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‘Any chance of a passport?’ asks the Queen while Lars Von Trier takes on Mrs Brown

Patrick Freyne previews this year’s Christmas TV and gives away some plot twists

I have previewed next week’s television so you can forgo binge watching and instead spend time talking to your family, who love you, apparently.

‘Mary, Mel and Sue’s Big Christmas Thank You’ aka Continuity Bake Off (Christmas Eve, BBC1)

Bake Off alumni Mary, Mel and Sue hate cakes now, and the "Thank You" in the title is clearly sarcastic. In this programme, the trio travel Britain on the trail of the Great Satan, "Paul Hollywood", salting the earth and destroying confectionery as they go. And yet, there is still hope, for when they arrive at one small Welsh village kind-hearted locals melt their icy hearts ("I can feel again!" gibbers Mel before Mary slaps her with a spatula) and the unholy trinity reward them by renovating their community centre and giving them a slap-up feed. They subsequently burn Chester to the ground.

Mrs Brown’s Boys (Christmas Eve, RTÉ1)

This year's guest director, Lars Von Trier has replaced the audience laughter with the sound of white noise and gurgling pipes, as an increasingly distressed and foul-mouthed Agnes Brown breaks the fourth wall to address "the audience" about her various yuletide issues.

In this episode, her daughter/wife Cathy goes on a date with a small man, a terrified Granddad commits defensive domestic abuse, Buster continues his crime spree while dressed as a non-indigenous animal (a reindeer), and Rory's face is bandaged for most of the episode because he has been hideously disfigured. In fact, the actor who played Rory has left the show and the special builds up to an existentially-troubling unveiling of his new face. I don't want to spoil it. Okay I will. It's Domhnall Gleeson.


The Queen’s Speech (Christmas Day, BBC1)

It's a good one this year. Chain-smoking, drinking heavily and with incomplete tax returns spilling from her desk, the British queen holds forth about off-shoring wealth ("Between you and me, this country is over"), Meghan Markle ("She doesn't know it yet, but I'm moving in with her") and the Border issue ("Any chance of a passport for old time's sake? Ah come on, lads, my granddad used to own you").

Doctor Who Christmas Special (Christmas Day, BBC1)

This Christmas, the time-travelling alien busybody (Peter Capaldi) bumps into a strangely familiar old man in a flying box. Why, it's coat-hoarding sweet-pusher Forty Coats and his neurologically atypical, schoolgirl companion, Slightly Bonkers (editor's note: it's actually the first doctor, played by David Bradley). The duo go on to have an exciting adventure together and then at the end of it, Capaldi grows a new head, that of Jodie Whittaker, which must be nice for him.

All The Soaps (Christmas Day, all the stations)

“I just want a quiet Christmas for a change” . . . “But no one must know our secret!” A “funny” bit. “Oh no whatshisname is back!” A “funny” bit. “Oh no, now they know our secret!” A melodramatic confrontation. Death. A “funny” bit. Iconic theme tune. For some respite from this tiresome routine, your family could watch one of the soaps.

The Great Christmas Bake Off (Christmas Day, Channel4)

Paul Hollywood, now wearing the black leather and fur costume of a Game of Thrones warlord, pitches his tent on the edge of your burning town. "Was it worth this?" he thinks as his steely blue eyes try making sense of Sandi Toksvig's jumpers, Noel Fielding's head and hapless Prue Leith's shrieks as she runs through the tent on fire.

It's the first Channel 4 Christmas edition of the Great Britsh Bakeoff since it Brexited the BBC. Four former contestants are pressganged to bake competitively to a funky soundtrack of pizzicato strings, gentle regional accents and many types of entendre (single/double/triple). They are asked to bake food that look like other things – yule logs, squirrels, snow globes. They dutifully create these "food lies" but at least two of them hark from the old BBC regime.

Will they accept the authority of Prue, Sandi and Noel? Many will be put to the sword before this day is out, thinks Paul. There has been so much death. Also: loads of delicious cakes. Yum.

Brendan Grace: A Night at the Opera House (Christmas Day, TV3)

This is happening. In other news: Your dad wants to watch it and life is pain.

Snow Bears (Stephen’s Day, BBC1)

This is a documentary all about that most Christmassy of animals, Santa's ursine pal, the polar bear. The likeable lunk's adventures are narrated by Kate Winslet, and it's a good deal more watchable than that film in which Kate Winslet's adventures were narrated by a bear (Titanic).

Purists be warned, however, for this is a slightly "dramatised" nature programme. While you might be taken aback by the smallest bear's comedic Italian accent, or the easily offended seal's monogrammed blazer, at the core this is the real story of a mother bear and her cubs as they travel 400 miles across the ice to Winslet's cosy igloo. There they confront her over their fee. To her credit, the star of Hideous Kinky gamely continues her whimsical narration as she experiences an adorably furry savaging (note to self: pitch a nature programme called, An Adorably Furry Savaging).

Victoria Christmas Special (Stephen’s Day, Be3)

Victoria is a relatable everywoman like Bridget Jones who has an era named after her and lives in a palace and collects nations. In this Christmas special, Victoria's Teutonic consort Albert wanders around inventing Christmas things like Christmas trees and selection boxes and Furbies and resentment, while his ahistorically-sized wife (Jenna Coleman) has her portrait painted and temporarily adopts the formerly enslaved daughter of an African chief.

Yes, Victoria sat atop a brutalising empire that subjugated millions, but one-on-one she was quite nice. This sentence is basically the elevator pitch for the whole series. In this episode, for example, when the little African girl is sad because she was enslaved and exiled and all of her family were violently murdered, Victoria understands what she is going through because her mean old uncle wants to claim a diamond necklace that she likes. Is a #metoo style solidarity movement appropriate for such monarchic hardships?

The Nathan Carter Christmas Special (Stephen’s Day, RTÉ1)

We shed the shackles of imperial oppression so that an Englishman could culturally appropriate country ’n’ Irish music, the music of God’s own people, and sell it back to us with the craven collaboration of the national broadcaster. For shame.

Attenborough and the Empire of the Ants (Thursday, BBC2)

It was bound to happen eventually. The soothing nonagenarian naturalist has finally tired of the world of man and positioned himself at the apex of a complex insect civilisation. By the end of the programme, world domination will be in reach of his makeshift mandibles (two plastic soup spoons Sellotaped to his cheeks) and we will also know a lot about ants (I’ve been out of the game a while, but this is surely good conversational fodder for your Tinder dates?).

Black Mirror (Friday, Netflix)

A new series of Charlie Brooker's dystopian anthology drama offers us twisted glimpses into the very near future. In the new series we are tantalised with tales of, amongst other things, near sentient dating algorithms, terrifying child surveillance technology, and Maxine Peake being chased across a post-apocalyptic wasteland by a murderous robot dog. Great stuff and good preparation for 2018. At a guess, the scenarios outlined above will occur in February, March and July respectively.