Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2013: 10 to 1

The arguments are over and the votes are in... so what did our critics say was the best programme of the year?

10 Peaky Blinders BBC2
We’d never seen anything like it before. In an era of me-too generic dramas, nobody could accuse a saga of 1919 Birmingham bookies of being formulaic. Creator Steven Knight and his directors conjured a stylish, soot-stained fictional world, using the workshop of the British Empire as the backdrop for a gangland story centred on fallen angel Tommy (a soulful Cillian Murphy) and new-broom police chief Campbell (the superb Sam Neill). It had the mythic feel of the best kind of Western, a soundtrack to die for and the odd burst of primal violence to keep us on our toes. DBu


9 Breaking Bad Netflix
Breaking Bad is the best show you’ve never seen. Those in the know insist it’s one of the best shows ever made. The story of a chemistry teacher who starts producing drugs after contracting lung cancer, only the first two series were shown here. Powered by the rise of Netflix, the fall of one good man has become a global obsession: by the time it hit its fifth and final series in 2013, we Brits couldn’t ignore it any longer. Dark, operatic and always, always unpredictable, Breaking Bad is a classic. Beg, borrow or deal to see it. JH

Did anyone expect Toast of London to get a second series? Not only was Matt Berry’s rumbling, randy thespian a ratings wallflower (under half a million viewers), but it was so creatively out-there, it made Man Down look like Terry and June. A Nigerian girlfriend whose plastic surgery has left her looking like Bruce Forsyth? A punch-up on a nuclear submarine? A demented beak-keeper (not a bee-keeper, a beak-keeper)? No other show would even attempt any of these, but they all delivered huge, left-field laughs and earnt Toast a big cult following. Roll on series two. DBu

7 The Great British Bake Off BBC2
This was the year when the Bake Off became part of the fabric of our lives, when it hit the top of its game with a contest that galvanised the country. Not all of the attention on the all-female finalists was welcome, Ruby Tandoh in particular became the focus for one of the perils of our age for any woman in the public eye, online-abuse from skulking misogynists. But they couldn’t spoil a competition that the rest of us knew was, at its heart, full of goodness and the best things in life – fun and cake. AG

6 Homeland C4
After a second series that entirely failed to catch fire, Homeland’s writers chose to continue to tease their long-suffering audience. Having disappeared after the lethal CIA bombing, Damian Lewis’s Brody popped up to become a junkie in Caracas, then disappeared again for several episodes, leaving CIA analyst Carrie (Claire Danes) to be sacked, then sectioned. But this was all part of a cunning plan by acting CIA head Saul (still with us?) in a much longer game involving Iran. Just when we were losing patience, we were treated to a stunningly tense clutch of closing episodes as a swiftly cleaned-up Brody snuck behind enemy lines. The show will be back, but will it ever be the same? GC

5 The Wrong Mans BBC2
Gavin & Stacey co-creator James Corden returned to narrative comedy, flanked by one of the breakout stars of the year, Mathew Baynton. The Wrong Mans wasn’t a sitcom but a full-on comedy thriller, in which Corden and Baynton played humble losers wrapped up in a criminal/espionage conspiracy. Breathless plotting and Hollywood-standard direction played off against the classic British scenario of bumblers struggling in extreme circumstances. It would have been easy for the comedy to make the action look silly, but The Wrong Mans was too smartly made for that. JS

This finely balanced drama from Jane Campion could so easily have tipped into farce if it hadn’t been for Elisabeth Moss. Her turn as the stoic Robin, her first leading TV role since Mad Men, was the perfect foil to the programme’s more bizarre elements. There were plenty of those, from the mystic GJ (Holly Hunter) to the drug-brewing Mitchams and, of course, the big reveal, which bravely out-weirded everything that had gone before. If you missed it the first time, set aside a rainy day to catch up: its audacious and well-timed twists make it perfect binge-watch material. HS

3 Educating Yorkshire C4
Many of us started this series as sceptics. Was there something uneasy about packaging disruptive schoolchildren up as 9pm entertainment? Then we got to know the characters at Thornhill Community Academy, filmed by the fixed cameras of the team behind Educating Essex: the comfortingly maternal Mrs Marsden, Mr Steer the maths teacher who refused to take a sick day despite a possibly gangrenous leg, and Mr Burton, who helped GCSE student Musharaf overcome a lifelong stammer in perhaps the TV moment of the year. Educating Yorkshire was a reminder of the sheer power of brilliant teachers and heartfelt, humane documentary-making. EA

Radio Times reviewers were transfixed by who killed Danny Latimer, but the mystery of a very different murdered boy was almost as captivating. Victor’s doleful stare was the epicentre of this superb French chiller about what happens when the dead return to their loved ones. Forget brain-chomping clichés of zombie hordes. In this gripping and uniquely atmospheric drama, Victor and the others who come back appear no different to the day they died. The living, by contrast, have grown up, made new friends, fallen in love, divorced, remarried. They have all to various degrees “moved on”; the bitter truth of the series is that even our dearest companions in life abandon us in death. Answers as to why the dead returned proved as sparse as the Alpine backdrop, but it didn’t matter. Each unsettling revelation drew us further into the mystery of this fractured town, and festered in our minds long after the credits rolled. JG

Broadchurch was that rare thing, a popular and critical hit that set the country buzzing with expectation and guesses. Who killed schoolboy Danny Latimer? It could have been any one of the residents of a closely-woven west country seaside community, a place that at first seemed open and sunny but which became darkened by poisonous suspicion. Great central performances from David Tennant as tormented cop Alec Hardy and Olivia Colman as his soft-centred side-kick, along with Chris Chibnall’s tight script, made it the British TV phenomenon of the year. AG

40 to 3130 to 2120 to 11

Voted for and written by critics from Radio Times magazine, and the Radio Times DiscoverTV app: Alison Graham (AG), David Butcher (DBu), Jane Rackham (JR), Tim Glanfield, Paul Jones, Jack Seale (JS), Patrick Mulkern (PM), Mark Braxton (MB), Gill Crawford (GC), James Gill (JG), Claire Webb (CW), David Crawford, Susanna Lazarus (SL), Ellie Walker-Arnott (EWA), David Brown (DBr), Emma Daly, Jonathan Holmes (JH), Hannah Shaddock (HS), Ellie Austin (EA) and Emma Sturgess. Compiled by Jack Seale.