Warning: Contains spoilers for the Ghosts Christmas special
Be warned: the opening scene of the Ghosts Christmas special might leave you slightly perturbed, wondering where all the Christmas is at, as there’s nary a whiff of festive cheer – just some scouts practising archery (without killing anyone this time) in the grounds of Button House while Alison offers to help the scout leader digitise some of Pat’s home videos for his memorial website.
But fear not – as soon as the next scene begins it looks like a whole box of Christmas has exploded over Button House, with festive jumpers, the halls duly decked and Mike in the midst of cooking an entire Christmas dinner to take to his family’s house for Christmas Day.
That’s where he and Alison are spending the day, so she’s left all the ghosts a present to unwrap while she’s away, and they decide to give her the gift of putting on a ghostly panto – or phantomime, as we’re calling it.
Charlotte Ritchie, though always fairly upbeat as Alison, appears to be particularly joyous this episode, and it’s infectious to watch. In fact, the whole cast seem to be having the time of their lives during this third Ghosts Christmas special, and it’s easy to see why: they’ve truly hit their stride, fully owning their characters’ quirks and foibles, and the script is polished to perfection and packed with one belly-laugh-inducing line after another. It’s all just such good fun, you find yourself watching with a great big festive smile on your face throughout.
That is, until Pat and Julian sneak a look at the room full of their presents, when you might find there’s ‘something in your eye’, as we discover Alison’s gift to Pat is a home video from a Christmas shortly before he died, showing a still-very-much-alive and blissfully ignorant Pat making Dad jokes and good-naturedly winding up his family. One look at Jim Howick’s brilliantly emotive face and wham, just like that, it’s a direct hit to the feels.
Just as quickly, we’re back to laugh-out-loud fun, as Alison and Mike get stuck in traffic and end up celebrating Christmas in their car (full feast, daft games and all) and rehearsals for the ghosts’ panto production of Cinderella get underway, with a predictably chaotic outcome. Particular highlights include Mathew Baynton making Thomas a typically melodramatic Prince Charming, and caveman Robin (the marvellous Laurence Rickard) ad-libbing as an ugly sister, telling the audience the prince is ‘going to kiss me and touch my bum’.
But, as ever, Ghosts is not just about the laughs – there’s real depth to it. We see surprising character development for Robin in his heart-to-heart with Pat, and a fresh fatherly softness in the Captain (Ben Willbond) who gives some excellent, Spice Girls-related advice to Kitty (Lolly Adefope). And even though Fanny isn’t a prominent part in the episode, you’ll still find yourself laughing at Martha Howe-Douglas’ facial expressions throughout.
While some of the more scroogely-inclined among you might find the pantomime scene a bit sickly sweet in its festive cheer, be careful what you wish for, because your heart might be ever so slightly smashed to pieces by the final scene, with its touching reminder to make the most of every Christmas while you still can.
While some sitcoms churn out Christmas specials almost as an afterthought, the quality of this episode of Ghosts – from cast and script to cinematography and lighting – is as deliciously high quality as an M&S Christmas pudding. ‘This is not just a sitcom’, indeed.