Radio Times Top 40 TV Shows of 2014: 10 to 1

The votes have been counted. And our critics' favourite programme of the year is...

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10 Homeland C4
A lot of people had written off Homeland. After that blazing first series, the next two seemed determined to enforce the law of diminishing returns, by air strike if necessary. And then, wallop! Carrie and her CIA minions got their mojo back. Our bi-polar spy moved to Pakistan, where her pursuit of the local Taliban chief brought emotional twists and and big, oh-my-holy-goodness shocks. Suddenly, everyone was talking about Homeland again, because at its best, the fraught action-thriller-slash-psycho-drama grips like nothing else on TV. DBu

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9 Doctor Who BBC1
After eight years of young, romantic Doctors, Peter Capaldi’s more hostile, older Time Lord was a hard sell. Twelve (mostly) great episodes later, it’s hard to imagine anyone else at the helm of the Tardis. Bank heists, Cybermen attacks and creepy monsters were no match for Capaldi and his attack eyebrows, and it feels like we’re still learning the true nature of this newly mysterious Doctor. But Capaldi wasn’t the only draw this year. Jenna Coleman’s Clara has finally been allowed the personality she was denied in previous series and showed new depths to the role of companion. Here’s hoping she stays past Christmas. HF

8 Detectorists BBC4
This gently wonderful six-parter proved that a sitcom needn’t be about Big Issues to work its magic. That said, the quiet, rural escapades of metal detectorists had much to say about friendship, love and the truly valuable things of life. Mackenzie Crook, the sallow stooge of The Office and Pirates of the Caribbean, led from the front as writer, star and debut director of what was clearly a labour of love, while Toby Jones and Rachael Stirling were among many genius casting decisions. In a comedy world writhing with mordant cynicism, Detectorists proved a glittering find. Bleeping brilliant. MB

7 Toast of London C4
With an imperious performance from Matt Berry, Toast of London series two continued to be a joyously surreal take on the life of an arrogant, sexually incontinent actor whom you couldn’t help taking to your heart.  Self-consciously old fashioned, Toast of London is set in the present day but presents a world where the next day’s theatre “notices” still hold sway, business is done on landline telephones and a feud with a medallion-wearing, moustache-sporting fellow called Ray Purchase consumes our hero’s energies. With some of the most wonderfully silly names in any comedy ever (“Yes, I can hear you, Clem Fandango!”), Toast of London was bold, brash and laugh-out-loud funny. BD

6 The Honourable Woman BBC2
Despite its impossibly complex plot, Hugo Blick’s fiercely topical eight-part thriller was one of the slickest British dramas of recent years. At its heart was Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an Anglo-Israeli businesswoman on a mission to single-handedly resolve the Israeli-Palestine conflict using her late, arms-dealer father’s fortune. Nessa’s poised public persona and penchant for exquisite silk blouses hid a murky secret that effortlessly melded the personal onto the geopolitical. Add to that Blick’s cinematic camerawork and an impeccable supporting cast (Stephen Rea and Lubna Azabel were particularly brilliant) and you had a riveting drama that was, simply put, a televisual masterpiece. EA

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5 True Detective Sky Atlantic
The so-called McConnaissance was sealed by Matthew McConaughey’s riveting performance as philosophising homicide detective Rust Cohle in a dark and dangerous character-led mystery. True Detective was unique. McConaughey was more than matched by Woody Harrelson as the equally troubled Marty Hart, and between their mining of the male psyche was the compelling story of a 17-year search for a serial killer: the perfect obsession to highlight their failings elsewhere. T Bone Burnett’s ominous soundtrack and the woozy atmosphere of the Louisiana bayou were the grease atop this Southern-fried delightDC

4 The Trip to Italy BBC2
Could such a gimmicky, conceptual comedy survive in a second series overseas? Yes. If anything, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s more expansive return as “Steve Coogan” and “Rob Brydon” was better, with the scenery and restaurants even lusher, and a more solid but still lightly sketched story adding unlikely new pathos to the theme of vain, over-analytical divas suffering a rarified midlife crisis. And those pinging comic riffs over lunch were just as dazzling. A luxury bitter chocolate of a show. JS

3 Sherlock BBC1
The resolution of that cliffhanger might have disappointed (Quick! How did Sherlock survive? Can you remember?) but it signalled a major shift in the show. With only two series and six episodes under their belts, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss bravely retooled Sherlock as a relationship drama, giving the characters heart and subtlety absent in the source material. The emotional storylines were a reminder that this is not Mr Spock Investigates, as Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s duo became a trio with the introduction of Watson’s fiancé (Amanda Abbington). It’s a good sign that despite everything, we can’t wait to see how that other cliffhanger is resolved next year. JH

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2 Line of Duty BBC2
Jed Mercurio’s audacious, riveting crime drama gave us the year’s most brilliant scene: 17 solid minutes in a claustrophobic police interview room as a very assured suspect was slowly dismantled by two anti-corruption detectives. If it was humanly possible to hold your breath for 17 minutes, we would have. But the series belonged to Keeley Hawes as Det Insp Lindsay Denton. Was she the scapegoat for a police operation that went horribly wrong, or was she up to her neck? Mercurio played us all like violins. Some of us are still discussing the ending. AG

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1 Happy Valley BBC1
Writer Sally Wainwright and actor Sarah Lancashire have never been better than in this bitingly raw crime drama. Though perhaps “crime drama” is too reductive: it doesn’t even hint at the depths of Happy Valley. Yes, there was a crime, a terrible one – the abduction and rape of a young woman – but it was its effect on everyone directly involved that took Happy Valley to tough, harrowing and often brutal territory. Lancashire was just so good as damaged police officer Catherine Cawood, who lost a daughter to a streak of evil called Tommy Lee Royce (a terrifying James Norton). When he exploded into her life for a second time, the consequences were hideous. AG

>> Why Happy Valley was the drama of the year

>> Sally Wainwright on Happy Valley series 2

Voted for and written by critics from Radio Times magazine and RadioTimes.com: Alison Graham (AG), David Butcher (DBu), Jane Rackham (JR), Tim Glanfield, Paul Jones, Jack Seale (JS), Mark Braxton (MB), Gill Crawford (GC), James Gill (JG), Claire Webb (CW), Ben Dowell (BD), David Crawford (DC), Susanna Lazarus, Ellie Walker-Arnott (EWA), David Brown (DBr), Jonathan Holmes (JH), Hannah Shaddock (HS), Ellie Austin (EA), Huw Fullerton (HW), Gary Rose (GR), Kasia Delgado and Paul Whitelaw. Compiled by Jack Seale.

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The Countdown

40 – 31

30 – 21

20 – 11

10 – 1


How much of this year’s television can you remember? Take our Big TV Quiz 2014 and find out!

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