothers who are fresh out of prison and after blood, One Flew Over the Cuckoo Clock sees Boycie and Marlene nearly fall into their laps when Boycie smells a chance to make some cash.
By some miracle, there is a snow storm that confines them to their country home. The only problem is that all the farm hands and their nasty neighbour are stuck there too. We see Boycie seemingly descend into further madness and an incident with a fire log, a skateboard, and an Air-Wick device make for some of the funniest television I’ve ever seen. And the line “Here’s Boycie!” is priceless!
10. Doctor Who – The Christmas Invasion
Of course Doctor Who was going to be on this list but I’ve always had a complicated relationship with the Who Christmas specials. Only two make it onto this list. Not only is The Christmas Invasion David Tennant’s first outing as the Doctor; this was also one of the episodes I saw when I was just getting into the show and watched it live in 2005.
I think the reason I like it so much is that it isn’t particularly Christmassy, despite having plenty of festive tropes. We’ve got Christmas trees and Santas though both are turned into machines of death in typical Who fashion. For me, its the episode’s seemingly ignorant take on Christmas TV that makes it work so well.
9. Only Fools and Horses – The Jolly Boy’s Outing
This is one of the Only Fools episodes that was broadcast on Christmas Day but had nothing to do with the festive period. And you can guarantee that this is one always shown on television over Christmas to this day. When Del, Rodney, and their friends take their annual trip to Margate, things go wrong from the get-go.
Rodney gets arrested, their bus explodes (which has to be one of the best moments from this episode), and they find themselves stuck in Margate overnight with nowhere to stay. For me, this is where Only Fools really comes into its own. I love the previous series, but when you get Del Boy, Rodney, Uncle Albert, Cassandra and Raquel as main characters, things just get so much better. And the reunion of Del and Raquel is as hilarious as it is heart-warming – just right for Christmas.
8. Are You Being Served? – Christmas Crackers
The first of the Are You Being Served Christmas outings, this sees the department store having to take part in something every retail worker has to worry about: the Christmas party. In this case, they have a disastrous Christmas dinner. With a turkey too tough to eat, to a dollop of vegetables and other festive favourites, the only joy the characters find is their gifts in the crackers.
The joy of the episode is towards the end, when they discover the ladies and gent departments have been made up to look a lot more festive. That, coupled with the costumes they have to wear, and a jolly little sing-song make for a very festive 30 minutes.
7. The Golden Girls – ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
There are a number of great episodes of The Golden Girls, but for me, this is one of the best. When the girls find themselves stuck together over Christmas thanks to a freak snowstorm in Miami, they agree to look after a restaurant to allow the owner to see his family on Christmas Eve. It’s a sweet ending, totally in keeping with the tone of the series.
But the funniest moment of the episode is when the girls exchange their homemade gifts. While Dorothy is gifted a whittled pancake holder from Rose, everyone is shocked to open Blanche’s gift, a calendar entitled ‘The Many Men of Blanche’s Boudoir’. The reactions and calendars were real, stuffed with the behind the scenes crew in various positions!
6. Only Fools and Horses – Dates
We’re back with the Trotters as Del decides to enroll with an online dating agency. This is when he first meets Raquel, though she isn’t his first choice in meeting. We also see Rodney take Nervous Nerys out on a date and nearly destroy the iconic 3-wheeled van.
Underneath the hilarity of the episode, we get a rare chance to see a more vulnerable side to Del Boy as he discovers what Raquel does for a job when he accidentally hires her as a kissogram for Uncle Albert’s birthday party. Towards the end of the episode, they reconcile and Del is on his way to meet her when he gets arrested for Rodney’s high speed chase. It would be another series before Del and Raquel meet again, but this is where Only Fools really embraces the wonderful mix of laughs and emotion that make it one of the finest shows in TV history.
5. The Vicar of Dibley – Winter
As part of the second series, Vicar of Dibley saw four episodes set at different seasons of the year, the second of which, Winter, sees the main characters put on a live nativity for the inhabitants of Dibley.
Of course, it has the usual disastrous outcomes you’d expect: Owen, Frank, and Jim have no idea what they are doing and then Alice goes into labour, giving the people of Dibley the chance to see a real nativity. It’s a sweet ending and really has a festive feel (plus Geraldine’s light up wings are brilliant!).
4. Blackadder – Christmas Carol
Taking the titular work of Dickens and giving it a Blackadder spin is a match made in heaven here. Blackadder, now in his Victorian life, is visited by a ghost on Christmas Eve.
What follows is a hilarious trip back to Medieval and Tudor times and a glimpse at the far future, with Blackadder in a space pirate garb and Baldrick in a jockstrap. The ending returns to the grumpier version of the character we are used to when he knocks a Christmas caroller from his window and insults Queen Victoria. And Nicola Bryant (Doctor Who‘s Peri) is thrown in as a relative too!
3. The Green Green Grass – From Here to Paternity
Following on from the previous Christmas, Boycie and Marlene are looking forward to a quieter time this year. But things don’t go to plan when they believe their son’s girlfriend to be pregnant.
What follows is a hilarious game of Chinese-whispers with things getting out of hand. They believe their neighbour’s dog and their housekeeper to be pregnant too, and it ends with Boycie with two black eyes. One of the funniest things in this episode has to be hearing the locals of Shropshire, in typical tribute band style, try to sing the Wizzard Christmas classic under the name, Gizzard.
2. Only Fools and Horses – Time on Our Hands
While they would enjoy three further adventures in the early 2000s, for many, myself included, the Trotter story ended with them becoming the millionnaires they’d dreamed of being when Raquel’s father discovers a long lost mariner’s clock in their garage.
It became one of the highest rated Christmas episodes of all time. It’s brilliant to see them go from rags to riches. And it’s packed with plenty of hilarious moments, especially Uncle Albert destroying one final boat, this time a gravy boat! But for millions of viewers, seeing the Trotters become the millionnaires they’d always dreamed of was a perfect ending and all the Christmas presents they needed.
1. Doctor Who – Voyage of the Damned
This is another story I don’t hear much about, despite, for me at least, it being among the best Christmas outings not only for the Doctor but TV in general. Perhaps in the same way Die Hard is so well loved over Christmas, Voyage of the Damned is a disaster movie from start to finish. Things are a little festive in the beginning with the Doctor enjoying a little break on board the Titanic, this time a spaceship.
But things quickly turn when a conspiracy from the cruise-line owner finds the Titanic quickly getting pulled into Earth’s orbit. Nearly all of the guest cast bite the dust, including its biggest star, Kylie Minogue, who would have made a brilliant companion if she’d have survived.
If you are looking for something really festive, then Voyage might not be for you. But if action movies are your thing over Christmas, then killer robots that look like angels, Kylie, the Titanic, and the first appearance of Bernard Cribbins in-canon make this the one for you!
What’s your best festive TV outings you love to relive over Christmas?