Ask any Carry On fan what rarity from the archives they most want to own on DVD and the answer's usually the same; "The Christmas Specials". Until relatively recently, the only available examples of these televisual gems have been the 1972 and 73 editions, released on VHS under the Video Club banner. Ironically, these are the lesser two of the four, in terms of quality and the general "feel" of being a Carry On. The 1969 Carry On Christmas has popped up on Channel 5 once or twice in their welcome and frankly unexpected raft of Christmas TV from yesteryear but until now the finest example of the bunch, 1970's "Carry On Long John" has remained unseen. That, however, is all set to change with Fremantle's long-anticipated release of all four original specials.

Archive television has found a new lease of life since the advent of DVD. Shows which were thought lost forever are now being brushed down and released with almost reckless abandon. Some companies, Network being the obvious example, lavish amazing care and attention on what can only be described as a minority product. Others take the view that having the programmes in the first place is reward enough and pay scant attention to the quality of the shows, let alone adding any original content such as special features. When it was originally announced that the Carry On Christmas episodes were coming to DVD, many expected the release to fall into the latter category. After all, what extras could there be for something like this? Prepare yourself for a shock - Fremantle's Carry On Christmas collection contains a whole disc of extras; extras which not only put a historical context around the episodes, but also provide an entertaining and informative background to the production of the shows and the wonderful and for the most part sadly-departed stars who created them.

From the moment you pop in the disc, you can see the effort that Fremantle (aided by a certain Mr Bright) have put into making this an extremely "Special" edition. The opening menu is a delight - with a camera rushing in through the living room window of a lonely looking house, right up to a fireplace that's bedecked with Carry On Christmas cards - it's a lovely touch and immediately puts you in the mood for some seasonal sauciness. The menu has a few surprises tucked away; just keep watching.

Disc one contains all four specials. As a group, they add up to almost 200 minutes of television, so there's not a great deal of room for much else. I was afraid they'd be compressed to within an inch of their lives, but no; the picture quality across all four specials is generally excellent - Fremantle have clearly paid a lot of attention to detail and polished the four specials up to their former glory. The colours are rich and vivid without appearing saturated. Having seen these in various forms over the years, I can honestly say they've never looked so good.

An especially nice touch is that each of the specials features a brief introduction from Mr Carry On himself, Peter Rogers. There's not much in the way of detail; they're little more than soundbites, but their inclusion is an unexpected bonus.

1969's Carry On Christmas has become the most well-known of the specials, largely thanks to an absolutely top notch performance by Frankie Howerd. He really sinks his teeth into this one; his Robert Browning scene is, for me, one of the best performances of Frankie's career - he's clearly having the time of his life. Then comes his Fairy Godmother scene. Words fail.

The 1970 special has the most traditional narrative of the four and largely follows the story of Treasure Island. Naturally, this is a Carry On version of the story so you can imagine some of the liberties the team have taken with the original text! It's also the most "film-like" of the four and would have made a wonderful big budget outing. Big by Carry On standards, of course.

1972's Carry On Christmas harks back to the original 69 special; it is a collection of songs and sketches loosely linked by a Victorian Christmas party attended by some faces you're sure to recognise. It is, in my view, the worst of the bunch; for some reason the sparkle that infused the previous two specials just isn't there. The sketches and songs, for the most part, are good, but the programme doesn't really come together as a whole - it all seems somewhat disconnected.

1973's outing is a much stronger effort. Once again, it's a collection of sketches which look at Christmas throughout the ages. The humour's a little dirtier than in previous years, the gags a little less subtle, but with a cast like this one it's comedy gold. Sid James is leerier than ever, Babs is positively bursting out all over the place and the rest of the team are at their comedic best.

The second disc in the set is home to some very welcome special features. An Evening with Peter Rogers is a 45 minute interview with the man himself, filmed at one of the recent Carry On gatherings at Pinewood Studios. It's a fascinating and entertaining programme and Peter comes across extremely well; he's thoroughly charming and witty throughout. He speaks with great affection about his career and those he has worked with over the years and speaks candidly with both the interviewer, Marc Sinden, and the Carry On fans gathered in the audience. Regular Carry On Line visitors pay particular attention - you may spot a few people you know sitting in the audience. I'm sure I've seen about half of our forum regulars in there.

A selection of specially filmed interviews take up the remainder of disc two. A twenty minute interview with Peter Rogers recounts his memories of how the Christmas specials came about and runs through the highlights of his involvement in them. The specials are often forgotten at the expense of their glossier film cousins, so it's good to see the TV Carry Ons treated as fully paid up members of the Carry On legacy. There are enough anecdotes and trivia in this interview alone to warrant the purchase price.

A ten minute interview with Wendy Richard is next up in which Wendy talks about her time working on the Carry Ons, contrasting her film and TV contributions to the team and chatting amiably about the cast and crew.

Finally, Jack Douglas treats us to a 20 minute chat about his time on the Christmas specials and is his usual irreverant self.

What's nice about all these interviews is that they focus specifically on the Christmas specials. With a franchise as enduring as the Carry Ons, the films inevitably take centre stage when it comes to retrospectives. As a result, the TV series and specials have always been largely uncelebrated and as a result somewhat mysterious. Hearing what amounts to almost an hour of discussion just on the subject of the four Christmas specials is a genuine treat. The anecdotes are new, the clips chosen to illustrate them perfectly chosen and the love of all three interviewees for the subject matter is evident.

The package is rounded off by a selection of programme notes and trivia in DVD-ROM format.

There is one negative - it's a small point but one which I feel does need pointing out. While Fremantle have kept the original Thames intros from the episodes, they have removed the adcaps which originally bookended the shows' commercial breaks. Such editing is common with DVD releases, and the edits themselves are done very well, but when such attention has been lavished on every other aspect of this release, I can't help but feel a little cheated.

And there you have it. A frankly superb collection which encompasses not only the four best examples of TV Carry On but also a raft of valuable and thoroughly absorbing extras. Fremantle have done a superb job in restoring and pulling together what amounts to one of the very best Carry On DVD releases to date.